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What are Polyglots and How Are They Categorized

Ask anyone on the street to give you the definition of the word “polyglot” and he’ll mutter out something about “a person speaking many languages”. Still, if we go in depth we will find out that a polyglot is much more than this and they can be categorized through various means.

Strictly put, the dictionary definition of a polyglot is “someone that has a high degree of proficiency with several languages”. But being a polyglot is in itself a cultural and social status and this is undeniable. Knowing many languages isn’t just helpful for career or traveling purposes, it’s also heightening to you as a person in society and the views of others towards you will be undoubtedly changed for the better.

But let’s see what different types of polyglots are there and how you can “earn” your place in one of these categories. Take note that when counting the number of languages one speaks, you always consider his native tongue as well. Still, a person that only knows one foreign language (thus can speak two languages fluently) is not considered a polyglot. Instead, he is considered a “bilingual speaker”. There’s a debate on whether or not people speaking three languages fluently should be called polyglots or simply trilingual speakers, but it’s generally acknowledged that a person is only considered a true polyglot when he can fluently speak 3 foreign languages or above, plus his native tongue.

Still, how do you define a person as “speaking a language”? Knowing how to say “Hi my name is Joe” in 8 different languages won’t mean you can speak those languages and it will definitely not make you a polyglot. In order for you to be considered a speaker of a certain language you need to have a moderately solid base of vocabulary as well as an average grip on grammar, spelling, pronunciation and other similar elements of that language.

Another problem that appears when dealing with this “language counting” phenomenon is the lack of clarity towards how you separate languages. For example, Scandinavian languages are quite similar to one another and a Norwegian speaker for example can usually understand a Swedish speaker without putting too much effort in it, so learning both languages is easy once you know one of them. This way, your language counter goes up 2 steps although you had an easy job. On the other end, a person learning the two major Chinese dialects of Cantonese and Mandarin will spend much more effort into them (the two dialects differ heavily and they are quite large and complicated, thus a pain to learn) and still get a single buff to their language counter.

Obviously, this is all just theoretical talk, since no one will really keep count of the languages you can speak. However, they will most likely be impressed when they’ll hear you talk in 3 or more languages on different occasions or when they’ll notice you can fluently talk both Chinese dialects or 3-4 Slavic languages.

Increase your foreign language vocabulary at by playing online games and become a true polyglot.