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The Art of Being a Polyglot (And How I Wish I Were One)

THE art of being a polyglot


Sometimes, I just wish I had a photographic memory like Sherlock’s. Oh the possibilities that it entails! Your brain will such be a powerful database and pulling data out would be so simple. You’d never forget anything. And one BIG advantage of it as well is that you can become a polyglot.

Jose Rizal, Philippines’ national hero is one. He could speak 22 different languages at ease (how he found the time and resources to do it back when there was no Internet, I’ll never know) and was very intellectual. I can just imagine that he had no problem traveling around Europe and meeting people and talking to them.

Having come from a country where everyone speaks English and where most of the ABC market would rather speak English than Filipino (hello, self!), I was never good at speaking my country’s language. Let’s not forget the fact that I’m also Chinese with the pressure of learning Mandarin embedded in my brain since I was young so I had to learn 2 Chinese dialects as well. But my love for English was stronger and I embraced anything English. I wanted to be English. I wasn’t exactly the most nationalistic citizen.

But then I was fortunate enough to be able to travel around different places of the globe when I entered my 20s. Starting with my student exchange stint in France back in 2010, I started to see more of the world. I thought that I’d be quite alright because I was very fluent in English and I knew that I’d be able to talk and walk my way. Then my travel Colombia happened. Then I went to Korea and Japan this year. Every time I went to a different country, my appreciation for English… kinda mellowed. I went to countries that prided themselves in speaking their national and native language (well okay, English is an official language in the Philippines but not the native language) and if you travel outside the capital city, there were hardly any people who spoke in English. It was SO DIFFICULT and there was a huge language barrier. There’d be an invisible wall created between me and the person I was talking to whenever I speak in English. I’ve always felt that people I spoke to would think “OH, ANOTHER TOURIST.” and have created this certain prejudice against me.

Well I guess it’s because I’ve always wanted to EXPERIENCE a city or a country like a local. I wanted to learn more about their history and the culture of the people. I didn’t want to just pass their country, take a photo and that’s it. I wanted to be an explorer and adventurer! Thankfully though, I was given the opportunity by the French Embassy to finally study French formally in Rouen, Normandy, France for 2 weeks last month from July 4-15. It was incredibly short but OH MY GOD did it open my eyes. It was like unearthing a treasure chest or getting hit on the head by a baseball. The convenience of speaking French, of learning a new language and being able to convey yourself in another the native language of a foreign country was so amazing. It was hard, don’t get me wrong. It was definitely hard but as I did have basic knowledge of some French words, I was able to get past my first week without much trouble.

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God made me understand something in this trip. I’ve always wondered why He chose me and why He gave me this particular trip. It’s not like I’ve never been there but I now have a different view of traveling. If you’ve read my 10 Things We Wish We Knew Before Going To Korea post, my number one tip was to learn a bit of the language because of the language barrier. I just shrugged it off as a tip first but now I fully understand why learning the language of the place that you’ll travel to will make you fully appreciate the place. I found out that not everyone spoke English. The previous dormer of my host family was a Korean but she couldn’t speak English but knew how to speak fluent French so speaking to a Korean in French was mind boggling to me at first but then I thought about it afterwards and thought, “Man, that was cool.” Everything looked better when I thought things in French. French food became even French-ier when we tried ordering it in French and of course I was able to translate for my dad when my Airbnb host could hardly speak in English. It was also one of the best Airbnb experience ever as well.

Check out my post here about my experience of studying at a French Language School. I just needed to get this off my chest.

English now isn’t the most important language in the world. Some tout Mandarin that it’s the next universal language but I say that each language is important in its own right. Learning a new language will not only make you travel better but will make you live better as well. Learning is HARD. VERY HARD but this will make visiting a new country less daunting.

I cannot wait to learn my next language. English, Filipino/Tagalog, Fookien, Mandarn, and now French. Hoping to relearn Japanese or learn Spanish next time.

What are your thoughts on this? What languages are you interested in learning?

To the next adventure!

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7 thoughts on “The Art of Being a Polyglot (And How I Wish I Were One)

  1. Tara says:

    I need to really learn more Japanese. I think I’ll focus on that when I get settled with my new job since I’m planning a trip to Japan again next year.

    I’m envious of those who can speak 3+ languages. I can speak two, but trying to become somewhat on the same level with the third language has been difficult. It doesn’t help that our brain doesn’t retain information well compared to when we’re kids!

    • thepandieexplorer says:

      Yes agree! Oh youth, can we bring it back? haha!

      Which city in Japan? I hope that you’ll be able to practice your Japanese definitely. I’ll be going back next year and I hope by then I’ll learn some Japanese back to be able to converse with some of them.

  2. Becca says:

    I wish I knew another language besides English fluently. I loved taking French courses in high school, and I wanted to continue in college, but I had the WORST, most rude professor. He really killed my passion for the language, so after that first semester I didn’t continue. Looking back, I shouldn’t have let one professor ruin something that interested me but, c’est la vie.

    I look forward to reading about your French language classes. Especially since that’s the language I’m most interested in.
    Becca recently posted…Our First-iversaryMy Profile

    • thepandieexplorer says:

      Oh my! That sucks. Professors do make an impact so it’s completely understandable to drop the subject. I’d probably be the same as well. You can still learn now though! French is difficult but oh so fun to learn! 😀

  3. Cat says:

    I would love to be fluent in multiple languages! Growing up, it was kind of weird being one of the very few Chinese kids in school, so I rebelled and stopped using Chinese (Cantonese) at home. I totally regret that now. Though I can understand it very well, I don’t speak it well. I also took 5 semesters of Mandarin in college, but because I don’t use it, I’ve become very rusty in that too.

    In high school, I took Spanish, and well, it’s been years, so that one is long forgotten. Lately, I’ve been studying Japanese on and off, and it’s really hard now that I’m older. I did love being able to use some if it in my last 2 trips to Japan. It definitely improved the trip for me the more of the language I knew.

    That’s awesome that you got to study French in France for a couple weeks! That sounds like a great experience, and I look forward to hearing more about it 🙂
    Cat recently posted…Japan 2016, part 0My Profile

    • thepandieexplorer says:

      Cat that sounds exactly like every Chinese kid here too! Rebelled and didn’t learn Mandarin properly as well. I’m still glad that I can still converse but gone are the days of studying Chinese language and history in… Mandarin. Haha! I gotta practice!

      That’s awesome that you also know Japanese and Spanish! My next 2 languages. I forgot my Japanese so I better learn soon! 😀

  4. Geo Robrigado says:

    This is an awesome post!

    I speak eight languages (Filipino, English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, and Dutch) and am learning eight more (Polish, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Irish, Esperanto, and Te Reo Maori). I’ve only started my language journey in 2014 and even I surprise myself on how I’m progressing.

    What I’ve learned about language learning is that the easiest way to actually learn a language is to just let loose and drop all your hesitations – pick up that language book, sing that foreign language song and talk to that native. Don’t worry about making mistakes, it’s the best part of learning.

    I remember when I was traveling in Europe. I needed to buy a bus ticket to Vienna in Berlin so I went up to the ticketing officer in the bus depot. We had a good conversation in German until she had to get my passport – that’s when we discovered we were both Filipinos!!

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