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What do different polyglots have in common?

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Lýdia Machová is a member of a very special club: she is a polyglot. She is a proud speaker of nine languages - seven of them at a fluent level.

Having a PhD in translation studies and a professional conference interpreter background, Machová currently works as a language mentor, helping people to learn new languages more effectively. Considering her education and experience, one might think that in order to learn so many languages and call oneself a polyglot, one needs a degree or a special talent. However, as Machová succinctly explains in her TED talk, there is a number of things that all polyglots have in common, and, what is most important, these lessons can be applied to absolutely everyone's language learning journey.

Lesson 1. Have fun!

After meeting with polyglots from all over the world (Machová was the main organizer of the world's biggest polyglot event, the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2017 and 2018), she found out that they had used completely different methods, sometimes coming up with very unusual and ingenious ways to learn new words and expressions. However, there was a common thread: it was always something they really enjoyed, whether it be creating beautiful flashcards or cooking following recepies in a foreign language. Being a Harry Potter fan, Lýdia Machová read the books she loved translated into other languages, without even understanding most of it at the beginning. It is important to keep in mind that everyone is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

So the key is to find what makes the learning process fun for you. This way, according to Machová, you can turn it into a pleasant activity instead of a chore.

Lesson 2. Revision is your friend

Of course, it is not enough to just enjoy learning a language. It is also important to retain new information in a long-term memory. One of the proven methods that can help with that is an evidence-based learning technique called spaced repetition (i.e. reviewing the same information at increasing intervals) used in programs and apps like Anki and Memrise. However, you can find other similar proven methods that suit you best.

Lesson 3. Create a plan and make learning a part of your life

Machová does not have any strict, rigid learning plans in mind. It is enough to weave studying into your everyday routine. For example, you can decide to listen to your favourite podcast in a foreign language every day on your way to work or during breakfast.

Lesson 4. Learning a language requires patience

Machová warns: when it comes to learning new languages, there are no shortcuts and fast results. However, you might actually get to fluency quicker if you have a rewarding experience along the way. Every little victory (for example, understanding a joke or a song for the first time) will bring you immense joy and motivate you to move forward. You just have to wait for it.

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