You may have heard of Tim Doner, but have you heard the name Marcus Cruz? Well, this aspiring polyglot is soon to become a household name in the community, seeing as he is learning 18 languages. He’s following in the footsteps of the polyglots that have come before him, but he’s also carving his own path. He has over 9,000 followers on Instagram, which is the platform that he has been using to advocate, practice, and encourage others to learn languages.
We were able to interview this polyglot recently and he has proven that although he may be young, he already has a plethora of experience when it comes to language learning.
His mother had always encouraged her children to learn another language. One day, their mother took them to their local library and they used a program called Mango Languages. Marcus used Mango to learn Brazilian Portuguese, because he wanted to learn something different and unique from his siblings, who were learning Spanish and French. Thanks to the large number of languages that Mango provides (currently 71), Marcus dove right into the polyglot life. “There were just so many languages that I saw on Mango that I was really interested in, so I just started with them.” He would listen to the languages and then realized that he loved listening to them. From there, he started learning the languages that he loved most. And then 18 languages later, he’s found his passion.
However, the most impactful or important language for Marcus is ASL (American Sign Language). He considers ASL his best language after English. “Learning about the Deaf community has really expanded my view on the world. Their culture is just so beautiful. I think a lot of hearing people don’t realize how beautiful the culture is.” He actively interprets for the Deaf community in his area and would one day like to go to school to become a certified ASL Interpreter.
Because he has such a passion for language learning, he couldn’t keep it to himself; he began uploading language-related photos to Instagram. Monday through Friday he would upload a word-of-the-day in his target language(s) to the platform. At first, he didn’t really think it was impacting people. He created a post asking if his followers would like him to continue posting about language learning — the subsequent response he received was incredible. “Seeing all of the people that I’ve encouraged to learn languages has just been a motivation to keep doing it."
Marcus is currently a homeschooler. Although he has to learn other subjects such as science, math, and geography, he also finds time to work on languages. “My mom is very loving and allows me to learn one language during school. Before and after school I have a set schedule[...]I pick a few each day to learn.” Every night, he sets aside time to schedule the languages that he will be practicing the next day (he spends about four hours per day learning languages). He makes sure to deliberately use resources and document his progress in each of the languages. In fact, he showed us the notebook with which he records his learning. You may have seen a few of the pages from his Instagram page. While he is learning the language(s), he makes sure to think of situations when/where he would use each language. When he is out shopping, watching TV, etc. he tries to look around and see what he can notice in other languages. For example, in the produce section, he’ll mentally record the names of all of the fruits and vegetables that he sees.
Although this description of Marcus may sound like he is a robot, he is indeed human — language learning can be hard for him too. For Marcus, the most difficult aspect of learning a language is just talking with a native speaker. “Sometimes you learn with a more formal book setting or even with a program (with a lot of audio input), so one-on-one conversations are different and take time getting used to.” A strategy that he uses that helps with this is to “listen to the conversations over and over again, so I can notice every word and how the word order is made up.” This allows him to immerse himself in the conversation and imagine being a part of it, so that he can use these words and phrases in context.
Although speaking the language in a real situation can be the most difficult for him, it is also the aspect of languages that he enjoys most. “One of the things that keeps me motivated is just speaking the language.” In general, the best way to learn the language (if you want to speak with people) is to start speaking. Of course, this is easier said than done. With the internet, you can communicate with people from around the world. Through Marcus’ presence and influence on Instagram, he has been able to practice and learn from speakers of a multitude of languages. You can start learning a language and putting it into practice in the same way. Find a medium that you enjoy, such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram — or even face-to-face meetups (*gasp*).
We hope that by reading and listening to the achievements of this young polyglot, you will be inspired to embark on your own language journey. Our next guest will be Simon Ager, creator of Omniglot, which is the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. Please comment with any questions you would like to ask or any topics you would like us to discuss. Click "Find Mango" below to find a library near you that offers Mango Languages for free.