10 Questions People Almost Always Ask Polyglots / Multilinguals

1. How many languages do you know ?

Okay, lemme define this question. To “know” a language, usually means to have the knowledge to speak, read, write, understand and communicate in a language.

So yeah, as of now, I do know quite a bunch of languages to varying standards, like English, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, French, Japanese, Swedish, Norwegian and Russian.

2. How many languages do you speak ?

The main difference between this question and the previous is the scope of knowledge of a language. Here, to “speak” a language would mean that you are able to communicate well with people in that language, thus placing a higher focus on speaking (pronouncing etc.) and listening.

3. Why are you learning this language ?

This is the question which gives me the most headaches. Having learnt quite a fair bit of Ainu, reaching pseudo-fluency in Spanish and having some literacy knowledge in modern Welsh, I’d say that these reasons vary.

I learn languages for fun, for enjoyment, for exposure to cultures, to understand an endangered language, as an effort to preserve and document a dying language. These are some of the reasons I picked up this thing as a hobby. It is now a part of my life, and I treasure it.

4. Why aren’t you learning this language instead ?

From time to time, I have been requested to speak Malay, Tagalog etc due to the society I’m currently living in. Around me, quite a significant number of people speak Malay, and yeah, having some knowledge of Malay could let me blend into their clique.

Now here’s the thing. I need some time to switch from learning a language from a certain language family (like Finno-Ugric) to another (Austronesian). Thus, I would not make a huge leap of faith from one language I newly learnt to another which is almost totally unrelated to it.

5. What’s the point of knowing so many languages ?

Well, when one is abroad, the locals do appreciate tourists to make the effort to speak the local tongue, and I think that that’s wonderful.

Knowing different languages made me realise that I do have different identities depending on which language I speak.

6. Wow, so do you want to be a translator ?


7. Which language do you think in ?

Now that’s a legitimate question. Frankly speaking, I don’t know because it is rather fluid and dynamic, so there isn’t really a fixed language in which I process my thoughts.

8. How do you even know so many languages ?

Discipline. Resources. Communicate. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Once I think I’ve achieved some sort of standard or a goal which I set for myself, I would move on, and keeping the language in my “to improve / to maintain” list.

9. Can you say [insert word / sentence here] in [insert language here] ?

No matter how many languages I know, I am a human, not a cross-language dictionary. While I might answer some of them with confidence and ease,  please expect a “no” from me at times.

10. How do you manage to pick up so many languages with ease ?

Learning a language may be easy for some, and difficult for others. For me, picking up Arabic started off easy, as I familiarised myself with the script and basic grammar. Then the learning curve steepened sharply. So sharply I almost could not keep up. But I made it.

Satisfied with my achievement in Arabic, I went on to do French, and German, and Japanese… and yeah. Every language learnt really encouraged me to go on to do more, and that’s how it all started.

So yeah, the journeys weren’t easy, but they’re worth the time and effort.


Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, and for my fellow polyglots and multilinguals, hope that you could relate to these questions. ~


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