Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Different Types of Multilinguals

The Silver Spoon Multilingual
The lucky bastard was born right into the Holy Polyglot Grail full to the brim with grammar broth and vocab wontons. He doesn’t even have to tilt his head back to imbibe the linguistic manna. Spawned by parents of different nationalities, he grew up on three continents and has been tended to by a string of imported nannies. He burbles away blissfully in five languages before he’s potty trained.

How to spot: Oh, don't bother looking for him, he'll stand out wherever he goes. And don't feel bad - he's been created for the sole purpose of making you jealous. Not even his farts have a whiff of an accent, FFS!

The Hawker
To him, language is but a workhorse. He is the used car sales man of the multilingual world. He’s in love with making a sale, not the language. The language is merely what gets him there. The hawker exists in many guises: He could be selling leather bags on a beach or be the CEO of a multinational conglomerate.

How to spot: Just aim straight for his Achilles heel and watch him fall. You’ve surely met that hotel receptionist who, at first, seemed like he was fluent in six languages, but when you tried to talk to him about anything non-hotelrecpetionisty, he drew a big fat blank. 

The One With The Itchy Feet 
He'll suddenly announce that he's taking up sticks. His family stare at him in wide-eyed incredulity, his friends are aghast. A job offer he couldn't refuse? A whirlwind romance with an exotic minx he charmed in a chat room...? No and nope. He fabricates some story about being fed up with the weather and needing a change of scenery, blah blah, because he knows that nobody is going to take "I'm going because I just need to learn X language" seriously. While everybody's still scratching their heads, he's already off to the airport with a one-way ticket in his backpack and no plans to return for Christmas.

How to spot: Look for the foreigner who shuns his compatriots as if they were maggot-infested weasels and only hangs out with the locals. 

The Hermit
This one hardly ever leaves the confines of his bedroom. Give him a break, he’s only fourteen. If he had friends, he would try to impress them with his language skills. He has no friends because he tries to impress everyone with his language skills.

Should you ever get the chance to approach such a specimen on one of his rare forays into the real world, do not, I repeat, DO NOT make the mistake of calling him a “polyglot”. That would be far too pedestrian and bound to offend his sensibilities. He’s a “hyperpolyglot". You have been warned. 

How to spot: On YouTube. He’s made 15,000 videos of himself rattling off rote-learned scripts in 35 languages which have 0.5 views between them. 

The Lingacademic
After somehow managing to spend 79% of his formative years supertuning his epiglottis on the international student exchange circuit, he will eventually scale far enough up the linguistic syntax tree to call himself a real university-cultivated linguist with enough letters after his name to have exhausted an entire alphabet.

How to spot: Appears to be listening attentively to what you’re saying, but is, in fact, silently (or not so silently) correcting your grammar and/or listening to the Italian family arguing at the next table. 

The Impostoglot
He’s almost always a native English speaker whose entire foreign language repertoire consists of two dozen loose words and six phrases, half of which contain the word “beer”.

No matter which country he’s in, he will claim, without batting an eyelid, to “speak the lingo”. Why, he actually believes that he does! He manages to maintain his delusion because, whenever he goes about peppering his speech randomly with his paltry, mispronounced melange of scraps, the targets of his efforts prefer to humour him quietly instead of catapulting him out of his ignorance. 

In the rare cases when he does become aware that communication isn't actually happening, it's because they have a heavy accent. 

How to spot: In a bar, yelling “una biĆ©rrraay per favore!”


  1. I know a fair few who fit into the last category! :)

  2. Oh goodness... creepy scary terribly true all!! (And aren't you proud of me figuring out how to comment here??)

    1. Carissa! You've made it :) How chuffed am I?!

  3. Replies
    1. Itchy itchy itchy feet, moi. In Spanish, they call it "culo inqueto" (twitchy arse), which is so much better, LOL!

  4. I think I definitely resonate with your category of "The One With The Itchy Feet"! Amazing article, very entertaining and piercingly accurate.

    1. Same here, getting itchier by the minute. And thanks, very kind :)

  5. Yeah ... no matter how I slice it, I'm still a mono, but jealous I'm not a Silver Spoon.

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