Off topic: Video: Understanding Hyperpolyglots
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:45
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 10, 2012

NY Times video:

Canadian TV show about Hyperpolyglots:


Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:45
Hebrew to English
I remain resolutely unimpressed.... May 10, 2012

Don't get me wrong, I think it's fantastic that anyone would take such an interest in languages and it should be encouraged....

That said, I fail to see how these stories are either extraordinary or impressive for a number of reasons:

a) there is too much importance placed on quantity over quality, something which impresses monolinguals no end, but I'd be more impressed if someone could actually pass as a native speaker of x language, rather than merely to reach a mediocre ("working") level in half a dozen languages or more.

b) I'm never convinced any of these people have a true "gift". They seem to have two things in spades: time and motivation. When I was in high school and had both of these things, I had half a dozen languages on the go too.

c) the language used in the reporting of these stories is quite sloppy. The headlines and sub-titles often contain "mastered", "fluent" etc, but then when you get down to the nitty gritty it turns out they aren't truly *fluent* in any meaningful sense (if there is indeed a meaningful sense of THAT word).

d) given the method employed (pouring over grammar books), it would be interesting to see just how communicative their language skills really are, they may be able to reel off grammatically impeccable "bookish" output, but how would they cope in a more communicative situation?

e) there is an explosion of these people on YOUTUBE now. I visited the much vaunted Richard Simcott - I was a bit astounded, in parts he was clearly reading (autocue style) and his abilities in most of his languages were in question (evidenced by the numerous native speaker comments).

f) I am wary of the fact that these "hyperpolyglots" might make language learning look like a great hobby for language geeks with too much time on their hands, but of little practical use.

g) I'm not especially fond of the term "hyperpolyglot" - I think it's linguistic overkill. We already have the term "polyglot". If the distinction becomes that: polyglot = someone who speaks several languages, hyperpolyglot = a language enthusiast who keeps studying mutliple languages, not necessarily to a proficient level....then the different labelling might be more justified in my opinion.

For the avoidance of doubt, I don't think there's anything wrong with being linguistically promiscuous, but I just don't think it's particularly media-worthy or worthy of awe by other linguists.


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Video: Understanding Hyperpolyglots

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