You may wonder why am I actually caring about answering to this question, but as my experience showed me, as well as some other polyglots’ , this is really important to understand how we* act, what are languages to us and how to really understand us.
At the beginning, I need to underscore the fact that saying “a polyglot” I mean only those people for who languages are simply an enormous passion, excluding the ones who just had to learn some languages or for any other reason don’t really like to learn languages, but still they speak several (which doesn’t really add up, but everything is possible…). So here we go!
Lately, we’ve been talking with my friend, Josip, how much it gets on our nerves when everyone around us, except for the polyglots, seems to not really get the point of our passion. I’ve been asked so far too many questions to which the answers were so evident (to me) – hence I decided to leave here pretty full explanation on that.
First of all, if you, reading this right now, don’t really feel passionate about languages, you should remember that you will never be able to completely understand us. There’s nothing wrong about it, because every person has the right to do what he/she likes to do. The same rule applies to any passion. Turning it back, I may neither understand your passion. It’s absolutely O.K. unless you judge someone because of what his passion is (which is stupid and I believe there are not many of you doing so).
Now, let’s discuss one example taken from my life. Once, when I discovered the real (I mean full) name of Bangkok, I wished to try it out and wrote this several times (for those of you who are interested in it: กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลก ภพนพรัตน์ ราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์ มหาสถาน อมรพิมาน อวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะ วิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์ [isn’t this alphabet charming?]). What was my statement? “I’m gonna learn how to write the full name of Bangkok!”. I remember their reaction being like: “You’re learning Thai? Kuba, you should stop learning so many languages, you can’t have too many irons in the fire”. WHY, people? Why, why, why? Those two actions don’t even sound similar… but anyways! Here is what I would like to say as the first important fact: every polyglot has his own system, way of learning, favourite languages and also some unique habits. Many of use start to learn a language and after two months stops, leaving it, sometimes forever. It happens. It’s natural. Especially when you’re a linguist – then even better, you should have a wide knowledge about some languages, not only be able to speak them. So why don’t you, please, leave us the decision what to learn and for how long? Let’s say I’m starting 10 languages today, shit, let it be, the worst thing I can do is to leave them all after half an hour and go to sleep. The world won’t suffer, no worries about that. So as the answer to the qustion: take it easy, let us learn what we want and we’ll all be happy as a lark.
Probably, some of you think that if I pay attention to a language in any sense, be it studying a little bit the alphabet or learning a piece of phrases, then it means I’m actually learning this language. NOPE. Mistake. I might do this only for comparision to something also, or simply by curiosity. Deal with it. Having interested in a language doesn’t mean learning it.
The good news is that I’ve noticed, after some time spent with me talking about languages, people tend to adapt to my “crazyness” and after they don’t really care wether I learn 2 or 150 languages. This makes me really happy!
Hopefully, it helped you out to understand what’s going on within a polyglot’s brain. Or, if you experienced similar situations like mine with Thai, chances are this will at least partly explain how we work.
*I don’t like to call myself a polyglot right now, but to simplify, let’s assume I am also one.
PS My intention wasn’t to sound like a frustrated guy grumbling about “all those bad people who can’t understand me!”. No. Simply, I prefer to say something point-blank. But if you felt offended by any part of this article, I am really sorry for that.