February 8, 2023

How Polyglots Learn Languages

by Victor Francis
present simple

Are polyglots just naturally gifted, or are there exact methods for their language learning success? What do they know about how to learn and master languages that most don’t? More importantly, what can we learn from them so that we can master the language of our dreams, too?

Perhaps you’re a lover of all things Italian and want to learn to speak it fluently. Maybe you’re going on a trip soon to Amsterdam and want to be able to converse with the locals. Whatever your reason for learning a new language, there’s a lot we can learn from polyglots.

At Taalhammer, we live and breathe languages. We recognize that everyone possesses the natural ability to learn a language. In this article, we’re going to talk about the best methods and ways polyglots learn languages. We’ll detail precisely what a polyglot is, share their wisdom and touch on their keys to language learning success.

What exactly is a polyglot?

Heard the term ‘polyglot’ but don’t quite understand what it means? A polyglot is an individual who is fluent in not one foreign language, not two foreign languages, but several (generally three or more) foreign languages.

Some have such a knack for learning foreign languages that they ‘collect’ them like vinyl records. Often, many polyglots learn languages deep into their adult years. This is great news for us because it proves that anyone at any time can learn and become fluent in a foreign language.

Polyglots are fascinated by words and languages. They’re motivated by and find enjoyment in language learning. Further, they harness the power of our natural ability as humans to learn and adapt. By learning many languages over time, they’ve discovered the best methods for learning languages. This is where we extract what they know so that we, too, can learn any language using the best methods possible.

How do we learn languages?

Before we dive into the keys to language success that polyglots possess and that we can use, let’s first understand how we actually learn languages. Hint: it’s all in the brain.

Every word, every utterance, every wonderful and unique sound in a language, starts in the brain. Humans are born with an instinct for language. Our brains are naturally hard-wired from birth to learn languages. We’ve known for a long time that by the time we’re three and four-year-olds, we’ve mastered the most complex aspects of our native language. This includes context, syntax and semantics. Linguists have coined the term linguistic universals to describe how all of us are born with the innate ability and necessity to learn and master languages from birth. 

We possess an innate ability to process complex information from sounds. From the first words of our parents and those that surround us in our earliest years, we gather vital information on the gestures and context of the words spoken all around us.

How Polyglots Learn Languages

This deep and natural ability that we all possess remains with us throughout our entire lives. In essence, you can learn any language, at any age. This is also due to the fact that our brains are plastic. Neuroplasticity refers to the capacity of the brain to change and adapt in structure and function in response to learning and experience. Our brains possess the most remarkable ability to rewire themselves. These changes range from creating fresh individual neuron pathways to making whole new connections to systematic adjustments like cortical remapping. This capacity occurs in both healthy people and even those with brain injuries. And it can happen at any age. This power of brain plasticity means that your brain is made to create new neural connections, learn and adapt, whatever your age or circumstance. 

Learning new languages and exercising our brains in this way have positive health benefits. Studies have shown that learning just one second’s worth of a new language can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Bilinguals are diagnosed four years later than monolinguals on average. So, learning languages (properly) is good for you, too.

What secrets do polyglots know about language learning?

Let’s put this one straight to bed. There are no secrets to learning languages. Anyone can learn a language, or two, or more. Yes, even you.

While there are no secrets to language learning, there are misunderstandings and bad practices. For example, we often see in schools, even well-established institutions, too heavy a focus on aspects of language learning that don’t help us. They’re often bookish, use outdated methods and, to many students’ dismay,  focus too much on grammar.

We also see many convenient apps teaching words and phrases that we’d almost never use. They make users go over boring and useless grammar structures. They often work by forcing us to try and memorize words and sentences that will be rarely used by native speakers.

Polyglots focus only on what is useful and what helps them learn best. They don’t waste time on exotic words or complex grammar rules. They share an understanding that the keys to mastering a foreign language come down to several crucial points.

As a polyglot myself, I see many people wasting huge amounts of time learning languages in ineffective ways. That’s why I created Taalhammer. With Taalhammer, you’ll learn relevant content, sentences and easy memorization. Taalhammer allows you to create curated content so you learn personally relevant words and phrases. 

Acquisition and retention are made easy and fun with this natural and convenient way of learning. You’ll learn only what’s interesting for you. You can add your own content centered around your life and activities. Our curated curriculum will teach you all the necessities of a language. Smart repetitions will combine it all into one powerful, challenging memory workout. Taalhammer is a language training app for those serious about learning a new language and speaking like a native.

Polyglots’ keys to language success.

Now, let’s talk about the keys to language success that polyglots know all about. Again, there are no secrets. But there are keys to success that they have picked up that’ll give us the edge.

Some of these keys to success may surprise you. Many of the mainstream apps and courses teach differently. Polyglots, however, know better. They personalize their learning. They understand it’s a process. And, when starting out, they don’t rely on grammar.

Understanding the following keys to language success that polyglots share will help you on your way to mastering your chosen language.

1. Polyglots personalize their language learning.

One of the keys to language success that polyglots use is making learning personal. They don’t just take experts’ advice as gospel. Instead, they create their own content, shaping their learning around their personality.

For example, polyglots focus on the most relevant words and phrases for them. They want to use the language they’re learning to describe things in their everyday life. They create lists, take notes and check pronunciation on these aspects of their lives.

Using the words they’re learning about their daily activities and hobbies, they practice forming new structures. This is a fun way to learn how words are used. By learning newly constructed sentences, their brains recognize patterns and build grammatical instincts naturally without forcing it. They check internet sources for good language examples on the go. They create flashcards using software like Taalhammer for fun and effective language acquisition and retention. They take an active role, personalize it and make it fun.

The wisdom in this method lies in how we’re more likely to retain information most relevant to us. No one learns well by cramming information they can’t relate to. Further, by making it creative, we make it more fun. This way, we learn much more quickly.

2. Polyglots aren’t afraid to make mistakes.

We don’t have to be afraid to learn a new language and make mistakes. This is a natural part of the process for everyone. Even the best polyglots make lots of mistakes in the beginning.

Polyglots know full well that they’re limited in the beginning. They know they cannot express everything clearly yet. But they know that one of the quickest and most effective ways of learning a language is, in fact, by making mistakes.

They know that part of the game is making mistakes to force adaptation. In other words, polyglots embrace this aspect of language learning.

Polyglots aren’t afraid of making mistakes

Too often people are afraid of trying to use the language they’re trying to learn. They wish they could speak it, but they’re too afraid to even try. Do what polyglots do: start speaking the language, even if it’s only the most basic and limited words and sentences. This is most effectively done on locals in the country of the language you’re trying to learn.

By putting yourself into situations where you actively speak your desired language, you get real-world practice. Further, whether you hit the nail on the head or you make a simple mistake, you improve. That’s because if you speak correctly, you increase your confidence in speaking and using the language. If you make a mistake, you’re more likely to then retain the correct use of the language for next time. Either way, it’s a win-win.

Being unabashed and actively seeking opportunities to speak the language you’re learning is also a great way to meet new people who speak that language. Not only will this increase your confidence, but by speaking to those who are fluent, you’ll have a distinct edge during the learning process.

3. Polyglots embrace the process.

There’s no way around it, learning a language takes time, effort and hard work. But this isn’t to be despised. On the contrary, work becomes easy when we have the right motivations.

Polyglots stay motivated because they learn using the most effective methods which reflect back to them that they’re making progress. This makes language learning a lot easier.

You cannot learn a language in 15 minutes per day like some apps and services claim. Rather, the amount of time it takes to learn a language depends on the language you’re trying to learn. Its difficulty, relationship to your native tongue and the ability to effectively use it all play a role in the time it takes to master a second language.

The smartest polyglots who want to learn the quickest ensure their method includes spaced repetition algorithms. Using spaced repetition algorithms, like that included in the Taalhammer app, is an evidence-based learning method used for tremendously effective memorization.

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Spaced repetition is a learning technique founded on the idea that learning is greater when studying is spread out over time instead of studying the same amount of content in a single session. In the words of American psychologist Pierce J. Howard: “Work involving higher mental functions, such as analysis and synthesis, needs to be spaced out to allow new neural connections to solidify. New learning drives out old learning when insufficient time intervenes.”.

Psychologists have been studying memory for the past 150 years. This spacing effect was one of the first major discoveries. Applying this tried and true method to Taalhammer means our students learn and memorize language optimally. 

4. Polyglots constantly listen to the language they’re learning.

As soon as polyglots start to learn a new language, they immerse themselves. A lot of this involves listening. They listen to audio recordings, podcasts, films, anything they can to hear the sounds of the language. This is, again, part of their active approach to learning new languages.

At first, they don’t know what’s being said. But that’s OK. They listen because it’s exposure, which is a major part of the learning process. The sounds, the melodies, the pronunciations. Hearing these new and interesting streams of sounds helps them learn how to segment speech into usable words.

Our brains function best when it’s able to discern what’s relevant to us and what’s not. Polyglots know that even just listening is incredibly beneficial. Through lots of listening to our chosen language, our brain begins to recognize it as an important part of our environment. Our brains begin to adjust. It segments the language for better understanding and more efficient retrieval. Our brains segment the speech heard into words, phrases and lexis. We begin to recognize speech patterns and learn when words should be used. This constant listening exposure helps us learn more quickly and efficiently.

Further, our brains store speech elements of different lengths for increased efficiency. This is also called formulaic sequencing. This speeds up speech production by retrieving larger chunks that best represent the thoughts we want to express. By actively listening, we not only learn more quickly but it’s a lot easier and fun than learning grammar.

Our brains function best when we can discern what’s relevant to us and what’s not. By listening and learning to segments, polyglots make the language increasingly relevant. The more they listen, the more their brains are able to fractionise and record the most relevant new sounds and words. By focusing only on segments of speech like this, learners can mitigate the feeling of overwhelm that can manifest when learning a new language. Further, it allows our brains to chunk and compartmentalize information for quicker language retrieval in the future.

Further, the best polyglots also know that we learn better when we move. Studies have shown repeatedly that students who move often retain more of what they’re learning. Put in your headphones and listen to the language you’re learning while in the gym, on your run or doing any other activity where movement is required. It’s a healthy and time-efficient way to learn.

One of the easiest ways almost anyone can do this is through walking. Walking out in nature such as in a park is a great way to absorb language through movement. The Shadowing Method is a powerful way to learn this way. By learning through movement, you’ll enhance your brain’s ability to retain and recall more information.

5. Polyglots use grammar only as a reference.

Polyglots aren’t nerds about grammar. Unlike what most apps and learning resources teach, polyglots don’t make a fuss about grammar — at first.

They don’t study the rules by heart and then try to apply them. Conversely, they learn sentences and variations of sentences first, then learn the grammar. In other words, learning grammar is a supplement to their learning, enhancing their understanding.

Trying to learn grammar first is dull, unmotivating and doesn’t work. Through repeated exposure to relevant words, phrases and sentences, polyglots start to understand grammar instinctively. Often, they only look up grammar rules to confirm rules they’ve picked up on through this exposure.

By looking up grammar rules only to confirm their feelings of structure through repeated exposure, they strengthen their language operationality. This boosts their confidence in their understanding. 

Here’s a useful metaphor. It’s a kind of ‘engine’, like that of a car. A car still needs wheels to translate engine power onto the road for perpetual movement. Likewise, our brains (engines) need our lips (wheels) to transfer the language to another person — to move. It’s not enough to learn content or rules alone. You must place yourself in situations where you need to speak the language.

Taalhammer is great for this reason. Rather than focusing on grammar, Taalhammer trains the ‘engine’ for language learning, the mechanism that enables you to actually use the language and speak it. 

This is a complete reversal of what most people who try to learn a new language understand. But this old method is a symptom of the problems language learners face today. 

In closing.

Now you know some of the ways in which polyglots really learn languages. There are no tricks, no secrets, just a deep understanding of how to learn languages the right way.

You, too, can learn any language quicker, easier and have more fun doing it with the wisdom we’ve shared. We’ve witnessed many people learn and master their favorite languages — the right way.

At Taalhammer, we know that everyone has the inborn natural ability and talent to learn languages. Every day, we help someone master their dream language.

Our mission is to help people learn and master their chosen language. We help people from all around the world speak like a native using the quickest, most efficient methods. 

We can help you, too. Try Taalhammer today. It’s the quicker, better method for learning languages.

If you are learning DutchGerman or Italian look at our courses descriptions.


  1. https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/language-and-brain
  2. https://www.simplypsychology.org/brain-plasticity.html
  3. ​​https://www.everydayhealth.com/alzheimers-disease/guide/ 
  4. https://phys.org/news/2021-08-students-bodies-desks.html

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