Polyglots are people who speak multiple languages, and are a vibrant, dedicated and interesting breed of people. But they also may be among the most misunderstood groups of people. For some reason, multilingual people seem to be subjects of fascination for monolingual people.
I have been asked the same questions about being multilingual or learning a language time and time again, so I think it is time I set the record straight about a few things (and point out how annoying your questions are). These are the questions that we have all heard a million times, and should be avoided when talking to a polyglot.
Why don’t you become a translator?
There are two reasons for this. 1. No… and 2. Just, no. Just because I enjoy learning languages in my leisure time , doesn’t mean I want to make a living out of sitting in an office all day interpreting legal documents or repeating everything someone says word for word in another language. It’s not my idea of fun. In fact, I kind of think that translating takes the fun out of language learning. Aside from the fact that most of us are forced to translate and some point or other, not everyone has an interest to do it professionally. Short answer: not every bilingual/multilingual person or polyglot is set out to be a translator.
How do you say X in Y language?
I hate this question because it is rarely this simple. It is not often that a phrase in one language can be directly translated into another language and still make sense. The reason is that with different languages come different cultures, different idioms and different means of expression. A very common phrase in one language could make absolutely no sense, or just sound quite odd in another language. Also, when I am thinking in one language it is not as easy as you might think to just effortlessly switch between them.
Why do you speak that language?
I don’t really know what you mean. Why do I speak it? Because I learned it. Why did I learn it? Because I like it. Because I want to. Because it might one day come in handy for me? How many reasons do you need? It really is as simple as that. It is just a bonus that knowing languages helps me travel more easily and connect with more people over the world.
How do you speak that language?
With a lot of dedication and self-motivation. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if I self-studied or studied in a classroom, the main ingredient is that drive to learn. If you really want to know how I did it, I’ve written a detailed article about how I learned a language fluently. In saying that, every polyglot learns in a different way, and the way that one person learns isn’t necessarily the same way you will learn.
How is that going to help your future/career?
I don’t really care. I do this for fun. Get it? A hobby. Although it might be a bonus, I don’t do this to improve my career prospects (otherwise I would be studying quantum physics or something much more useful). I am studying this for my satisfaction, pleasure and self-growth. Not for something as insignificant as a job. And I’m not alone – there is a whole community of polyglots who learn languages just for their personal interest.
Why learn that when most people speak English anyways?
This question is pretty irrelevant, and if you’ve read the above you probably already know the answer. For me, and many other polyglots, learning languages is not about usefulness. As I explain in this article, I don’t think much of English being an international language anyway, and I certainly don’t want to support this phenomenon. I learn languages that I like the sound of, or that are special or challenging for whatever reason. It would be a pretty boring world if everyone spoke just English.
Why don’t you move to X country if you can speak X language?
Why should I move to another country just because I can speak the language? I can speak the language of my home country, too. Certainly, I will travel there and I will have a great time. But is there any real reason for me to move there other than that I would be able to communicate better than the average Joe foreigner? Not really.
If you know X language so well, say <insert purposely complicated sentence>.
That’s a bit annoying. I don’t mention that I can speak a language to be tested on it, to be honest. And I certainly don’t need to be tested by someone who has zero clue what it is like to speak a second language. Also, how do you even know that I’m saying it correctly?
Why don’t you talk to <person who speaks X language> then?
Just because I am learning a language, doesn’t make me instant friends with all of its speakers. Also, I am respectful to people that have come to my country and speak to them in English unless they initiate otherwise. Don’t get me wrong; I think that practising is vital to learn a language properly. I don’t think that every person should be regarded as a tool to be used for my personal improvement. If someone wants to have a chat with me and help me practise my target language, I will happily engage. But not everyone wants to speak their native language in an English-speaking country or context.
Which language do you think/dream in?
The majority of the time, I think and dream in my native language, English. When I was living and working in Spain, and the majority of my day was in Spanish, I had a much larger portion of my thoughts and dreams in Spanish. Really, it depends on which language you spend the most time in. And obviously, if I am speaking in one language, I am thinking in that language. In general, a polyglot will think in the language they are being exposed to.
If you are a polyglot or bilingual, are there any questions that really irk you that I have missed above? If you are not, are there any questions which haven’t been mentioned above but you are dying to know the answer to? Let me know below!~