If you’ve ever encountered someone who spoke multiple languages, your first question might have been how? Or perhaps, why? Polyglots are certainly impressive, but also somewhat mysterious. What motivates them to take on this seemingly daunting task? And how did their polyglot journey begin?
In this episode of the podcast, senior producer Dylan Lyons chats with polyglots Bruno Beidacki (who speaks five languages) and Steve Kaufmann (who speaks 21!) to learn their secrets. Senior producer Steph Koyfman, producer David Doochin and language expert Elin Asklöv join to give their thoughts on polyglots and discuss their larger language aspirations.
Multilinguish: The Secrets Of The Polyglots
First, the panel shares their initial impressions of polyglots, and we meet our polyglot interviewees — Bruno Beidacki and Steve Kaufmann. They explain how they got started on their pursuit of languages and what motivates them to continue learning new ones. The panel weighs in with their own tips for getting started with a new language and what they find most motivating.
In the second half of the episode, the panel discusses obstacles they’ve faced when learning a new language and techniques they used to overcome them. Then, Bruno shares a particularly embarrassing language mistake and how he moved past it. Finally, we talk about an additional perk of language learning: increased empathy for English learners. When you’ve experienced the difficulty of learning a language firsthand, you’re less likely to judge those struggling with your language.
This episode was produced by Dylan Lyons and edited by Ruben Vilas. Jen Jordan is our executive producer. Our logo was designed by Ally Zhao. Special thanks to Bruno Beidacki and Steve Kaufmann for taking the time to speak with us for this episode.
Dylan Lyons: For the language app Babbel, this is Multilinguish. I’m senior producer Dylan Lyons. To us mortals polyglots may seem like mythical beings whose language abilities we can barely fathom, but polyglots are people too. And they started by learning a single language, a totally attainable goal. On today’s show, we’ll hear from two polyglots, one who speaks five languages and another who speaks 21 about how and why they took up this hobby and what advice they have for aspiring polyglots who don’t know where to begin. But first a reminder to please rate and review Multilinguish wherever you listen and be sure you’re subscribed so you get new episodes as soon as they’re released. And one more note, one of the polyglots we spoke with shares an example with some language that may not be appropriate for younger listeners. All right, I’m here with Steph Koyfman, David Doochin and Elin Asklov, and we’re going to talk about polyglots today. Hi everyone. Welcome.
Steph Koyfman: Hello.
Elin Asklov: Hi.
David Doochin: Hey Dylan.
Dylan Lyons: Thanks for joining me. So today we’re talking about polyglots and their secrets, but I guess just to start, can you guys tell me what you think of when you think of polyglots? Like what you think they are or what your impressions of them are?
Steph Koyfman: Well, just the word polyglot, I don’t know the word glot makes me think of tongues. So I think of a many tongued person.
Dylan Lyons: Like physically they have a lot of tongues.
Steph Koyfman: It’s a mental image that comes up for me, but.
Dylan Lyons: Cute.
David Doochin: Yeah, I mean we’ve talked about polyglots enough in our work that I feel like I have a pretty good sense of what it is. And so I would say that it’s someone who speaks more than one language, but I think that there has to be an element of intention behind it. Like of course you have to be deliberate and intentional when you’re learning a language that’s not your own. But it seems like for polyglots learning languages is one of their passions and not anyone will just decide to pick up three or four extra languages. I think polyglot and a linguistics enthusiasts are kind of hard to draw a line between, because you’ve got to have to… you’re going to have to have a sort of gusto and fervor and zest for language—
Dylan Lyons: Right. It takes a special kind of person.
Elin Asklov: Yeah. Also I think it should be either three and more or more than three.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. Because two is just bilingual. Three-
Steph Koyfman: Is trilingual
Dylan Lyons: Multilingual, trilingual.
Elin Asklov: Trilingual.
Steph Koyfman: It’s not multilinguish. And I think the point David raised is important too because it’s worth remembering that for probably the majority of people in the world multilingualism is the norm and not the exception. And that’s just a product of how they grow up, how they’re raised. I think a polyglot is someone who makes it their intentional priority to learn languages that they wouldn’t otherwise absorb just from being part of their community.
David Doochin: I mean I could even see someone that… we might be able to launch into a bigger discussion about the number of languages you need to know to be a polyglot later. But I could see someone having a mother who speaks one language, a father or a co-parent who speaks in another language, and then there’s a whole other language of their communities. So they end up kind of getting exposed to three could consider themselves trilingual, but it’s all a very passive process. Like you said, if you’re absorbing from your community or from the people who raise you, you don’t necessarily have to be “Good at languages” to succeed, but polyglots seem to have some sort of maybe predisposition. Maybe they’re really good at picking up languages or they just care deeply about them to—
Elin Asklov: Yeah, I think that’s true. I don’t, I don’t see myself as a polyglot for instance, because all languages I speak I had to learn anyway.
Steph Koyfman: You’re not a polyglot, you’re just Swedish.
Dylan Lyons: So it wasn’t by choice?
Elin Asklov: No.
Dylan Lyons: Interesting. All right. Well, I spoke with two polyglots of ranging language abilities and I will let them introduce themselves.
Bruno Beidacki: My name is Bruno Beidacki , I’m originally from Brazil, but I’ve been living in the US for the last five years and I speak… that’s where the complications start so I would say that I speak anywhere between three and a half to five languages. But it really varies depending on what your definition of speaking language is.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. So Bruno speaks… I would say he speaks five languages because he can get by, but some obviously are more fluent than others. So that’s another kind of discussion point is when it counts as fully speaking it do you have to be fluent in all of the languages to be considered a polyglot or just conversational? I don’t know if anyone has thoughts on that.
Steph Koyfman: I don’t think it’s realistic that polyglots are going to be having a super exceptional command of every single language.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah, I agree.
Steph Koyfman: I think most of them have maybe up to two or three languages that they’re really fluent in and then a few more that they can kind of just wing it in.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. I think Bruno being modest there. He is fluent in… he’s from Brazil, so he’s fluent in Portuguese and English and he knows a lot of Spanish and he knows some French and there’s another one, maybe Italian, I don’t remember. Anyway, the second polyglot we have is known on YouTube as Lingosteve and I’ll let him introduce himself as well.
Steve Kaufmann: So my name is Steve Kaufmann and I like learning languages and I’ve learned quite a few.
Dylan Lyons: And again, modest, quite a few. He speaks at least some of 21 different languages. So those are the different ends of the polyglot spectrum.
David Doochin: Do you think he’s the person in the world who knows the most languages? I’ve heard of people… maybe you have this question that you want us to talk about later, but what is-
Steph Koyfman: I know this one.
David Doochin: Steph maybe you can interject because… Why are you whispering?
Steph Koyfman: I don’t know.
David Doochin: Say it loud and proud. Clear you know it.
Dylan Lyons: Say it.
Steph Koyfman: I don’t know his full name off the top of my head, but there was an Italian guy named Giuseppe. I think it’s Mezzofanti. I could be butchering it, but he existed a while ago, but he apparently knew as many as 65 languages or something.
David Doochin: That’s crazy.
Steph Koyfman: But he’s obviously not around for us to test the depth of his knowledge. So it’s basically just steeped in myth. So we don’t know.
David Doochin: I believe that a person could know 65 languages. I don’t think I could ever get to that point. But once you learn the basic underlying structures of certain languages that are in the same family, I’m sure it’s pretty easy to extrapolate. It’s probably just a matter of learning a lot of vocabularies. So maybe people have a really really good memories and can do lexical association and recall really well. But even 21 for Lingosteve that sounds crazy to…
Dylan Lyons: It’s wild. So there’s three kind of topics I want to get out of today’s discussion and from the polyglots and with assistance from you. So I want to talk about how you even get started in this endeavor, how you stay motivated along the way. And then talk about kind of challenges that might come up and how to overcome them. So starting with getting started because we all know that’s the hardest part. Can you all share a little bit about any languages that you’ve tried to learn and how you’ve kind of… did you kind of dive in? Did you enter slowly? How did you go about that process?
Elin Asklov: Yeah, I mean learning German. I lived in Germany for many years and that was pretty natural. Coming there went to a language school for a little bit and then I also lived with people who only spoke German to me. So getting started part of that was really easy I thought and I thought I was on a roll and I really wanted to learn it. But then I encountered a… there’s just a lot of years when you are just intermediate and it’s kind of the learning curve is a bit deep in the middle sort of, and that’s when it’s a little bit difficult I thought. But that was when I was getting started with it. Then I learned Spanish as well and I’m still in the process there and maybe like lower intermediate Spanish or upper beginner even. And so with Spanish I’m really in that now. It’s a bit of an uphill going up.
Steph Koyfman: Well it’s interesting because I never really thought about the fact that… okay, so I can… I’m conversational in three languages. I’m fluent in English and I can talk to someone in Spanish and Russian just about anything. But I don’t really have any recent memories of being a beginner because Russian was technically my first language. I learned it as a child and I’ve been learning Spanish in school since elementary school. So that’s been kind of a long cumulative process too. And the couple of times that I sort of took a couple Swedish lessons or took a couple of Italian lessons, I don’t think that I had a strong enough motivation to really keep going. I took a couple of lessons and was just like, “Wow, this is actually pretty hard.” So I don’t know if that’s really helpful to anyone. But…
Dylan Lyons: So it sounds like for both of you at least it was somewhat compulsory in school you took… or growing up with your family, you learned Russian for instance. So it just kind of happened?
David Doochin: I for one, don’t have a native language that’s not English and I grew up speaking English only for most of my childhood and then started learning Spanish in eighth grade and I kind of just fell in love with the concept of language learning itself. I thought it was such a cool puzzle and it’s like you’re deciphering codes and messages according to these different rules. So my first experience with language learning was kind of… it sounds similar to something that you both had in classrooms, just kind of doing it not a specific Spanish language school and not living with a family that spoke Spanish to me directly. So it was more of a sustained very years long process from late middle school through high school, through half of college. But mixed in there were trips with my family to places like Costa Rica and I would translate for them and Mexico.
And so I had a few chances to have that immersive experience. But most of it was just interacting with teachers and other students, which was a great way to learn. But it wasn’t as concentrated or as dense. But I think that I would consider myself fluent in Spanish right now. A part of that has to do with I just really likes learning it. And so I think it’s something I’ve tried to use as much as I can and that stuck with me. But then other languages that I picked up or try to pick up were Italian in high school.
I did a year-long independent study with two best friends and a teacher who spoke Italian, not natively, but that was a more hands on individualized experience. Some of that has stuck with me, some hasn’t and it’s closely related to Spanish so I can easily pick it back up. But I took some German in college too and that was more classroom learning and then I’m learning… I’m trying to learn Dutch with Babbel actually and that’s going pretty well. But obviously you need a teacher or someone, a native speaker to be able to give you feedback and help correct you. Babbel is really good at that but it would be nice if I could find some sort of immersion or a one-on-one tutor situation to help me reinforce those skills.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah, totally. So I asked Bruno and Steve how kind of they got started with it because I was curious how do you go about becoming a polyglot? What is the first step in that?
Bruno Beidacki: Honestly, for me it’s been a more putting myself out there, finding someone who can kind of guide me through that. Especially because language it’s such an experience based topic. You can learn a language and that happens a lot in Brazil people study in school and in the US honestly it happens too with people taking Spanish in class, in high school and middle school and stuff like that. But then it never extends beyond that. I think that that’s where the roadblock start. So I think if you’re not putting yourself in a situation where you’re forced to speak it, then you’re probably not going to get to like a level of fluency that most people strive for. And that’s why I’m more of a kind of in-person face to face talking to someone who is fluent in that language, whose native language is that. I think that helps me not only to learn the language but also to kind of pick up on the nuance of the language, like slang and how to pronounce certain words because I think that’s really important when you’re learning language.
Steve Kaufmann: So in my own case, to me the process is forging forward in the language, reading more, listening more, taking on material that has a fair number of unknown words, not worrying about what I don’t understand and just forging forward. I think a person has to decide what their goal is. My goal is to get to in the European framework sort of a B2. It may take me a while to get there, but that’s what I want to do. And therefore I want to acquire more and more words. I want to give my brain lots of opportunities to get used to language. So I just stay the course. So I think one of the things is set yourself a goal and then just stay the course. Don’t question yourself just keep going.
Dylan Lyons: So Steve is all about setting goals and just kind of pushing yourself forward and not stopping no matter what. I don’t know. Do you guys have any reaction to that or any experience with that?
David Doochin: Yeah, I mean my reaction was that as with any learning endeavor, you’re going to have to keep on trudging when it gets hard, you’re going to face challenges and obstacles, but setting goals is a great way to measure your progress. And I think language learning fits right in to that whole scheme as well. So it doesn’t surprise me that he said that. I think that in sort of more cognitive based learning challenges like languages people are… they have different skills and strengths and weaknesses. So I think there’s a lot that you can do to check in with yourself and say, “How do I learn best?” If you’re setting goals that aren’t realistic for you, then maybe you’ll get really frustrated when things aren’t working out. But I think you’ll have to do a lot of self-reflection along the way and forgive yourself when you don’t understand something or when it gets really hard. Like he said, don’t focus on what you don’t understand, but find ways to motivate yourself around what you do understand and the progress that you are making.
Steph Koyfman: I like the idea that you kind of have to give yourself no choice but to get good at the language because there’s a lot of inertia that can overcome your best intentions and efforts when…` speaking just from my experience being abroad in college, I found that it was sort of detrimental to my Spanish learning to hang out with other Americans in my program because a lot of times we would just revert to English because it was easier and after a while it’s really hard to be in an environment where you have to constantly strain to express yourself, especially if that’s something that you take for granted all the time. And so it’s just kind of like, it’s really tempting and easy to just revert to old habits when you don’t have to. But it’s adversity will make you stronger. I don’t know that I would call it adversity, but it’s like…
Dylan Lyons: I totally agree. Forcing yourself, putting yourself in that type of situation. Say a similar idea when I was in Spain and got into a cab and the cab driver spoke no English, so I was forced to use my Spanish to express where I was going and then he was chatting with me about the weather and whatnot and that I felt really helped me get better because I was practicing in a situation where I kind of had no choice.
Elin Asklov: Yeah. It really helps if the person you’re talking to doesn’t speak any other language that you speak. That’s really when you have to really dig deep in your brain for whatever you want to say. And it’s also difficult because you’re going to… when you’re on beginner lever or even lower intermediate, you’re going to feel so stupid all the time. And it’s hard and it’s super frustrating. But you also, I think you learn a lot about yourself through that. So if anyone is up for a, I don’t know, therapeutic process that’s also something to it I think, just like you, I don’t know, you learn a lot.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah, it’s humbling.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. And I’m going to share later, we have some embarrassing mistake type moments in the challenges section that are funny but also like help. But we will get there. So now I want to move on to the next topic which is staying motivated because motivation obviously as we know plays a huge role in starting to learn a language, continuing to learn a language, getting good at it. And then of course with polyglots you have to be motivated if you want to keep learning more and more languages. So I don’t know. What would you guys guess would be reasons that polyglots would want to learn this many languages or what do you think motivates them?
Steph Koyfman: More YouTube followers.
Dylan Lyons: I’m sure that’s part of it.
Elin Asklov: I think they just have to be super, I don’t know, just have such a strong interest in languages, languages as a whole but also in the individual ones and be so curious. Curiosity perhaps is, if I would be a polyglot, that would probably be what was driving me to kind of get to the bottom of this and get into their language. The core of it and understand it.
David Doochin: Yeah. I think if you have a really a mind that’s interested in anthropology and what it takes to express our shared humanity, these big deep questions, you can learn a lot about what is universal in language by studying more of them and figuring out what patterns are the same, what words are showing up across different languages that you didn’t know were related in this way. How are their shared histories connected or different and how does that represent changes in human geography for example.
There’re so many questions you could ask that languages can help you answer. So maybe if you are interested in sociology or anthropology, like I said, and languages are a really natural off shoot from that. And then another reason I thought of is just wanting to connect with more people around the world if you want. If you have a Travel Bug or you’ve really enjoyed meeting friends from around the world and you want to meet more of them or you want to go study abroad somewhere, have a job around the world and be able to open up all those borders to yourself, you’re going to need to know more than just your native language, most likely.
Dylan Lyons: Totally. Here is what Bruno said when I asked him what motivates him.
Bruno Beidacki: I think part of my motivation was the fact that I’ve never been a person who is satisfied being in my comfort zone. So I’ve always known that deep down I was going to move somewhere I was going to find opportunities and maybe try to get a career in another country. And in order to be able to do that without having very, very few options you have to know another language, at least one of them. And then I think I don’t have any tattoos but I hear from a lot of people who have tattoos that once you get a tattoo it kind` gets addictive and you want to get more tattoos.
And I think that’s kind of what language is to a lot of people who become polyglots. It starts as just an interest of maybe I want to travel to a country that speaks that language and I don’t want be the foreigner who doesn’t speak the local language. And then after that happens, you start to realize that there is… that language learnings opens doors and it serves as kind of a master key to some experiences that you would never be able to have if you didn’t speak the language. So a lot of times I realized that I’m able to adapt to the local culture of a place a lot better if I speak the local language.
Dylan Lyons: So he obviously mentioned what we talked about in terms of travel, in terms of opening doors to meet more people. What did you all think of what Bruno said and his motivations? Were you surprised?
Elin Asklov: No.
David Doochin: Yeah, the thing about I said no as well and then yeah comma the thing about using language as a master key to open up a lot of different doors. I thought that was really well articulated and then also getting out of your comfort zone. It seems like language learning ties in so many elements of branching out of your comfort zone because you have to not be afraid to feel stupid like you mentioned earlier Elin or to even having conversations with new people, whether it’s in your native language or not. That can be scary sometimes and you have to be vulnerable and be willing to share parts of yourself. So I think that’s like using language as a tool to connect with more people and wanting to do that and put yourselves in situations where you’re uncomfortable and have to figure it out. That makes so much sense to me.
Dylan Lyons: What about the tattoo thing stuff? Is that accurate for you?
Steph Koyfman: Yeah.
Dylan Lyons: A little addictive.
Steph Koyfman: I don’t plan on stopping.
Dylan Lyons: Fair. Just like he doesn’t plan on stopping learning languages.
Steph Koyfman: But that doesn’t mean that each new acquisition can’t be an intentional, you know what I mean? It’s not like you’re just piling them on just to get them.
Dylan Lyons: Right. You want to take on more but it’s also like its because you enjoy it, I presume.
David Doochin: Yeah. You wouldn’t get a new tattoo just for the sake of getting a new tattoo. You’d still think about what it to you and why you want it and where it would go in your body. And I think when learning a new language you don’t just pick up a random language because you’re like, “Oh, I’m bored and now it’s time for me to learn my eighth language.” You probably still have some sort of connection to it or you want to build a connection to other people with it. You probably have some sort of very personal narrative that feeds why you pick up the languages you do. But like you said, once you start it doesn’t make sense to stop because you realize how it can be really fun and stimulating and helps you express yourself a lot more. Just like a tattoo would.
Steph Koyfman: But I will say that after the first couple tattoos you have much less trepidation about getting more. It’s much less like… because people who don’t have any are like, “Ooh, I don’t know if I could ever think of something that’s meaningful enough that I could commit to forever.” And after you have three or four, you’re just like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll just get that because it looks cool.” Not that it’s not meaningful to you in some way, but you have less reservations about adding-
Dylan Lyons: The first time is always the hardest.
Steph Koyfman: Right, it’s tattoo metaphor. It’s really-
Dylan Lyons: I kind of like it, it’s fun.
David Doochin: Do you two have tattoos?
Elin Asklov: No.
Dylan Lyons: I don’t.
David Doochin: We do.
Steph Koyfman: Only me, You do?
Steve Kaufmann: I have one tattoo on my left shoulder.
Dylan Lyons: Let’s get drunk and teach each other languages. So I also asked Steve the same question about his motivations and to some extent they were similar, so.
Steve Kaufmann: It’s rewarding. I would say first of all from a business point of view, certainly my professional career I’ve benefited a lot from being able to speak Japanese and certain European language. Did business in Germany and Sweden. The more languages you know, the greater number of opportunities are going to come your way. Second of all, the more languages you know, the greater number of different kinds of people you can connect with. Even if you’re doing business, you can connect with them socially and finally, it’s just that you see the names of countries on a map and to actually get inside those countries and what they are really like. You gain sort of a sense of the language of the country, the culture, the people become more real to you. Like right now I’m learning three languages at the same time. Arabic, Persian and Turkish and those people just come alive for you. So it’s something that I very much enjoy doing.
Dylan Lyons: Any reactions to Steve there? Sorry, go ahead.
Elin Asklov: No, I think that’s true. That’s what I feel also with the big world languages like… sure I can speak a bit of Spanish but also Mandarin or Arabic that is just an entire world out there that I have no idea what’s going on. And sure there’s translated literature and a lot of people speak English so I would be able to go there and communicate but it’s still something else.
Dylan Lyons: Right. And whether that’s for business, for work or just to get to know those cultures. And he talked a little bit about kind of current events and getting things from different perspectives in the local language really brings it to life.
David Doochin: Yeah. What he said about looking at a map and you just see the name of a country and that country it might as well just be a figment of your imagination unless you can go there and you can immerse yourself in it. You can not speak the local language and still travel there and get a lot from it. But I think he’s so right in that. I just think of all the people who don’t speak English natively have never been to the United States and they have this conception of what living in the US would be like. Whereas it’s just my everyday, I don’t think twice about it, but how cool would it be to come together and share cultures with someone and share stories when we can break down those linguistic barriers and it just opens up a whole new world. Also, I want to say this dude Lingosteve is a powerhouse. Learning Arabic and Persian and Turkish at the same time. I-
Steph Koyfman: Arabic is supposed to be one of the hardest. It’s a category four language in the, what is it?
Dylan Lyons: The Foreign Service. He’s something, he’s a beast. So those-
Steph Koyfman: Crush those languages bro.
Dylan Lyons: Crush them. I’m coming up after the break. We look at the challenges of learning other languages and how to overcome them and we hear a hilariously embarrassing language mistake. We’ll be right back.
Jen Jordan: Multilinguish is brought to you by Babbel, the language app. Now is time for a language learning lightning round. Tell me what’s your best tip for learning a language Thomas?
Thomas Devlin: My best tip for learning a language is that often when you start learning, you kind of just start going for whatever’s presented vocabulary wise. So you’ll do the animals in the zoo, but if you’re not at a zoo that’s not very useful. So mine is, I try to create what I need from the language in my head. So if I know I’m traveling there, I think about the interactions I’ll be having and try to base my vocabulary at least at the beginning around that. So restaurant vocabulary is probably, I think the most important when you’re visiting. So just focus on food, focus on how to ask for certain things and then build from there. Because it just will feel more useful to you and will keep you motivated as you’re learning.
Jen Jordan: That’s a great tip Thomas, what about you Dylan?
Dylan Lyons: I’m all about TV because I love watching TV and it makes it fun and chill. So I watch some Spanish shows on Netflix and obviously make sure to put on the subtitles and turn off the English dubbings because they’re awful. And then I pick up different words and phrases. I’ve picked up a lot of fun Spanish slang and curse words from the show Elite on Netflix and so I highly recommend watching some TV shows in your target language.
Jen Jordan: Awesome Dylan, what about you David?
David Doochin: I think the best tip or strategy I have is to use the N plus one method, which for me means only taking language learning one step at a time, and then moving from what I know and have mastered to feel really good about one step into the more advanced, whether that’s learning basic expressions like hello, how are you getting those down before you move on to anything else more advanced or starting with a pretty simple grammar concept, practicing it, getting it down, and then moving one step ahead to something that’s just a little bit more difficult and then getting that down to before you keep moving on.
Jen Jordan: That’s a great tip David. Thanks guys. So with Babbel you can choose from 14 different languages and lessons only take between 10 and 15 minutes, so it’s easy to get your language learning in every single day. We’re offering Multilinguish users 50% off a three month subscription. New customers can get this by visiting babbel.com/podcast that’s B-A-B-B-E-L.com/podcast.
Dylan Lyons: All right, welcome back. So we’ve talked about how to get started on your polyglot journey and how to stay motivated along the way. So now we’re going to talk about obstacles that come up and how to overcome them. So obviously keeping your motivations in mind can help you overcome obstacles and to keep going. But I also asked Bruno about this and got some other advice and he shared a personal anecdote about an embarrassing language mistake. So let’s take a listen.
Bruno Beidacki: Well not when I started learning English, but when I moved to the US for the first time for an exchange program, I couldn’t really tell the difference between certain words.
Dylan Lyons: Pronunciation wise?
Bruno Beidacki: Exactly. I was giving this presentation in class and it was just about life as I know. And I start talking about life in Brazil and how things work. And then I said the best thing I like about Brazil was the fact that we’re so close to the ocean and that we get to experience the ocean so much. And then I said, “I got really lucky to grow up with my family owning a bitch house.” And everyone started laughing and I was just like, “What? What’s wrong with the bitch house?” And they’re like, “You mean beach.” And obviously now to me after I’ve lived here for an extended period of time, I can clearly tell the difference between those two words.
And that was very frustrating because it’s like you feel really stupid when someone’s telling you, “No, you’re trying to say this but you’re saying this.” but to you it sounds the same. And I think that’s a problem that happens a lot in other languages. The best way to overcome that for me was to see that linguistic factor in play in another word and then try to compare those words. And once that happen you start to realize, Oh, they are definitely different words that sound completely different and have completely different meanings.
Dylan Lyons: So that’s a fun mistake from Bruno and his lovely bitch house.
Steph Koyfman: I will say that Russians have the same issue.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah, I feel like that happens in a lot of languages.
Steph Koyfman: You go down to the bitch and bring a shit of paper.
Dylan Lyons: He also talked about wiener versus winner. I think it’s a common thing with the I and the E sound. But what he said in terms of overcoming that was kind of taking other words that he knows well in English and kind of hearing how the vowel sounds are pronounced and comparing it to Portuguese words and then kind of breaking it up so he could see what the issue was and he could see the issue was the I not making an E sound like he would expect and kind of isolating it like that. So one way to address certain types of obstacles is to kind of really dive in to the linguistics and look at it. But I don’t know if you guys have any other thoughts on ways to overcome various obstacles along the way or if you have embarrassing mistakes you want to share, go for it.
Steph Koyfman: I feel like my embarrassing mistakes have just come from me kind of stuttering through a phrase that I was constructing in my mind and it’s just coming out weird. So I don’t know that I’ve ever taken a super intentional approach to ironing out my tendencies. I feel like it’s more about just sort of pushing through it kind of like a wave. You dive into the wave you don’t let it crash over you so you just move through it and over time just with more exposure to the language, I think it just sort of…
Dylan Lyons: Just brush off those mistakes.
David Doochin: But at the same time also being willing to look back at those mistakes. Recognize when you were wrong, when there was an error, where there was an error and then understand why it was wrong just so you can have that awareness next time. I think when you speak in your native language, you make a language mistake and it’s clearly accidental. It’s a fluke because you speak fluently and you’re probably not going to be committing a lot of language errors that are about… when we speak fluently, we speak grammatically pretty subconsciously. We’re not thinking about it. But if I’m speaking Dutch for example, and I make a mistake and someone I’m speaking to who speaks Dutch natively laughs at me or points out my mistake, I think I have to be willing to look at that, kind of be vulnerable with myself and say, “Yeah, I messed up. Where was it? How can I do better.”
Steph Koyfman: Has a Dutch person ever laughed at you?
David Doochin: Once. Actually I don’t remember what the mistake was but I was just like you trying to piece together something that made sense in my head, but the syntax was all wrong and I conjugated a verb weird and I was in the Netherlands. It was like an American Thanksgiving celebration last year and this woman was like, “No, you’re doing great.” But I could tell that she was just so confused as to what I was trying to say. So then I was like, I had her walk me through it and I was like, “Okay, well I tried to use this verb, should I have used this one instead?” She’s like, “No, use this one and put the object before, blah blah blah.” So being willing to run through it piece by piece and confront it as it was happening instead of just brushing it under the rug was helpful for me.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah, I think talking to native speakers about your specific issues can help a lot. When I was trying to learn French, I was really struggling with pronunciation because they make sounds with their mouths that Americans do not make and my mouth doesn’t move that way. So you kind of have to retrain yourself. So I actually spoke with a fluent French speaker who kind of went through every single vowel sound and every single situation that might come up and explained to me how it sound and worked to move my mouth in that way and make that sound come out. And then I had never really continued with French cause I was too busy. But that’s a different issue.
David Doochin: You no polyglot Dylan.
Dylan Lyons: I am no polyglot.
David Doochin: You don’t have that polyglot-
Dylan Lyons: Unfortunately.
David Doochin: … gusto. That drive.
Dylan Lyons: Do you have anything to add Elin?
Elin Asklov: Yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s also… Bruno story reminds us, I think that it’s important being on the other end of the spectrum being the… so he’s learning English and being then an English speaker or being a speaker of the language that the other person is trying to learn whichever one it is. There are things that you can do to help them that aren’t laughing at them and one thing that I always find pretty nice but also works is to say kind of repeat to them what they’re saying in a conversational manner like you would just affirm what they were saying but in the right way and then just leave it at that and not… because it’s also frustrating to have your conversation being stopped all the time by your various mistakes.
So I think there’s a lot that you can do on the other end like to help someone who’s learning a language. And then when it only comes down to like in the bitch house example, is it only about a short versus long vowel sound? I mean everybody understands that he’s trying to say beach house. So obviously it’s fun and it’s fun to laugh at, but there are… you can just-
Steph Koyfman: It sound kind of fun. A bitch house in Brazil.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. So you would suggest if you were an English speaker in the room when he was talking to be like, “Oh, you had a beach house, repeat it back correctly.” That’s a good way to listen.
Elin Asklov: That’s a good way. Obviously with the bitch house, everybody’s going to laugh and that’s fine—
Steph Koyfman: I think I would want to let them in on the joke.
Elin Asklov: Yeah exactly.
Dylan Lyons: That’s true.
Steph Koyfman: Isn’t it funny that you just said that?
David Doochin: Yeah. Because that could save them a lot of trouble later in a more formal context when they’re trying to say the word beach and they say, “Bitch”. And it’s just a whole thing. I think you owe it to or Bruno’s classmates owed it to him in that moment to say, “This was funny because” but I agree. Sometimes calling out every person’s mistake can be more of a hindrance because it just stalls the natural flow of a conversation and it’s something they might end up learning themselves in time and some things you’re just not trained for it until it is. So you can point it out to someone and say, “This is where you were… I noticed you said this instead of this” but it also takes them being willing to catch themselves too. You can’t be the only person responsible for helping someone who’s learning a foreign language, if that’s your native language.
Elin Asklov: It’s going to come with time. And even the things that you think that you have internalized as doing wrong. And if you do something wrong in the beginning sure, it’s harder to do it right later on, but it’s going to come there sooner or later.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. I want to play one more clip from Bruno that kind of relates to that in terms of not mocking other people’s mistakes and kind of it’s almost a benefit of struggling with through other languages when you’re learning one or many in their case,
Bruno Beidacki: Even if, if not for those things, at least for your personal understanding of languages and understanding of the difficulty of learning another language so you can be a little bit more empathetic with people who are learning your language-
Dylan Lyons: That’s a great point.
Bruno Beidacki: … because I think that a lot of people especially in the United States, they have this, it’s not necessarily a prejudice, but it’s kind of like a, “Oh no, look at this person’s English.” It’s almost kind of a mocking point and I think the only reason that happens is because you’ve never really tested yourself to truly learn a language because then you would understand how difficult it is.
Dylan Lyons: So I loved that point about empathy there. So if you have taken on other languages yourself and struggled with them, you’re more empathetic to people who are struggling with English. And you won’t be a jerk as much as if you’ve never tried to learn another language yourself.
David Doochin: I mean, same thing with racism, homophobia, any sort of prejudice, unless you have a personal firsthand experience with someone who has a different identity from you or just has some aspect or experience in their life that is not the same as yours. It’s easier to generalize and say, “Oh, this is… I don’t understand this, and so I’m going to put it in a box and label it something that makes it seem like it’s foreign to me or not worth my time.” But then you understand, he made the point better than I ever could, but when you learn a new language, you are better able to understand the challenges that come with it and have more empathy. He said it so well.
Dylan Lyons: Yeah. So, that’s another cool perk that comes with learning more languages.
Steph Koyfman: Learn more languages, it makes you a better person.
Dylan Lyons: Yes. Do it.
Steph Koyfman: Yeah. I think going back to the other point we were making before about correcting people’s mistakes. I know from my experience of being in another country and trying to use the language there and then having the person respond to me in English, I think I would have preferred if they had responded to me in Spanish or Russian or whatever, so that I could then continue to maybe struggle through it and not just… because to me that sort of felt like, “Oh you’re struggling so much that it’s not even worth-“
Dylan Lyons: It’s not worth my time.
Steph Koyfman: … I know coming from their perspective, they probably thought that they were just being helpful but it’s not.
Dylan Lyons: But that’s not actually helpful if you’re trying to learn and improve. So any final thoughts on polyglots or questions or do any of you want to be a polyglot?
Elin Asklov: Yeah, I kind of do.
David Doochin: I definitely do. I think it all the reasons we talked about it would open up so much of the world. I could meet so many new people. I see no downside to it besides it would take some of my time, but the payoffs, the ROI is just so noticeable I think-
Steph Koyfman: ROI.
David Doochin: I know and to my very synergistic-
Dylan Lyons: Oh God!
David Doochin: I think learning new languages has so many advantages and payoffs that there’s no doubt that it would be worth my time.
Steph Koyfman: Personally, I feel like if I’m going to invest my time in language learning at this point, I think I would rather improve the Spanish and Russian that I already know rather than try to add more to my repertoire necessarily.
Elin Asklov: Yeah. Let’s do it. 2020 getting into intermediate Spanish-
Dylan Lyons: Polyglot. Are you—
Elin Asklov: … I’m going to do it.
Steph Koyfman: Intermediate, but it’s more just that I don’t practice it so…
Dylan Lyons: It goes away.
Steph Koyfman: It goes away for sure.
David Doochin: I’ve been looking at, I haven’t been looking at, but I’ve been thinking about looking at finding a language meetup group around the city for whatever, like Spanish, which I would love to be able—
Dylan Lyons: It would be fun.
David Doochin: … to fine tune or like German or Dutch. The other languages that I don’t know as well, but I think we should hold each other to, and we should find groups of people that can help keep us accountable.
Dylan Lyons: We’re going to do it. 2020 baby.
Elin Asklov: Yeah, should we speak Spanish the rest of the day.
David Doochin: I would love that.
Elin Asklov: Let’s do it.
Jen Jordan: Multilinguish is produced by the content team at Babbel. We are.
Thomas Devlin: Thomas Moore Devlin.
David Doochin: David Doochin .
Steph Koyfman: Steph Koyfman .
Dylan Lyons: Dylan Lyons .
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Bruno Beidacki: I would be saying like I’ll be in the soccer team and I’m like, Oh, we score a goal and say like, “Oh I’m a wiener” And people are like, “That’s not what you mean men.” sure if you want to call yourself that, that’s fine, but I don’t think that’s what you’re trying to say.