Who is in the Polyglot Community? Am I?

A lot of people refer to the Polyglot Community these days. I do, too, talking about the Polyglot Gathering and similar events. So who is this community?

It is certainly NOT just the 15-30 most popular polyglots who have Youtube channels or blogs. When I mean people like them, I personally use the term ‘Youtube polyglots’ or more broadly ‘internet polyglots’ – and by that I also mean for example Iversen of HTLAL or Simon Ager of Omniglot. My idea of an ‘internet polyglot’ is really anyone who is accepted as an authority on language learning by a reasonable number of people online, no matter what form of communication he/she uses.

The polyglot community however is much broader than just the ‘internet polyglots’, to the tune of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people.

Talking about it at/after the Polyglot Gathering, the consensus seems to be that anyone who loves to learn languages, even independent of how many language he has mastered, is a polyglot – it’s this attitude which sets our community apart from John Doe, who only learns a language because he has to. Love of learning and passion for languages.

Now there may be some hermits in Siberia who really love to learn languages without having any ties to any online polyglots. I probably wouldn’t include them in the term ‘polyglot community’, because there can be no community without being connected in some way to the other members of the community. But if you love to learn languages and have been to one of the polyglot conferences, you’re part of the community, if you’re a regular contributor to HTLAL or Unilang, you’re part of the community, if you follow at least one of the popular polyglot blogs or vlogs, you’re part of the community.

Polyglot group photo at the Polyglot Gathering
A small part of the polyglot community, at the Polyglot Gathering

Internet polyglots are not the whole of the polyglot community, they are the pillars. Polyglots come together around them and often because of them. Internet polyglots are also a representative sample of different philosophies, opinions and approaches to language-learning. For example, to start learning a language:

  • Benny Lewis will start by speaking the language
  • Steve Kaufmann will start by reading a lot
  • Richard Simcott will follow a textbook or a class based on the communicative approach
  • Professor Alexander Arguelles will look for a really old textbook based on the translation or grammar approach
  • Niels Iversen will memorize ten thousand words from a dictionary

So there are many differing and even contradictory opinions in the community. There used to be quite nasty fights and vicious attacks, especially around Benny Lewis. These days, the disagreements are still there, but the attacks are gone (mostly), since people started to collaborate and to meet up in person. Even if they personally think that a certain approach won’t work well, people are happy to live and let live, let everyone pursue whatever approach he/she thinks is good, not rail against each other. After meeting each other in person or collaborating together online, most of the most visible members of the polyglot community have started to say:

“You know, I might not want to use your learning approach or methods, and I might recommend something different to people who ask me, but I recognize that we are all each of us helping people learn languages and I respect you as someone who is working hard towards the same goal I have.”