Do you enjoy learning languages? Would you like to meet others who have a similar passion? Would you like to travel to another country? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, the Polyglot Conference may be something to put on your bucket list.
Held in a different country each year, this international conference brings together language enthusiasts from all corners of the globe — there have been attendees who have come from as far away as Australia and Mongolia! At this year's Conference, there were at least 100 languages spoken amongst the 400 of us!
The term, polyglot, can sometimes be seen as an intimidating word. This year, the organizers wanted the Conference to be more inclusive and for it to be geared toward those who have an interest in language and culture in addition to polyglots (or even, hyperglots).
At the end of October, Mango was lucky enough to attend the fourth annual Polyglot Conference, held this year in Thessaloniki, Greece. We played a much bigger role in this polyglot event than in the past and had a wonderful time meeting everyone who came to our booth.
One of the reasons that the organizers chose to hold this year's event in Thessaloniki was due to its history of multilingualism. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, Thessaloniki was a major center for commerce and culture. Today, Thessaloniki is a combination of old and new — from traditional tavernas to international cuisine and traditional market places in cobbled streets to high-rise shopping centers. The venue, Megaro Mousikis was gorgeous and was right on the coast of the Aegean Sea. It was the perfect place to watch the ebb and flow of the Aegean Sea and the sun set every evening with Mt. Olympus in the background.
Ημέρα πρώτη. Day one.
To start things off there was a social evening on Friday, complete with music, drinks, and multilingual conversation. Mango Languages supplied the music and food, which helped add to the atmosphere of the night.
The following morning was the official start of the Conference. There were local volunteers on hand to check everyone in and they were a great help in making the Conference run smoothly. Mango gave out koulouri, a traditional Greek breakfast item — essentially a small bagel with sesame seeds — to everyone who came to our table. This was great news for any attendee who had missed breakfast or was simply in need of a morning snack.
However, we had more than just one treat! In addition to giving out the koulouri, we also gave away mini-notebooks and other pieces of swag.
Καλημέρα is Greek for ‘Good morning.’ Lilia led an intro to Greek class the mornings of the Conference (Saturday and Sunday). Due to the success of the workshop on Saturday, there were already people lined up and waiting at 9:00am to attend the Sunday session!
The format of the Conference was three parallel sessions with keynote speeches ranging from tips on language learning to reviving endangered languages. The videos of each talk will be uploaded soon to the Polyglot Conference YouTube channel.
After the introduction by organizers Richard Simcott and Alex Rawlings, Tim Keeley gave a talk entitled, “The Age Factor in Foreign Language Acquisition.” Despite the various studies that exist which try to test at which age one can no longer learn languages, Tim suggested that the biggest factor behind achieving your goals in a language (at any age) is passion. This holds true for any of your goals in life, whether or not they are related to language learning.
There were also two keynote talks per day, which meant that the attendees could all attend the same talk in the main auditorium with the same speaker. Professor Zuckermann gave a wonderful presentation about reviving dead languages or revitalizing endangered ones and how doing so leads to cognitive empowerment and social well-being. He prompted the attendees to invest some time to learn an endangered language.
To drive home this point, Professor Zuckermann showed the various untranslatable words found in these languages. For example, did you know that in Yaghan (a language spoken in parts of Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and Argentina), “Mamihlapinatapai” is equivalent to the human experience of “A look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but have been unwilling to offer themselves.” Although most are familiar with this concept, there has never been a single word (in the languages that I’m familiar with) to express this experience. Professor Zuckermann used these examples to show how our perception of the world will broaden if we help these languages survive.
Another one of the keynotes for the day was by Eithne Gallagher, who talked about Interlingual Teaching. That is, how schools can incorporate a child’s first language in the classroom. Eithne said that schools should build upon children’s existing language skills and not make them reinvent the wheel. In the early years of elementary school, she recommends that they use both their native language and English during brainstorming sessions, for example, as they are often most creative in their first language.
Eithne also went on to say that the parents of these children should not stop teaching their children their mother tongue, especially if they think it will hinder the child's English abilities in some way. During her talk, Eithne showed several videos of how this works in the classroom. For example, students at one school created a story book where each of them wrote a passage in their native language and English.
Eithne created a children’s book series called The Glitterlings. “The story books are designed to be used in class and taken home and read with parents. Spaces are provided for key words and phrases to be written in the home language helping young children create vital links between home and school languages.” She had a giveaway directly after her talk. The books (and champagne) went like hotcakes but luckily, Lilia was able to grab a copy just in time.
In the evenings, we were able to explore the beautiful country and see the breathtaking sun set over the Aegean Sea. It was truly a surreal experience. One of the reasons why we love these events so much is that they take place in a different location every year — attendees can experience the culture of the city in addition to soaking in the knowledge from these language experts and enthusiasts.
Δεύτερη μέρα. Day two.
On Sunday morning, Karen Sarhon taught us through her talk entitled, “Sephardic Humor and the Ladino Language.” The talk was conducted in Ladino, which was easily understandable with a background in the Spanish language. We were introduced to the Ladino language through the phrases, poems, and songs found in this culture’s traditions. We were invited to sing along with many of the songs and learned plenty of new words.
Sunday’s keynote speakers included Dr. Alexander Arguelles and Gaston Dorren. Dr. Arguelles spoke about mental training for polyglots and about the autodidactic lifestyle through his talk, “Language Learning as Mental Exercise and Discipline.” He echoed what we’ve started to learn from many of these autodidactic learners — that language-learning is a lifestyle. It is as much a mental, solitary exercise as it is a social tool. In order to achieve fluency in the language, one must have intense periods of focus, as if you are working out. Dr. Arguelles suggests that one cannot simply plunge into language learning impulsively. There must be periods of intense focus in order to achieve what is necessary to become proficient (or even fluent) in a language. Dr. Arguelles also suggests that rather than focusing on the goals, one should focus on the outcomes of these focused sessions. If you’d like to get in contact with Dr. Arguelles, you may find it difficult. He revealed that one of the reasons why he is able to study languages in such a focused way is because he does not use the Internet!
Gaston Dorren gave a talk entitled, “What Languages Don’t Want You To Know.” He spoke on how certain languages have evolved over time and the historical significance of these changes. He explained how “French has a fixation with its mother, Latin” and how strange the history of certain languages can seem. For example, English went through a vowel shift which completely changed the way things were pronounced — it also explains why English spelling can be so difficult. Gaston also talked about the various dialects and languages found throughout the world. For example, although Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian are all called languages, they could also be seen as dialects. His presentation was based on his previously-published book entitled, Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages.
After this last day of talks, many of us went out to dinner together to enjoy all that Greece had to offer. The restaurant was filled with three tables of polyglots from all over the world. It was truly inspiring to hear so many languages spoken in one place. We can’t wait to see all of these lovely people again.
Mango Languages would like to thank the organizers, Alex Rawlings and Richard Simcott, as well as the many volunteeers, for putting on such a wonderful event. We know how much time, energy, and stress goes into event planning, so we have nothing but respect for this movement they have helped to create that has spread beyond the Internet and around the world.
We look forward to being a part of its growth in the years to come.
Guess what? Next year’s conference will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland! Mango Languages just happens to have an Icelandic course that may be available for free (along with 70 other languages) through your library. Click below to find a library stocked with Mango near you.