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 The slides themselves are posted at

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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