If you love learning languages, you should go to the Polyglot Gathering at least once in your life.
But I have the feeling that, if you go once, you can’t help but go there again. And again. At least, that’s the feeling I have after being there for the first time this year.
I remember hearing about this event, briefly checking last year’s program, asking a friend if she was interested and then deciding to go, hardly knowing what to expect. I just had the feeling it was a good thing and I am glad I was right.
But “what is the Polyglot Gathering?”, you may ask.
The Polyglot Gathering is – I quote from their website – “an annual event that brings together Polyglots from around the globe for 4 days of lectures, activities, and seminars about language learning, which take place in every imaginable language”. Basically, it is heaven for language learning nerds and language freaks alike. And yes, there are a lot of people like that out there.
With people coming from all over the world, some of which speak up to 20 languages if not more, you basically have the opportunity of practicing all your language skills. What I loved the most is that everybody is super nice and willing to communicate and, no matter if you are fluent or just a beginner in a certain language, you never feel left out or embarrassed.
The Gathering is not only a chance to practice languages but also an amazing opportunity to learn new things as well.
During the four days of the conference, there are a lot of interesting talks – some of which have been really eye-opening for me. The one I loved the most was by the lovely Lýdia Machová, a conference interpreter and Ph.D. student from Bratislava, who shared with us the amazing results of an English project she led at her university.
Basically, she moved from a standard approach, where the teacher teaches and the student has to learn, to a different and more responsible approach to learning. In this new approach, the teacher becomes a mentor and a sort of a coach, while the student takes full responsibility for his/her own learning process.
The project itself was geared towards improving English language presentation skills and students could choose the method they preferred to practice the language: from watching movies to binging on series, from listening to favorite songs to whatever they felt like doing. Lýdia would meet their students once a week, keeping track of their progress with an accountability sheet and being there to help and motivate them.
The students had amazing results and studied far more they would have done in a standard approach.
They felt fully responsible for their own learning process and were motivated to reach their goals, proving the great power a teacher has when he or she decides to become a coach rather than a professor and works together with his/her students, making learning an interesting process towards a common goal.
The speech was called “Don’t teach me, make me learn” and, being a teacher myself, I found it full of food for thought and gave me a lot of ideas for my own language courses.
Yet there were many other interesting talks.
There was Elisa Polese, who introduced us to the incredible world of multilingual courses – she teaches up to 10 languages in one single course. Alex Rawlings, famous for being nominated Britain’s most multilingual student at the age of 20 (he was fluent in 11 languages), who delivered an entertaining and thoughtful speech about the forces that drive us to learn a language, what he calls the “need principle”.
I discovered the existence of something called Globish, a simplified version of English consisting of basic grammar and just 1500 words. Thanks to Mo Riddiford, who gave a speech about the subject, we could reflect on how vital it is to find a shared language, an easy means of communication that gives people the opportunity to connect and overcome their language barriers.
These were just a few of the many incredible talks hosted by the Gathering. I have learned a lot and got useful ideas for my work, but I have also been changed a little as a human being. I am kind of a shy person, I live in a secluded area, I do not speak with many strangers on a daily basis. I could say I almost always speak with the same people every day.
This event gave me the confidence and the joy of reaching out to strangers and speak to them, for the pure pleasure of hearing what they have to say and learn more. Because there’s always to learn from others and sometimes we tend to forget it, immersed as we are in our lives and jobs and ordinary stuff to do.