The 2019 Polyglot Gathering: Personal Lessons and What I’ll be Doing Next

Here I am watching as the sun sets over Bratislava and a thunderstorm appears to be in the works. I’ll walk outside and enjoy the twilight but first I’ll need to relate a bit about how things went from my perspective.

The fellow attendees at the conference were curious, accepting, not in the least bit critical, vulnerable and kind. Often in the “real world” I sometimes hear comments like “let’s continue in English because I speak English better than you speak my native language” (I know, right?)

But the way things appear at Polyglot Conferences, everyone has a series of ladders and it doesn’t really matter how far you up on them…or not…you are, as long as you have some drive to go higher or even taste a language for a little bit.

There were also great lessons in vulnerability. I saw in genuine action that fluency is not perfection (and come to think of it, I never heard almost anyone speak non-Native English without some type of grammatical mistake. AND THAT’S OKAY.

Corollary: it’s okay to speak any language non-natively with mistakes too, as long as you can communicate and patch your errors one-by-one, which may indeed take a lifetime or never fully get perfect, but that’s the beauty of learning, isn’t it?

In any case, I had a humbling experience realizing what it was like for people to present in their non-native languages. I was a lot more reserved. I was energetic and I second-guessed my grammar a lot. I thought “wow, the speakers of Yiddish and Swedish are gonna give me a bajillion dislikes when these videos come out”.

My first thought after concluding both was that they were disasters. But later on I then realized that despite sometimes fumbling for words, using too many filler words, or even sometimes making Norwedish errors in my Niuean presentation, that’s okay.

It was really the first time I’ve done it and it gave me a newfound appreciation for the many speakers of other languages who gave talks in English as well (and I think I can compare myself favorably with how they did).

I didn’t have the same quality of the “taking a class with Jared is like getting a drink from a firehose” that I have with classes I teach in English (and my classes in other languages are like that but they’re usually not filmed, which was the big issue in making me nervous. I’ve taught dozens of classes in non-native languages before, just not with a camera in front of me that was headed straight to YouTube. I even noticed that when the camera was off I became a lot more natural and less nervous.)

But I guess that’s okay.

My next project will be to improve my Greenlandic and Danish both substantially for the sake of  “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, a task that will last ninety days at least.

Greenlandic I speak…okay but not well, and Danish I speak well but I’d like to speak better. I’d rate them as A2 and C1 respectively. I am already developing a plan to get a lot more Danish music as well so that I can create a full-fledged environment of being immersed in both languages (I already have a lot of Greenlandic music but I’m open for more suggestions, too).

The current challenge I’m doing is this one: http://mylanguagechallenge.com/

The requirements: film a 10-minute video after 90 days speaking your target language (or, should you choose the reading or the writing tracks, choose the appropriate avenue). I do have access to native speakers and a lot more than I thought was possible a week ago.

So here’s what happened.

I uploaded a video on Facebook of me speaking Greenlandic for a minute. A Greenlandic friend of mine asked to share it in a group, which he did, and then it became viral in Greenland generating hundreds of likes and I woke up with endless friend requests from all over Greenland (which I accepted because I’m making a video game about Greenland and because it is my favorite country, too!)

I got comments like “we should crowdfund his vacation here” or “he speaks better than most Danes who have been living here for a decade have” (this was something explicitly told to me by my host mom in Greenland. Info checks out.

Well this is going to be fun. Time for me to enjoy the Slovak twilight one last time for this journey.

Thanks for making all of this so memorable!

Quality Games: My Plans for Immediately After the Polyglot Gathering

Greetings from my hostel in Vienna!

So with two presentations, three performances and two mini-talks I’ll be giving at the Polyglot Gathering next week, it occurs to me that next week it all comes to an end and I’ll be in the real world again.

As much as I really like speaking multiple languages, there is one thing that needs to poke its head in.

Multiple things, that is.

For one, there is the understanding that maybe I should focus more on quality rather than quantity. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I deliberately finding myself using English in hostels in Austria and Slovakia JUST so I can feel vulnerable and get detached from my identity and self-esteem being entirely hinged on being a polyglot.

And a polyglot I will remain, mostly because I have to retain my knowledge of Yiddish and Nordic languages in order to earn money.

And the second thing, is, of course, my game, “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, which was delayed due to a number of personal crises in my life.

So starting with next week I’ll be focusing almost all of my language efforts on Greenlandic and Danish (my fluency in Danish notwithstanding, but I want to get better in terms of my accent and vocabulary) until “Nuuk Adventures” hits stores.

This will mean a lot of sacrifices on my behalf, but my languages should serve my professional life, not the other way around (unless it happens to be convenient).

Once Nuuk Adventures is out, I’ll likely be learning the language of the place where the next “Kaverini” adventure will take place. I’ve decided it but I can’t reveal it quite yet.

And I’m not going to lie, part of me is very excited to get a language to near-native fluency. Sure, my knowledge of other Nordic languages isn’t going anywhere and I’ll be retaining my Hungarian and Yiddish as well (and likely some Modern Hebrew), but nothing else is certain.

Perhaps I should say “thank you for understanding” in the event you’re disappointed. But this is a new beginning for me that I knew was coming for a while.

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I’m Presenting for the First Time at a Conference in a Language Other Than English. How Do I Feel?

Happy Birthday Mom! This post is for you.

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I may or may have not been writing about it here but I’m presenting at the Polyglot Gathering twice next month (actually in a month from this week!) One talk on the Kiribati language in Yiddish, and the other talk on Niuean in Swedish, and both of these talks are aimed at absolute beginners. (I don’t even think I remember anyone other than myself having learned any indigenous language of Oceania at the 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik. To his credit, Richard Simcott did learn some words of Tongan, from me, and speaks with a great accent.)

This piece is going to be on the short side and a bit of a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing.

For one, I feel relieved. English is one of the languages of my ancestors, but Yiddish and Swedish are “closer to home”, so-to-speak (my great-grandparents on opposite sides of my family spoke those, I should also mention Hungarian and Russian as well).

I also feel as though it is a bit of a “polyglot prize”, in a sense, something that non-native English speakers can be handed for free but for native English speakers having opportunities to present in other languages may be scarce. (Yiddish? How many times to I get to present in that? And so close to the historical Jewish quarter of Bratislava no less? I’m so glad they went along with my suggestion!)

And then of course cruel YouTube commenters will have no choice but to be quiet and my legitimacy will be further cemented online, but that’s just a minor treat.

On the other hand, I’m worried about grammatical mistakes or otherwise being unable to find the right words. Also due to influence from Swedish youth culture, injecting in English phrases is something I do naturally when speaking Swedish and I may have to turn it off completely for this one (except if I’m reading something in English from the slides, given that Niue is, after all, not only English speaking but a former British colony. A book I cite in the presentation is from 1907, which is TWO YEARS after Niue was colonized).

Also another thing: the fact that I’m presenting on languages that I don’t know as well as my fluent languages. I haven’t been told how my accent sounds in either of them, but certainly a lot better than my first attempts at Kiribati which are enshrined in posterity in my YouTube channel. That said, I would imagine that given that people have told me that people appreciate all attempts to speak a language like Hawaiian or Maori (not also to mention my overwhelmingly positive reception as a foreign Fijian speaker in Fiji), the Niueans and I-Kiribati will be no different. (As a Jew I’m a minority myself and so I am tuned into issues of sensitivity and I LOVE it when gentiles learn about my culture/s, and the more the better).

I teach non-English classes all the time (and I’m about to do so again in twenty minutes). That’s not what I’m worried about at all. Perhaps the idea of being judged in an audience is something heavier. But I also imagine that most audiences will be forgiving, the same way that I am forgiving of English mistakes even on the university level, as long as people can express ideas (and often non-native speakers are a lot clearer than native speakers, even with limited vocabulary).

This is going to be fun. Any experiences you’ve had presenting in your non-native language/s? How did they go?