I recently had a chance to attend a language learning conference known as the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, Slovakia.
This event is one of many dedicated to languages and the art of language learning that take place annually. Other major language learning events include the Polyglot Conference and LangFest (formerly North American Polyglot Symposium). Even more conferences are being organized each year.
These conferences, having all popped up in the last five years, have been a great boon for the language learning community at large. Though they are often referred to as “polyglot” events, these events are intended for anyone with an interest in language learning, and are attended by language enthusiasts, hyperpolyglots, and anyone in between.
I’ve been fortunate to attend many of these conferences, in various locations across the globe. I’ve benefitted from them immensely, both as a language learner and a person, and am happy to see their influence grow and expand year after year.
I want you to benefit from these incredible language learning conferences, just as I have. That is why I will now provide you with five reasons why you should attend a language learning event.
Believe me, you won’t want to miss out.
1. Meet New People
For me, the best thing about polyglot events is getting to meet and connect with other passionate language learners. Thanks to these events, I’ve made friends from all over the world, and learned much about languages and life in the process.
Year in and year out, I’m overjoyed to be able to see and catch up with veteran members of the language learning community, like Richard Simcott, Judith Meyer, Benny Lewis, Kris Broholm, Conor Clyne, and others. Many of these people—excellent language learners and content creators in their own right—have been around since my earliest days making language videos on YouTube, and by now they are old friends.
On top of seeing these familiar faces, every Polyglot Gathering and Conference I’ve attended has introduced me to dozens of new people. In fact, this year’s Gathering in Bratislava had over 400 attendees, many of whom I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with for the first time.
This year in particular, I made an entire group of new friends that I affectionately refer to as “the Italians”. There was Dragos Luca, the Romanian-born, Italian-raised polyglot, whose enthusiasm, drive, and desire to learn truly left me awestruck. Then, we had Stefano Suigo, a language learner from Milan who impressed everyone with his humor, intelligence, and language skill. We also hung out with Elisa Polese from Naples, who is a language coach (like me!) that coaches students in a whopping ten (!) languages. I’ve never met a language coach that teaches anything close to ten languages, so to meet Elisa and hear of her skills was quite humbling.
Though our time at the Gathering was short, Dragos, Stefano, Elisa and I were able to quickly bond and form friendships that I expect will last for a long, long time.
In addition to Dragos, Stefano, and Elisa, I met so many excellent people at this year’s (and previous year’s) events that to try to name and describe them to you would be impossible. They know who they are, and I appreciate them all.
After all, each person is a whole world unto him or herself, and cannot be easily summarized in a few words in a blog post.
In truth, I’m writing about these people not to name-drop, but to make it clear that you, too, can make wonderful, lasting friendships at language learning events.
All you need to do is attend one of these conferences, and be open to any of the hundreds of people that may cross your path. Luckily, all the polyglot events I’ve attended are packed to the brim with both social and informational events, so there’s no shortage of opportunities to connect with others in fun ways.
When you go, talk to the people you meet. Practice your languages with them. Chat, joke, and laugh with them. You’ll be quite surprised how quickly the bonds of friendship can form, and how much you can learn about the world simply through meeting people from other parts of it. Go into every interaction with the mindset that there is something to learn from everyone, and you’ll come out of each event with knowledge and friendships that you never could have anticipated.
2. Experience a New City & Culture
The next best part about attending language learning events is that they are held in cities across the world. In the past five years, I’ve attended conferences and gatherings in Budapest, Hungary; New York City, USA; Berlin, Germany; and Thessaloniki, Greece. This year’s offerings include the aforementioned Gathering in Bratislava, Slovakia, as well as the Polyglot Gathering in Reykjavik, Iceland; and the Langfest in Montreal, Canada.
As you can see, the settings for these events are incredibly diverse, and attending them will likely bring even the most well-traveled globetrotter to locations they’ve never seen before.
For me, visiting each new conference city has been an eye-opening experience. Not only do I get to see each new location from my own perspective—that of a European and a native of Rome, Italy—but also the perspectives of others. As mentioned above, I often have opportunities to hang around with other “foreigners” at the conferences, meaning that we all get to explore and discover these cities together. When traveling around and sightseeing in groups, it’s fascinating to see how ten different people from ten different countries can see and react to the same events—both positive and negative—in just as many different ways.
To be able to observe new places and scenarios from so many points of view simultaneously is a rare treat that only events like the Polyglot Gathering can offer, and I recommend it highly to any of you.
3. Practice Foreign Languages
In addition to making new friends and seeing new sights, no language learning conference worth its salt would be complete without ample opportunities to share and practice your language skills with others.
The global reach of these conferences means that the total number of languages being spoken or practiced at any given time is quite staggering. The 2017 Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava even proved this fact by earning the Slovak record for the greatest number of languages spoken under a single roof (125 in total!).
Many of the events and activities are also organized with language practice in mind. Some of the lectures and talks are given in non-English languages, and many social events involve chatting in languages or engaging in activities like playing games, or singing. Bratislava even had a special “No-English” zone to ensure that learners had time to practice languages other than the world’s current lingua franca.
Whether you know many languages or are just starting to learn one, there are few better places than a polyglot event for getting a lot of language practice in a very small time. As an attendee, you’re constantly around like-minded learners, which creates a supportive and low-pressure practice environment that is hard to find anywhere else. Furthermore, the sheer range of languages represented means that you’ll be able to find a practice partner, no matter which language you speak.
4. Learn About Languages & Language Learning
Polyglot events are also excellent places to learn more about languages and how to go about learning them. Over the last five years, every conference I’ve attended has featured a full suite of conference-hall-style sit-down lectures on any and every topic under the language learning umbrella.
Lecture topics in Bratislava included:
- Introductions to Various Languages (Norwegian, Indonesian, Slovak, Ukranian, Nootka, etc.)
- Multilingualism in Politics (Brexit, Multilingualism in Europe, etc.)
- Language Learning Products and Services (Assimil, Amikumu, Anki, LingQ, etc.)
- Motivational Topics (Making Mistakes, Maintaining State, Boosting Confidence, etc.)
- Language Learning Techniques (Learning via VR, Dictionary Building, Flashcards, etc.)
- And more!
All current polyglot events have schedules full of educational and informative lectures like these. Schedule permitting, you can attend as few or as many as you like. Some range from the formal and academic, to the purely fun and humorous. Regardless of your skill level as a language learner or your preference for lecture topics, you’ll be sure to leave any language conference having learned something new and interesting.
5. Motivate Yourself & Others
The final reason that I believe you should attend a polyglot event is to help boost your motivation.
As a long-time language learner, I’m painfully aware of how solitary language learning can be before you take steps to get out in the world and practice your skills with others. Sometimes, that loneliness, combined with any learning struggles you face along the way, can lead to dips or drops in motivation.
Polyglot events are the perfect antidote to this. Every time I leave an event, I am amazed how energized and inspired I feel to learn more languages, and push my skills to even greater heights.
By simply giving you the chance to spend a few days around all sorts of language learners from all walks of life, language learning events help you see that your language goals are achievable, and that you have a community of learners behind you that will support you in achieving them.
And you, too, can be part of that support system for other learners. By sharing your story, your laughter, and your languages with the others in attendance, you can motivate others to achieve new heights as well.
If you have an interest in learning foreign languages, attending a language learning conference can provide you with an experience like none other.
Not only do will you get to meet hundreds of like-minded language enthusiasts, but you will get to travel to a new and fascinating place to do so.
Once there, you will be able to practice any and all of your target languages with other attendees, and then learn all about language learning from a wide-range of educational lectures.
All these experiences, packaged together in a two- to five-day long conference (depending on which you choose) will be an amazing source of motivation for yourself and others, as you get to observe first-hand what language learners are able to accomplish both separately, and as part of the community.
I love attending these conferences, and return home from each a better and more motivated language learner. If you give them a chance, I know your reaction will be much the same.
With all that said, the only remaining question is this:
Which conference will I see YOU at?
Written by Luca Lampariello and Kevin Morehouse