A polyglot is a person who speaks, writes, or reads multiple languages. In the past, multilingual and polyglot were referred to synonymously. Interesting enough, the meaning of the word “polyglot” has evolved. This is discussed by Marta Krzeminksa who guest writes an article “The Cult of the Polyglot” for the website Languages Around the Globe.
Krzeminksa says that today’s polyglots learn multiple languages deliberately, whereas a multilinguals learn (or acquire) them from their environment. To learn more about why one becomes a polyglot, and how one may turn this into a career, we decided to interview Ryan Freligh, one of our project managers.
When you first started at LinguaLinx, you mentioned you had a passion for languages. What events/experiences/background do you attribute this passion to?
I think my passions for traveling and learning about other cultures were huge factors. No one else in my family speaks anything other than English, really. I became interested in languages in high school. Ironically, I was doing quite poorly in Spanish and decided to try French (despite my guidance counselor’s advice). I ended up skipping a level of French and added on German too, (and then came back to Spanish) before graduating. I would say it’s just a general curiosity of how each language works that keeps me going.
What was the first language you decided to learn and why?
French. I just thought it seemed interesting and I had only taken Spanish up to that point. so I wanted to try something new. I ended up participating in a field trip to France and then went on to major in French at university.
How did you decide what other languages to learn?
There’s a mix of factors: practicality, interest in the target culture, difficulty, resources, etc. But I’ve come to learn curiosity tends to win over willpower. So, despite Italian being easier and far more practical, I’ve spent more time studying Welsh just out of general curiosity of the language and culture.
I tend to switch a lot which makes it hard to focus on just one at a time!
We’re often asked as children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When did you decide you wanted to be a linguist?
Growing up, I wanted to be an archaeologist and then I decided in high school that becoming a translator/interpreter would be a more practical route.
How has your background as a linguist helped you out in this role as a project manager?
I really enjoy using my language skills at work. It tends to be useful when performing quality assurance (QA), since it’s a lot easier to format a document when you know what it is saying.
I think knowledge of translation theory is very helpful especially when clients aren’t always familiar with potential issues that can occur when translating/localizing.
Tell us about a time in your daily life (or while travelling) that being a polyglot helped you (or someone around you) with communicating with someone who speaks a different language.
One of my favorite stories is when I hailed a cab in Bratislava (Slovakia) and the driver didn’t speak English. Although many people in Eastern Europe speak German, he did not. I don’t speak Slovak, but I can get by in Czech – which he also claimed to not speak. So I asked if he spoke Russian. We ended up chatting in Russian the entire way to the airport!
What’s next for Ryan? Are you planning on learning any additional languages? (Or which are on your wish list and why?)
Yes! I plan to never stop learning languages as there is no real limit to how many you can learn. I do hope to master Czech one day, and really need to brush up on my Swedish. It’s also a challenge to maintain French, German, and Dutch – which is always my main priority. One day, I hope to also tackle one of the Asian languages as well!