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I have long been fascinated by polyglots, who opt to learn languages for the sheer pleasure of it. Be it polyglotism, polyglottism or polyglottery, this multifaceted sociocultural phenomenon is of particular interest to me. With a lifelong love affair with different linguistic worlds, I wholly embrace the delights and benefits of recreational language acquisition. What is more, I’m captivated by the identity narratives of fervent language learners, who purposefully engage in linguistic pursuits in the midst of global interconnectivity. I even wrote a thesis related to this theme, which speaks volumes about my fondness for the issue.  

While the term “polyglot” originates from ancient Greek, contemporary polyglot practices are sparked and facilitated by global patterns such as travel, migration and communication technologies. The internet, in particular, has played an instrumental role in bringing a plethora of languages within our reach. Owing to virtual reality, it has become increasingly feasible not only to immerse oneself in different languages but also to interact with like-minded linguaphiles via different platforms. Largely due to this online exposure, this pastime has become a label to identify with. Even though the title of polyglot does not appeal to me personally, I’m writing this piece as an avid lover of languages with passions similar to many polyglots.

In the media, attention is occasionally given to exceptional hyperpolyglots with an extensive and awe-inspiring linguistic repertoire. Discussions around talent, proficiency and the number of languages one masters are of little interest to me, however. The above-mentioned aspects in fact strike me as oddly competitive, distracting from the zeal and intimacy of the pursuit. The polyglot hype indeed tends to disregard the intricacies of language learning, a highly personal process that individuals approach in different ways in keeping with their strengths and preferences. 

I am, however, intrigued by the fervor undergirding this avocation, namely the human agency embedded in these tenacious efforts. Indeed, I’m captivated by the power that adult language learners possess to refashion their identity narratives through linguistic investments. How I, for instance, can reimagine and reinvent myself via a later learned language, perhaps in a bid for a more desirable self. However romanticized, I find this idea compelling if not empowering. I’m also curious about the meanings that polyglots assign to their respective languages. My languages, some more value-laden than others, certainly elicit different reactions in me. These tongues are firmly interwoven with unique experiences in different countries, together forming my personal linguistic trajectory.

Furthermore, language skills allow for a wider outlook on global affairs, potentially giving way to a cosmopolitan mindset. Ardent language learners can indeed foster a heightened connection with the world, a sense of home and belonging that transcends national confines. This has certainly held true for me the more my linguistic and cultural horizons have broadened. Through time spent abroad, in particular, I have come to cultivate more complex conceptions of belonging. 

Based on my observations, polyglots range from adventurous globe-trotters to language collectors primarily propelled by linguistic systems and patterns, which accentuates the diverse incentives of this heterogenous group. Personally, I view myself as a relatively versatile language learner drawn to roughly everything language-related. With a high regard for intercultural encounters, I relish creative language play also in the form of code-switching and mixing. I mostly crave literary stimulation, the delicate nuances of the written word. The ability to immerse myself in literature and to write thorough and thoughtful texts in a second language is a particular pleasure, albeit too often a mere ideal.

As shown, I’m taken by the diligence and persistence of individuals who regularly embark on linguistic endeavors. While my own language learning aspirations at times lack rigor, I nonetheless enjoy participating in various polyglot events. When the global pandemic finally draws to a close, I intend to give such gatherings more serious thought, for attending language-related talks and interacting with people from the world over are an absolute delight, enriching in many ways.

Laia Herlevi

Helsinki '20

An inquisitive Area and Cultural Studies major propelled by linguistic and literary pleasures.
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