They say no man is an island. Indeed, we rely on interaction with our fellow humans to survive modern life. Communication is key to a lot of what we do every single day, from saying ‘hello’ and ‘pass the salt’ to ‘I love you’ and ‘I need your help’. With that in mind, it’s no surprise we all like to feel heard and understood – we prize the company of those who are good listeners and communicators. Yet, there are around 7,000 different languages spoken in the world, not counting dialects, according to Ethnologue, the database that is considered to be the most extensive catalogue of languages. So, does speaking multiple languages really make you a better communicator? We asked the polyglots.
Who Are the Polyglots?
In short, polyglots are people with a good written and spoken grasp of three or more languages. A hyperglot can speak more than 12 languages. The word stems from the Greek word poluglōttos, meaning more than one tongue, referring to language. There’s even a club for polyglots from around the world! Should you embark on joining the polyglots, you’ll be in good company; Nelson Mandela, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Natalie Portman, Trevor Noah, Cleopatra, and Prince William, to name but a few.
Public figures and celebrities aside, the joy of languages is for everyone to experience and it can act as a great human equaliser.
Cynthia Rud, a 52-year-old learner with Centre of Excellence, says she believes learning languages “has definitely made me a more compassionate and understanding person”. Born and raised in Argentina, Cynthia has been living in Europe for 27 years now and is currently enjoying life in Brussels. Cynthia is proficient in her mother tongue of Spanish, as well as English, French, and Dutch. She also understands Italian and Portuguese and can count to five in Japanese!
While she puts this incredible flair for languages to excellent use in her job as a technical scientific literary translator and a licentiate in languages and linguistics, Cynthia is also a certified Life Coach and is studying the Emotional Intelligence Diploma Course. With communication key to her professional goals, Cynthia told Centre of Excellence, “I’ve always understood languages as a bridge between cultures, and language as an extremely powerful tool to conduct a dialogue.”
But it’s also important to Cynthia — who enjoys travelling the world, feeding her “never-ending curiosity”, broadening her horizons, and meeting new people — on a personal level. Citing an article published by The British Academy stating that the cognitive benefits of learning a language include empathy and a global mindset, Cynthia said she’s also enjoyed an improvement in her overall analytical skills, creative expression and an enriched vocabulary.
The teacher has observed these benefits in her students of all ages who have developed “openness and adaptability” through language learning. Cynthia plans to continue demystifying modern language learning for students far and wide, to prove once and for all that languages are fun!
“I am convinced languages have opened up my mind and my heart in so many ways! I’ve been able to make friends all over the world, enjoy literature and cultural richness, and develop into a true citizen of the world,” she said. During the height of the global pandemic, Cynthia felt “determined to continue sharing common humanity and empathy through multilingual dialogue” and even took to YouTube to discuss — in multiple languages — the hopes and fears shared with her multilingual friends across Europe, Asia and America.
Compelled to help her community feel connected and hopeful, leaving no one behind, Cynthia focussed not on the mastery of the languages used for these important conversations, but on the “value-creating exchanges between individuals”. Expecting only her close friends would watch, Cynthia was surprised to see these videos watched thousands of times.
Another Centre of Excellence student who understands the value of language learning to create a human connection is Claire Maurice. The 47-year-old speaks Spanish, Finnish, and English and is currently learning to speak Korean “so I can order a coffee when I go visit my daughter” who will be moving there in 2022 after completing her studies at university.
Currently residing in Bridgnorth, Claire has worked as an Early Years Teacher in Switzerland, Finland, Spain and Cyprus. Next on the list is Costa Rica, where Claire plans to volunteer with the turtle rescue missions on the island’s coastal regions. In order to best immerse herself in an experience, Claire says she thinks it’s important to have some of the language of the country in which you live. For that reason, she will be furthering her Spanish studies while learning Korean, both with Centre of Excellence.
So, how easy is it to pick up another language? Claire says, “The more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn more, even if the languages are not related.” Admittedly, she has an appetite for learning and has also studied the Vikings and Conservation with CoE. But the language skills, in particular, Claire says, “have opened up so many opportunities for me and my family.”
Likewise, Jonathan Ferguson, credits his grasp of Spanish, French and German for his career security, telling Centre of Excellence that “learning languages means I have never been out of a job.” The 44-year-old Liverpudlian living in Lancashire has worked with languages since leaving university in a variety of commercial roles. In 2017, he retrained as a pastry chef and now runs his own small French-style pâtisserie.
Indeed, French and German were his first loves at school, where he developed a passion that led him to study more foreign languages at university level. He recalled, “If I try to think back to when I was in school, I suppose it was the lure of foreign cultures, travel, and adventure that really inspired me.”
Languages didn’t disappoint him. Jonathan said, “On a personal level, it has really enriched my life through the ability to communicate, travel with confidence, explore the cultures of other countries, and I have also made some very good friends. Learning multiple languages has allowed me to see the world from different perspectives.”
When asked how he felt being a polyglot has influenced his life, he replied: “Would I be the person I am today without having first-hand experience of different cultures? Probably not!”
But beyond the cultural enrichment, even as a youngster, Jonathan was aware of the doors languages can open to future careers. Indeed, Jonathan says the “mental gymnastics” of language learning has helped him develop his cognition in many areas. Comparing the skills to learning an instrument, Jonathan believes learning a language is first and foremost about being able to apply knowledge to real-life situations and being able to problem-solve on the fly.
To learn a language you must flex your memorisation muscles, hone your creativity in communication, and push your willingness to try things out and feel your way around rules.
Jonathan said, “For me, my experience of language learning has taught me to be thorough in my approach to learning new things, to look for patterns, to be creative in solving problems, to not be afraid of making mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes. Even today, when my job does not involve languages, I still use and develop my linguistic skills daily.”
Like most polyglots, Jonathan has a love of learning that he has nurtured into adulthood with a varied and joyful approach to feeding his curiosity. A CoE learner since 2013, Jonathan has studied the Diet and Nutrition Advisor, Paleontology and Feline Behaviour and Psychology diploma courses.
There are as many reasons to learn languages and join the polyglots as there are languages in the world. From Welsh to Arabic to Mandarin by way of British Sign Language, there will be a language out there to suit your style of learning, what you hope to achieve with your newfound fluency, and so many other fascinating polyglots — just like Claire, Jon, and Cynthia — out there to befriend along the way.
The world is waiting for you!