As much as I love being a polyglot, speaking and maintaining various languages does have its downsides. Here are a few of them!
Wanting to do too much at once
This one might seem obvious to many, but I still feel the need to talk about it:
Polyglots including myself often dabble in many languages. If you’re a polyglot, chances are you are interested in not one, not two, but rather a multitude of languages. Each language opens the door to a new culture. Most polyglots are passionate about language, not just for language itself, but for all of the culture that comes with each new language.
The problem with having an interest in such a variety of languages is that this often leads to forgetting a very important aspect of learning (not just language learning): patience.
With patience comes discipline, and with discipline comes results. Without this, it’s quite difficult to become proficient in any language.
I am so easily drawn by languages that all I need to suddenly start learning a new language is to meet the right person (become friends with speaker of X language) or watch a really cool TV series in X language. This can be exasperating!
Personally, I try to avoid watching TV series from too many different countries by fear of wanting to start too many new languages at once! I recently started watching a Catalan TV series, and guess what? I already understand a lot of what I'm hearing and can formulate basic sentences. So, what’s next? Does Catalan become my next target language or do I put it on hold like I did with Italian?
Losing interest in one or many languages
In my case, this one is particularly true for Danish. I’m an intermediate speaker of Danish and moving towards reaching an advanced level, but I only started working towards this goal recently. For a long time, I didn’t see the point in putting effort into acquiring an advanced level of Danish. I practiced my Danish each week with a few Danish friends and studied Danish a few hours a week. Yet, since I was so eager to start new languages, I neglected Danish.
Reasons for my then loss of interest
Many people seem to either hate the sound of Danish or just find the language plain useless. After hearing so many negative comments about the language, it’s hard not to buy into what people have to say about it.
I'm tempted to learn Swedish or Norwegian (both super close to Danish), but wonder how much longer I need until my Danish is good enough for me to start a new Scandinavian language. Also, which one do I choose? This is particularly difficult because I truly appreciate each and every one of the continental Scandinavian languages. They are often considered as being one single language with many dialects. I am quite passionate about the Scandinavian dialect continuum.
The language isn’t particularly difficult compared to other languages, therefore I feel like putting tons of effort into improving my Danish isn’t as satisfactory as improving my Amharic or Russian. At the same time, I also feel like Danish is difficult in its own way and I sometimes feel too lazy to deal with the challenges that Danish has to offer. Learning to use all the phrasal verbs correctly, learning common expressions or just using prepositions properly can be a strenuous task.
Striving for perfection
I just mentioned the feeling of not wanting to move further with Danish. This hasn't been the case with my other languages. When it comes to Portuguese or Amharic, I feel the need to greatly improve my language skills. I even set unrealistic deadlines or due dates. I tell myself that I HAVE to speak Amharic proficiently in two years, or get my Portuguese to the same level as my Spanish. These deadlines actually make it harder to move forward because as soon as I feel as though I’m not able to reach my goal, I become disappointed. It leads me to feeling like I’m not good enough.
Of course, this issue is more personal. I’ve always been a perfectionist. It has helped me progress, but also regress. I imagine I’m not the only polyglot with this trait, so I felt it could be useful to talk about the unrealistic desire of reaching perfection.
Having to keep up the languages you’ve already learned
I consider this to be the hardest part about being a polyglot.
First of, the more languages you learn, the more languages you have to maintain. Many polyglots want to speak more than 10 languages at a proficient level. It’s obviously feasible, but is it also feasible to maintain a C2 level in all of those languages? I think not.
I feel like it’s important to realize that we'll be stronger in certain languages, and that’s okay! Wanting to safeguard a language as if it were a child can be dangerous. Of course one can feel pressure to maintain proficiency in a language. After working so hard to reach a proficient level, the thought of losing that proficiency is simply frightful! That's why it’s important to incorporate each language into your daily life so you don’t lose touch.
Nevertheless, it’s also important to prioritize certain languages and accept that a few languages might fade a bit. Being rusty in a language is part of the polyglot lifestyle and shouldn’t be frowned upon or criticized.
I currently speak French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, a bit of Italian and started learning Amharic a little while ago, yet I’m having trouble figuring out which language I really want to focus on at the moment.
So what’s next?
Do I get serious about Amharic and continue working on Danish?
Do I focus on Danish, leave Amharic for later and officially start Italian?
Or do I start my next Germanic language?
Too many questions, too little time!
That pretty much sums up my current state of polyglottery.