Polyglot Conference in Greece, October 2016

August 25, 2016. Update: November 7, 2016

I'm going to this! http://polyglotconference.com/
Or find it on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1483114775323622/

It'll be great to meet other language enthusiasts, chat in 9 languages, and exchange experience!


Report, November 7, 2016


Wow, what a fantastic experience! There's far too much to share, so I'm just going to do a simple bullet list of my impressions and observations, both personal and general.


  • I managed to speak all 9 of my languages during the [effectively 3 days of the] conference.
  • Virtually no posturing observed or pressure felt regarding the number of languages one speaks.
  • My badge with 9 languages spoken on it was simply "average." Some people had 15+ languages. 
  • Most everything was in English, which is pragmatic, but makes the conference yet another agent of anglification... "Polyglots of the world, unite through English!" might be the motto... This deeply bothered only one person I met.
  • Less interest than expected in the free Greek lessons on both days, which I attended. 
  • I do not recall meeting a single other person who was singularly devoted to one language (as I am with Russian). The vast majority of attendees are "language lovers," not lovers of a specific language. I found this somewhat surprising and felt different because of it. 
  • I didn't meet any hikers or fitness freaks. Of course, I didn't ask everyone. Most attendees are understandably focused on intellectual and social activities. This also made me feel a bit different. 
  • There seemed to be quite a few musicians, but I can't say the concentration of musicians was noticeably much higher than in an average sample of educated people.
  • There seemed to be about a 55%-45% male-female ratio.
  • I definitely asked the greatest number of questions of the 400 conference attendees. When those talk videos go online, I guess you'll hear a question from me in a good half of them )))
  • Most discussion of language learning during presentations was focused on the early stages of learning, before you really have the opportunity to use your skills in real-life communication. I found this somewhat surprising. What about the higher levels of proficiency? 
  • I saw zero indication of any method similar to my own that optimizes your ability to improve your language skills (vocabulary) via real-life practice. This strengthened my conviction that I have something important to offer. In fact, I basically heard nothing at all that was reminiscent of any chapter of my Instruction Manual. 
  • At the same time, whenever my personal discussions with other language learners began to touch upon methodology, I found people almost always listened to my ideas (principles, methods) with great interest. Especially when I talked about the Circle of Familiarity and Circle of Command. In fact, one guy was deeply impressed with the idea and thought about it a lot following our discussion. In particular, he realized he had "so much left to learn" in English, and he wanted to apply the idea to his own language teaching. 
  • A number of people became very interested in learning more without any overt "selling" on my part, and I sold a couple copies of my manual. I could have sold more, but I chose to be as passive as possible (i.e. not remind one person that they had said they wanted to buy it, wait for someone to ask if they could buy it from me, etc. — so very coy tactics). The reason I do this is that I want only highly motivated readers who I can truly make an impact on.
  • I'm very pleased that I took just over 6 hours total to learn some Greek before and during the conference. I found that making the cheat sheet and attending the classes opened my mind to the language, and I found myself listening in where I would have otherwise tuned out (e.g. during trips to Turkey or Hungary). I even started hearing words from my cheat sheet in conversations around me and recognized the question "Where are you from?" with just a bit of lag. Now I firmly intend to apply my own recommendations and make some kind of cheat sheet any time I visit a country whose language I do not speak. 
  • People of all temperaments can be polyglots, but sociable people are definitely most prevalent.
  • I personally was most impressed with two older polyglots: Tim Keeley (60 years old and a few dozen languages) and Alexander Arguelles (50 years old and a few dozen languages). A few student-age polyglots also impressed me with their focus and fluency in different languages. 
  • Tim Keeley's research interests, life path, and perhaps personality seem most similar to my own. He's spent over half of his life in Japan and uses that language most. This is an anomaly in the polyglot world. I feel like I could learn a lot from him. I heard him speak at least a couple languages fluently. He may be the only person I met at the conference who has a "main" language (Japanese in his case) equivalent to my Russian.
  • Alexander Arguelles takes a deeply thoughtful, introverted, and scholarly approach towards languages, making him another anomaly. I found his remarks on "Language Learning as a Mental Exercise and Discipline" very interesting. While he focused his remarks on the introverted part of language learning, it turns out he also spent significant periods practicing many of his languages in the field, and I heard him giving personalized advice to the questioner in front of me in very good German. 
  • I was also fascinated by some of the data in Anthony Lauder's presentation "Why Is my Accent so Bad?" Essentially, research suggests that people have negative reactions to people speaking their language with an accent, and that accents are (were) a way of distinguishing one's in-group from one's out-group. Speaking in a different way strains your self-identity (Tim Keeley's research suggests that people who have a very good accent have a more flexible self-identify), and the mind is resistant to it. But there's a way to open up your mind and begin to positively identify with "foreign" sounds at any age: through singing. I posit that you need to find music you genuinely like and want to sing, and that would do the trick. I think I'm starting to understand why listening to songs in a foreign language is so often a feature of effective language learners' journeys (though not my own — at least yet). This talk made me want to experiment with music and singing. 
  • I was surprised to meet few interpreters — just a couple. 
  • Most attendees are predictably into travel and learning more about the world. Again, I didn't meet anyone else who was deeply committed to one place or even one region. I found this surprising.
  • I talked so much that my vocal tonality, fluency, and ability to form thoughts neatly in any language jumped way up. Hm... I need to spend more time in the day talking, in general.
  • Sometimes I felt tired of all the talking and wanted to do something physical, like walk briskly, go swimming, play the piano, etc. 
  • There were surprisingly many participants from Russian-speaking countries, or emigres from Russian-speaking countries. Some of them are quite accomplished polyglots. I got to know some of them and had some good conversations in Russian. They told me I had no accent at all and could pass for a Russian. Of course, this felt good, but I also know that not everyone has this impression all the time (in other words, the work is never done, and I like that). They invited me to be in the photo shoot of all the Slavic participants, even though I'm technically not Slavic. 
  • I met one young student from Georgia and even got to speak Georgian at the conference.
  • Most people had Spanish in their list of languages, very many spoke German, and I was a bit surprised how many also knew Mandarin Chinese. That's definitely an up-and-coming international language. 

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