Reflections on Polyglot Gathering 2017, Bratislava

June 12, 2017

A week ago I gave my first talk on language learning in Russian at the 2017 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava. You can watch my presentation in Russian at, but you'll need to join the group first. Furthermore, the slides themselves are posted at A more complete and professional recording of the talk will eventually be published on Youtube by the event organizers, but nobody knows when.

I got a lot of positive feedback on the talk, including over a dozen questions and comments following the presentation. People came up to me afterwards to discuss what I'd talked about and to ask additional questions.

Here is what I found generated the most interest. It wasn't necessarily what I expected:

1. My extensions to the European system of language competencies (CEFRL), which currently describes only levels A1–C2. My extension adds two levels before A1 and two after C2. This resonated with a lot of people and seemed to settle some minds as to whether C2 level can be considered "native" or anything near to it.

2. The idea of speech therapy as a way to reduce and remove accents. I didn't talk about this at all in my presentation, but there were several comments and questions about how I had managed to master Russian pronunciation to such a high degree. It seems accent reduction is a major concern for long-term language learners, especially those who use a foreign language professionally but continue to struggle with the pronunciation.

3. My experience as a simultaneous interpreter was also of interest to a number of people who have considered getting into interpreting or teach a language to students who plan to become interpreters.

As a result of my presentation I gained some new contacts and opportunities among the Russian-speaking language learning community. I expect this to gradually become my main target audience by the end of this year.

General reflections on the gathering

I didn't have that much time to hang out or even attend many lectures because I missed a few days of the gathering and was so focused on delivering my presentation. As always, the gathering is a great place to meet smart people, make friends, and converse in different languages. I had the feeling that Georgia would be a great place to hold the event, and everyone I mentioned this to was extremely enthusiastic. This year's organizers feel a bit burnt out, but I'm not sure I'm ready to take this sort of thing upon myself or create a group to manage it.

There was some discussion post-gathering on how to have more talks in languages other than English. It really is ridiculous, I feel, for English to be so dominant at a polyglot event. Perhaps 85% of the talks were in English. I submitted a proposal to encourage more talks in other languages which is, naturally, numbers-based. Speakers may systematically overestimate the advantage they will experience by delivering a talk in English versus other languages, especially since there are four talks taking place at any given moment and the expected attendance for each will thus be only 25%.

On the final day of the gathering I had the idea of giving presentations at polyglot gatherings in a different language each time. Why is it okay to give a presentation in broken English, but no one thinks of giving a talk in broken German, Arabic, or Chinese? I'm sure that with a few months of preparation I could give a decent talk in a number of my foreign languages. I could use the talk as motivation to propel my language learning forward. I don't understand why other speakers aren't latching on this opportunity.

Like always after polyglot events, I came home with an increased interest in improving my languages and with an increased general verbal fluency due to all of the talking that goes on. I find this carries over to all my languages — even those that I haven't spoken for months. My motivation will probably return to baseline after a month or two.

The website of this year's event is

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(c) 2016-2017 Richard DeLong.