Baby Boomer Polyglots

Baby Boomer Polyglots all have something in common.  No matter what age you are, learning a foreign language like Spanish is easy when you have the right tools.

It’s always fascinating to me that no matter how short or long you have lived on this planet, many people, even baby boomers and retired folks can learn a foreign language easily given certain conditions.  That was demonstrated again at some of our most recent Super Thinking + Spanish courses in both Sarasota, Florida and St. Charles, Missouri.

One of our class participants was a professional woman originally from India.  She spoke three languages and decided to learn Spanish because her young son was just starting a Spanish course at school and she wanted to participate.  To make a long story short, Sree very soon picked up the “lingo” so to speak and was quickly absorbing the all of the techniques and information in class.  She has the makings of a polyglot.

Another student named Jim, a retired dentist, planned to visit a Latin country so he wanted a head start, but found it  a challenge to speak Spanish freely.  At the end of the course, he not only was constructing Spanish sentences with ease, but speaking basic Spanish enough to communicate his ideas and intentions.

Lastly, Colleen, a Canadian banker showed up to our course with some previous Spanish training, but was very hesitant and anxious to speak because of trying to “get it right.”  At the end of the course, she was not only creating Spanish sentences with incredible mastery, but began speaking Spanish without fear of making mistakes.

All of these individuals are well on their way to becoming polyglots because they have mastered one of the most important lessons you can learn about speaking a foreign language-you don’t care what other people think- you just focus on communicating your thoughts.

So, what is a polyglot?  A polyglot is simply defined as a person who can speak and master more than one language.  Some define a hyperpolyglot as someone who can master six to ten languages with facility.

In Michael Erard’s book entitled, Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners, the author explores the idea of what makes a polyglot and hyperpolygot.  He starts out by tracing the steps of an early nineteenth century priest who wanders the planet looking into monastery and church libraries to research language.  He eventually becomes a professor of oriental languages at the University of Bologna and later becomes a cardinal in the Vatican in Rome.

His name?  Giuseppe Mezzofanti, know for speaking at least twenty-four languages and according to one account of English tourists who ran into him at the Vactican, the good Cardinal claimed to speak forty-five languages.  After a while I guess you stop counting.  Erard defines the cardinal as a hyperpolyglot.

Another famous polyglot is Heinrich Schliemann (6 January 1822 – 26 December 1890).  According to Wikepedia, Heinrich became a hyperpolyglot while working in the import/export business:

Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich Schliemann

“On March 1, 1844, 22-year old Schliemann took a position with B. H. Schröder & Co., an import/export firm. In 1846 the firm sent him as a General Agent to St. Petersburg. In time, Schliemann represented a number of companies. He learned Russian and Greek, employing a system that he used his entire life to learn languages—Schliemann claimed that it took him six weeks to learn a language[7] and wrote his diary in the language of whatever country he happened to be in.  By the end of his life, he could converse in English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Greek, Latin, Russian, Arabic, and Turkish as well as German. Schliemann’s ability with languages was an important part of his career as a businessman in the importing trade.”

There are many more famous polyglots we could mention here, but don’t have the space.

Therefore, what really makes a polyglot or hyper polyglot?

There seems to be some common threads among polyglots.  One key characteristic is that they tend to be rather socially inclined, so they start conversations with perfect strangers.  They  focus on communication, not getting it “right” – for example grammatically. Their focus is getting their point across, whatever that is and work their tools like body language into the mix.

Another key characteristic among polyglots is simply necessity, i.e. pragmatism.  Polyglots find themselves in a position where they must communicate in a foreign language in multiple situations like work, travel, finding what they need or even emergency situations.

There are several books dedicated to polyglots and how they learn.  One such book is The Polyglot Project:  How to Learn Multiple Languages by Claude Cartaginese which is a free book online.  www.fluentin3months.comThis book is a compilation of experiences from polyglots from numerous backgrounds and experiences.

Of course,  let’s not leave out neuroscience.  In Michael Gazzaniga’s book, Nature’s Mind: Biological Roots of Thinking, Emotions, Sexuality, Language, and Intelligence, he points out that new neural pathways seem to be build each time a person learns a new language. These increasing complex highways creates a sophistication could explain that the more languages and individual learns, the quicker and higher level of retention and mastery occurs.  This would make sense to me, especially after seeing Sree, who already spoke three languages, seems to quickly go to the head of the class so to speak.

Gazzaniga has another book that is an essential reference work.  It’sthe fourth edition of The Cognitive Neurosciences.  It’s a seminal work on the developing field of cognitive neuroscience.

So that brings us back to the Super Thinking + Spanish Course that we do at Hispanic Globe. The more we employ both new and old technologies to achieve results, its seems that the progress is unlimited. That is one thing that makes language learning fun and captivating for me. To see how, right before my eyes, the course participants grow exponentially in their abilities to adapt, absorp, create, and communicate in a foreign language that shortly beforehand they possessed no facility.

If you are thinking about adding another language, whether you speak one or six, Super Thinking + Spanish is a way to expand your neural pathways and create a more sophiscated brain structure to take on other learning challenges.  Let’s face it.  Life is a school and we have signed up whether we like it or not, so why not make it fun and productive?

Check out this video of some of our past participants and hear their response to our Super Thinking + Spanish Course.

Here is a link to learn about our next Super Thinking + Spanish Course.

To sign up for the course click here. 

Hispanic Globe quote of the month:

“A man prepared has fought half the battle. [Sp., Hombre apercebido medio combatido.]”

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote (II, VII)

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