Recently I've become aware of more and more pseudo-polyglots who claim to be able to learn languages within relatively short time spans. This idea appeals to people of the 21st century where everything must be instant. Some are even stupid enough to pay money to the aforementioned pseudo-polyglots for their precious tips on fast language learning. (…) I don’t understand what happened to good old scepticism and critical thinking ability. Are we humans just becoming increasingly gullible?
First polyglot under scrutiny…
Benny, also known as @irishpolyglot, has a popular blog, the url of which reads fluentin3months. That really is amusing when you consider the fact he has never actually learnt any language to a level anywhere near fluency in 3 months – read the list of languages he speaks and you'll find that he learnt them for much longer than that (e.g. German, he studied at school for years, even though he claims he couldn't speak it at the age of 21. It was at this point that I dared to question his skills and, I think, with good reason).
His definition of fluency is more confusing than all the seasons of LOST put together and couldn’t be further from the actual definition that can be found in a dictionary, which, I suspect, Benny does not possess. I wouldn’t even waste my time reading the utter rubbish he regularly thrusts down the throats of the hundreds of people who visit his website; however, there is something about him that won't permit me to just walk away without a fight. You’ll be as surprised as I was to find about the fact he also makes people pay money for his e-book.
I confronted him online several times not only on his website where he banned me after my first comment, but also on Twitter and another person’s blog where he called me a troll for touching on subjects not related to the actual article on which we were commenting. But tell me, where and how should one approach Benny if everyone gets banned and blocked for aiming words of constructive criticism at him? The article you’re reading now is therefore intended to be a warning for you. I don’t have anything to gain from writing it – I certainly don’t ask you to pay me for it. What he does is against my beliefs and all I’m trying to achieve is to open up people’s eyes. As many people as possible.
To see the article of his on which I commented - click here. I’ll leave you the link to his website and let you judge this pseudo-polyglot for yourself. Is the $57 he wants for the book money well spent? I’ll let you judge this yourself too...
Polyglot – illiterate in several languages?
The other pseudo-polyglot I wanted you to become aware of is @yearlyglot. I haven't wanted to talk about him in the past for personal reasons, but now I have no qualms about it. Unlike his colleague, Irishpolyglot, Yearlyglot promises his readers that one can learn a foreign language and speak it fluently after just one year! Perhaps this miracle takes him a bit longer than 3 months as he seems to get distracted by several languages at once – this year’s mission of his is Turkish, however, as he claims on his blog he not only learnt Polish within the last 2 months but also started speaking Macedonian… after reading just one article about it on Wikipedia! His e-book about learning Italian costs $26. I’m not happy to reveal more than necessary about the aforementioned gentleman, however, more attentive Twitter followers will probably know that we met up in Poland. What remained a secret until now is that I had to assist in the simplest of activities such as buying tickets and ordering food due to his poor language skills. Now listen – I heard him speak Polish once, namely when ordering a coffee in a restaurant. This involved him saying "Jedna kawa, proszę". Yearlyglot, however, didn't mention any of this at all on his blog. Imagine how surprised I was to read as follows:
While in Poland, I was able to buy food and drinks and train tickets. I was able to ask for directions and understand amounts and times. I found my way around and even gave directions to some Poles. When I didn’t understand something, I was able to ask in Polish for its meaning, and usually understand the explanation.None of this is true. Furthermore, Yearlyglot eschews conventional learning techniques and says:
"Stop buying books. Stop studying." A little bit of study never harmed anyone, especially if you want to do more than order a cup of coffee. Perhaps, this guy should learn a bit more about the grammar of his own language too. It’s a "definite article", not a "definitive article". Once I had pointed out his mistake he not only kept arguing his point but wouldn't even bother to check if what he said was correct and nonchalantly asserted that I was the one making a fool of myself. Sadly for him, it was the other way round and... the greatest ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about.
Are we really this gullible?
So, why are people taken in by the polyglots? Well, we like to take the course of least resistance. If there is an easy route we'll take it. The polyglots want you to believe that you can bypass all the hard work by way of purchasing their e-books and shave years off the length of time that it would normally take to speak a language fluently. I wonder if they can perform other miracles too? How about turning water into wine, or failing that, reasonably priced petrol?
It's all smoke and mirrors though. Their claims are usually grossly exaggerated. Either that, or they neglect to tell you about their related learning experiences or about their epic failures.
What really irks me about these self-professed polyglots is that they seem to think they are some sort of oracle when it comes to language learning and they won't even consider the possibility that conventional learning methods are not only valuable but perhaps even better than the methods they advocate. According to Yearlyglot, flashcards are a waste of time as he states on David Mansaray's blog. What about if you make the flashcards yourself? The mere act of making them is helping you commit the words/phrases to memory, how can that possibly be a waste of time? You should use the methods that work for you. Don't allow yourself to be dictated to by the sort of people who seem to revel in the fact that they can speak several languages badly.
This is not a personal attack. These, I believe, are just a couple of examples of pseudo-polyglots. Be wary! There are plenty of others out there, along with the guys on TV selling useless kitchen gadgets or instant weight-loss schemes, waiting to get into your wallet. I'll leave you with this thought - if something seems too good to be true then it probably is. The same applies to learning. If you put in the effort you'll reap the rewards and pseudo-polyglots' assistance won't be missed.