Well I’m going to make a number of announcements now.
While my Slovak studies have been continuing due to the fact that I will be presenting at the Bratislava Polyglot Gathering in 2019 (one presentation in Yiddish on Kiribati and another presentation in Swedish about Niue), I am probably going to retire from my hyperpolyglot life once that spiel is over in June.
I need to be clear about something: I will NOT return to speaking just English, given that my livelihood depends on my knowledge of Nordic languages and Yiddish (as well as, to a lesser extent, languages of South Pacific).
I just feel as though I had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to become that imposter-syndrome-riddled legend. And now I want to live for myself rather than my reputation.
I am glad to have “dated” so many languages and cultures, but now I’d like to settle down and really get to intimately know my favorite languages. These would be, in no particular order, Yiddish, Scandinavian, Finnish, Hungarian, Greenlandic, and Polynesian in general but with a focus on Tahitian and Hawaiian.
My English is EXTREMELY good, even by native speaker standards (I tested in the 99th percentile for vocabulary). I know that there literally might not be enough time for me to get to that level in my “favorite languages”, but I’d like to get closer.
Also the pressure of trying to get me to speak better (Spanish / Modern Hebrew / French / etc.) has been bothering me. I somehow see it as friends who would encourage me to break up with a girlfriend I really love.
So as a result of that I may stop attending language exchange events as often as I used to come June. But maybe I’ll pop in occasionally.
Here’s what I felt I needed to give up as a result of becoming a hyperpolyglot:
- A Sense of Belonging
I became “that guy”, in a sense, the one whose reputation as a “language genius” always proceeded me. ALWAYS.
I never really could find myself connecting to my American culture on a deep level. I gave up American television and news. I found myself permanently apart from the country I spent the most time in.
Even though I felt significantly “at home” among foreigners of all types sometimes, I constantly felt as though I was American first, speaker of their language second.
I became the bridge. A true member of none of the cultures I partook of, but a genuinie member of none of them.
- Full-Time Fluency without Doubts
There were exceptions to this, but often with the languages that I had to spread myself thinly to maintain, I felt that my knowledge of idioms would be thinner than I would have liked, even then I worried about my grammar sometimes.
At first I figured that I didn’t really WANT native-like fluency, but with each year I feel that it is what I want in the languages I want most.
I saw it this way (and the book “Babel No More” manages to point to this): I put most of my chips on the languages I liked most and then spread many of them thinly across many others.
Now I’m going to put all of my chips on the eight languages I like the most. And the fact that Scandinavian languages and Yiddish are closely related, not also to mention the Polynesian family, gives me an advantage in that respect.
I don’t want to sound “learnerese” anymore in any of my languages. I want to sound completely natural. And I got there. But only with a few. But even with those view I want to get better.
I also knew seventeen languages to conversational fluency, but even with half of those I felt as though many of them had holes. Holes are okay. Even very good speakers of English as a second language have them. But I want to make the most of what I can get and that will involve optimizing my skills.
- Leisure Time
This is self-explanatory. I had to convert all of my free time to maintenance. Walking around? You better be listening to audio in one of your target languages. Playing a game? Same.
It took an unbelievable toll on my mental health. The idea that I had to maintain my reputation all of the time meant that everything that wasn’t explicitly related to my career had to go to language learning. The only fun I really had for fun’s sake was video games but even then it was usually to note “what is this game doing well? How about not so well?” concerning what I would incorporate into “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures” and other projects.
- Security and Confidence
Language learning is highly vulnerable because there IS a point where you will sound like an idiom. I got told that my accent was terrible. Sometimes I even got told to stop speaking the language.
And that’s not even going into what was said about me online. Whenever I would read some things, entire days if not weeks would be plunged into despair.
Even with fluency, either professional or conversational, I interpreting things that native speakers said very seriously. “Pretty good” was code for “needs work” or “not passable”. I would interpret anything other than endless praise as “you better work on it!”
And even then I would sometimes interpret praise as the fact that I needed work on it too. (It had to do with a post I read saying that native speakers don’t praise each other’s language skills).
It was a neurosis that I was aware of from my days in religious school as a pre-teen. The endless “shoulder checking” and the idea that God would always punish you for every small thing…and only now while writing this do I realize that it ended up in other areas of my life without realizing it.
- Ability to Converse with Certain People
This is an odd one. Because my life became so internationalized, there were people to whom I could connect to VERY easily and others whom I could barely manage a conversation with at all.
Among most internationals, I didn’t need to explain the whole Macedonia naming controversy at all. Among many Americans, it was necessary. And many people throughout the world only imagine the South Pacific as “Hawaii, Fiji and Tahiti and that’s it” (Kiribati required a lengthy explanation as did Tuvalu or the Federated States of Micronesia). And that’s not even mentioning the constituent countries of New Zealand (such as Niue).
I didn’t want to learn about American pop culture too deeply. It felt fake for me. Sometimes it cost me the ability to connect with people. Although with other internationals we could always talk about our cultural differences or about the things American locals were never asking us about.
- Time to Relax
My polyglot career became everything and it consumed every aspect of my life. I always wanted to get better, almost like an addiction in a sense. I wasn’t allowed to relax because I figured “someone else out there is doing a better job than you are and YOU have to keep working!”
Again, this was another transmuted neurosis from my high school and college days in which I was a “striver”.
Bonus: Pressured to learn popular languages and get good at those.
Do I need to say more about this? Some people barely believe languages outside of Western Europe exist. The idea that my heart was elsewhere some people found confusing.
If you love something, go ahead and choose what you love above all else. And that’s what I’m going to do.