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Hyperglot

A Fortnight in the Life of a Hyperpolyglot

How do you manage to maintain and speak multiple languages? Reginald (Reggie) Hefner speaks more than ten languages. For Arabic for Nerds, he wrote down his daily language revision routine and shared his routines and tips.

Last updated: 2 weeks ago

Once we learn languages (or any other skill), we quickly develop a fear of forgetting or unlearning. How do you manage to retain and speak multiple languages? Reginald (Reggie) Hefner speaks more than ten languages and is a real language nerd.

For Arabic for Nerds, Mr Hefner wrote down what his daily language revision looks like, shares his routines and tips, and discusses the challenges he faces.1

Reginald Hefner is a multilingual language nerd. He has a BA degree in Russian, Chinese, French, and Spanish and a MA degree in Arabic from Middlebury College. Besides, he has an excellent command of Chinese and Japanese. He is currently working as an Arabic instructor at York College in Pennsylvania.
  • B.A. Russian Language and Literature, University of Maryland at College Park
  • B.A. Mandarin Chinese, University of Maryland at College Park
  • B.A. Spanish Summa cum Laude Shippensburg Univeristy of Pennsylvania
  • B.A. French Summa cum Laude with German Minor Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
  • M.A. Arabic with concentration in as a Foreign Language, Middlebury College
  • Diploma, Modern Greek Diplomatic Language Services
  • Diploma, Advanced Japanese, U.S. State Dept. Japanese Language and Research Center, Yokohama, Japan (one-year intensive program for interpreting/translating)
  • Advanced Japanese (21 graduate credits) Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
  • Wesleyan University Advanced Arabic Immersion Summer Program
  • Middlebury Summer Immersion program, Arabic (9 times), Hebrew (3 times), French MA (twice so far)

Introduction

I am not an expert in second-language acquisition and what follows are my own opinions in the light of my own personal experiences as a polyglot2, or, what the U.S. Government refers to as a multi-linguist.3

I have often been asked how I maintain my knowledge of 14 or so languages other than my native English, so I thought I would write what I do personally in the hope that it may help others in some small measure to maintain and improve their own repertoire of foreign languages (world languages) other than their native language(s).

Therefore, I shall begin with my answers to some frequently asked questions, such as:

  • How do you keep your languages alive?
  • What helps you the most?
  • What hasn't worked for you?

I shall try to incorporate to the greatest extent possible Arabic examples, but given the title, I must deviate from Arabic into the other wide range of languages over a broad series of languages families as well.

Many polyglots are natives of one language and learn many of the other languages in that language family using their native language as a springboard into the other languages; for example, a native Russian speaker might learn Belarusian, Czech, Polish, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Slovak, Slovene, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and even Old Church Slavonic.

This has not been my case, however, and I am not one of those people who set off to “study a new language every two years,” simply to learn as many languages as possible, often with the same strategy, as mentioned above.

Knowing and speaking languages

To start, the first question that I am normally asked is: “What languages do you know?

Sometimes I am asked, rather snottily, often in veiled politeness, “What languages do you claim to know?”

This is often followed by the person introducing me to someone s/he has “bumped into” who happens to speak one of the languages I claim to know, or a request that I demonstrate my prowess in X language by performing some task that often makes me feel like one of those performing monkeys next to a peanut salesperson.

At any rate, I usually answer, ” I know Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, French, Portuguese, Italian, Modern Greek, Russian, Hindi, Urdu, German, Swahili, Latin, and Sanskrit.”

I deliberately say the word “know,” as I do not “speak” Sanskrit or Latin.4

Most people seem to accept what I say, but are curious about how I learned these or why I learned each language or if I can “still speak them” or “still know them”. It is rather tantamount for me to the feeling that I get when native Arabic speakers say to me just after I've told them that I earned an M.A. in Arabic from Middlebury College in Vermont, “But, do you know how to write the Arabic alphabet, too?”

I often marvel at how they believe it is possible to earn an M.A. in Arabic without having learned the alphabet; it would be as though I would ask a native speaker of Arabic who tells me s/he earned an M.A. in Oxford or Harvard, “Oh, but do you also know the English alphabet?”

Becoming a polyglot

I never set off and deliberately said to myself that I was going to become a polyglot; it varies depending on the language. For example, I am a U.S. citizen who grew up in Pennsylvania. At the time that I grew up, one was required to take at least three years of one foreign language or two years of two foreign languages if one was assigned to the “college preparatory track”5; my family was poor and I never envisioned myself ever being able to go to college.

But, before I finished high school I had studied four years of Spanish, French, German, and Latin. I had also learned some Japanese as a result of my participation in a judo class at a local YMCA and that led later to a deeper interest in Japan and the Japanese language (it also led me to become an alternate for the 1976 U.S. Olympic judo team).

Reginald Hefner when he was a young judo athlete
Reginald Hefner when he was a young judo athlete

My guidance counselors when I was in what was then junior high school (there were no such things as “middle schools” then) told me in no uncertain terms that I “was not college material”.

Then, of course, there are also those people who once I finish listing the languages that I know, retort rather snippily, “Yeah, but do you know them fluently” or “Yeah, but how WELL do you know them”, or “Yeah, but do you only know a couple of words in each of them?”

I never know quite how to answer these people, but in my own thoughts, as soon as I hear the word “fluently,” I know this person knows next to nothing about second language acquisition or the measurement of proficiency levels in languages other than one's native language. Or, I get, “Well, how well can you write them occasionally?”

For example, I have no idea how well I can write in German, so I'd have no idea how to respond even though I spoke German with my paternal great-grandmother when I was a small child until she died, then I read some German on and off until I took three years of German with a German teacher who was blind from birth during high school, then later in life I earned a B.A. in French with a German Minor at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.

During the Cold War period I served in the Army Reserves as a Russian/German linguist and I was assigned to a FORSCOM Army German Refresher Course in a “Superior” class at Brigham Young University (BYU) for two weeks. I was tested at on the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) as a 3/3, but I was never given a writing test of my proficiency.

The only way I would have a rough idea is to ask a native German speaker, like the editor of this blog, for his opinion of my written German, since he has read some of the things I've written in German, but that still wouldn't be an “official” proficiency score. I've also continued to take off and on German courses like German 490: Legacy of the Holocaust, in which we read original German Nazi documents detailing the extermination camps, etc.

When people ask me about my proficiency in Arabic, I can say, I was tested by ACTFL (the American Association of Teachers of Foreign Languages) at Advanced Mid in Speaking and had a DLPT score of 3/3 when I took nine different language DLPT's during my years in the Army Reserves.6

Routines to keep languages

So, aside from these types of questions above, I am also often asked what sort of routines do I have to maintain my abilities in this wide range of languages in a broad spectrum of different language families.

  • I set up for myself two hours each day for a two-week period (or a fortnight7) to review one or more languages each day.
  • The two hours need not be consecutive, but sometimes end up that way, if, say, I watch a two-hour movie in a certain language.

I am also very flexible with which languages I use and do not rigidly adhere to a strict schedule or feel that I have to “make up” for missed time if I do not happen to have two full hours of review in one or more skills: speaking, reading, writing, listening.

Thus, the title of this article, despite the paucity of use of the word “fortnight” in U.S. English.8

So, what might I do to maintain and review these languages during this fortnight?

It really depends on the language and what materials I have available during this time. To clarify, I grew up in an age when no computers existed and when they did exist, only government institutions had them and they took up large rooms. To date, I have never owned a cell phone, a laptop, or a computer. I am not a Luddite9 and I have used, or been compelled to use these devices in one college or another.

“I have about two thousand books in various foreign languages strewn all through my home from the basement to the attic at this point.”

Reginald Hefner, polyglot, about his passion for languages

In fact, I am sometimes asked how I could possibly learn any foreign (world) language without having a computer or cellphone, as though nobody in the history of mankind had learned a language other than his/her own language without these devices. I had to be a collector of materials on or in languages that I either was studying or wanted to study at some time in the future.

For many of the more obscure languages at the time, it was difficult to acquire material, so I tended to hold on to material for a long time, hoping that one day I might be able to use it to learn/study X language.

To give an example of the extent that I would go, my mother enjoyed a TV program with a Welsh10 singer named Tom Jones. At the end, of his U.S. televised program he would always say something in Welsh, so I would take a small five-inch reel-to-reel tape recorder and patiently wait until the moment when I thought he would say some Welsh and press the record button.

YouTube: Tom Jones singing in Welsh.

Then, after the program, I would play it back, so I would have an example of what Welsh sounded like just in case I would ever want to learn Welsh, was my thinking. I mean, Merlin11 spoke it, how difficult could it be? I still have that recording somewhere in my attic!

There is a language series of books entitled, for example, Cinema for French Conversation, in which twenty some films (sometimes fewer, depending on the edition) are analyzed for vocabulary, grammar, idioms, slang, historical background, jargon for discussing films, directors, actors, etc. and commentary on difficulties of doing subtitles that the eyehow long does it take to learn Arabic can catch when one full page of a script equates to one minute of celluloid film.

  • Used Book in Good Condition

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The series exists for Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Italian. I tried to gin up some interest in an Arabic version of this series for Arabic when I was taking some film classes in Arabic, but the idea was generally pooh-poohed because of the issue of different dialects. Nevertheless, I thought that if you had a section for each movie about the characteristics of each dialect, followed by examples from the movie, that it would still be a viable approach for Arabic, and there are a few movies in what is now called Modern Standard Arabic or Educated Standard Arabic.

Reginald Hefner's VHS collection
Reginald Hefner's VHS collection

At any rate, I would use this series along with a DVD or VHS of the movie covered in each chapter as my material for reviewing French or German or Russian. Note that I mentioned VHS, which may seem anathema to some studying foreign languages in 2023, but just because something is old does not mean that it is no longer valuable or viable. So, when newer technologies were introduced, I always kept the devices that could play the previous technology, as I had invested a lot of money and time with them.

Despite the changing language teaching methodologies, the old material was still useful to me for review purposes or to maintain and improve my skill. For example, I had bought all the DVDs for all the seasons of a TV program called The Americans, which was about Russian illegal operatives in the United States; they hired Russian actors who spoke Russian and filmed them speaking Russian to each other when a scene was in the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., etc.

Screenshot The Americans
Screenshot The Americans

Then Blu-ray came along, but this series was not released on Blu-ray. I still kept my VHS player and DVD player so I could continue to use material I had created using what was once “cutting edge” technology. I often joke about people telling me to become more “computer savvy,” that they are learning the 8-track of the future. I am usually then asked, “What are 8-tracks?

I still have 8-track foreign language recordings and cassette-recordings of foreign language courses that I used to be able to listen to in my car. Now I can no longer even find a car that has a CD player, let alone a cassette player. I have both these technologies and devices to play them too, as I have so much material over a decade that was produced in various languages using this technology.

This car (1967 AMC Marlin) includes an 8-track tape stereo player (mounted between the ashtray on the dash and console).
This car (1967 AMC Marlin) includes an 8-track tape stereo player (mounted between the ashtray on the dash and console).

I also used the original hand-held devices: books! I have about two thousand books in various foreign languages strewn all through my home from the basement to the attic at this point. Some are simply reference works, some are books on topics that I still hope to study like Old French and Old English (sometimes referred to as Anglo-Saxon).

  • On a typical Sunday evening, I might spend an hour reading a chapter of Kibler's Introduction to Old French, then later in the evening watch an hour-long episode of The Americans to see how much of the Russian I can understand without the subtitles.
  • On Sundays, I usually go to breakfast at a local restaurant owned and operated by Greeks who know I speak Modern Greek and only speak to me in Greek while I'm there. My server is often a young black man from Louisiana who speaks to me only in French.
  • The day before, I might pick up a takeout order at the Falafel Shack, where the owner speaks to me in Arabic because he is originally from Saudi Arabia. When I choose to dine there, my server is a woman originally from Romania who only speaks to me in Romanian when I'm there, even though she speaks excellent English and I never claim to know any Romanian because I don't feel like I know it well enough or on par with the group of 14 languages I feel more comfortable saying I know.
  • Sometimes, sheer kismet comes into play, as a local restaurant formerly known as The Ponderosa was bought and converted into The Chambersburg Family Diner.12 When I went there for supper once, the new owner was speaking in Egyptian dialect, so I greeted him in Egyptian dialect and held a conversation with him for about ten or fifteen minutes. Now, whenever I go there, he and his family only speak to me in the Egyptian dialect. So, I count that as my Arabic review, even if I had no plans to “officially” review Arabic that day.

I am often asked what has helped me the most. I would say that for me personally, the better I have learned to speak a language at increasingly higher levels of proficiency, the better I have been able to read and understand a foreign language.

In a similar vein, attending as near total immersion summer language programs in Arabic (nine summers, four of which were for an M.A. in Arabic as part of the first cohort of the first-ever M.A. program at Middlebury College in Vermont), Hebrew (three summers) and now two summers in the French M.A. program, for which I shall be registering for a third summer.

I have not found the reverse to be true for me, in that no matter how much I have increased my reading ability, I have not found that it has increased my own speaking ability in that language. I have recently seen an author (Olly Richards) who has made a small cottage industry out of publishing short stories in various languages who claims just the opposite, so maybe it works for some.

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Reading has allowed me to increase my speed of comprehension because of the wider range of vocabulary to which I am exposed when reading.I prefer to read a physical book and use a physical dictionary, because I like to use a little check mark every time I need to look up a word, then when I have five check marks, I make myself a physical flash card. I like index cards with a hole punched in one corner, and I put a metal ring through it so I can put it in my coat pocket, etc., and check it at odd moments, like waiting for a movie to start, instead of watching all the commercials. Tada kuu mushi…that's Japanese for “some prefer nettles” or “each to his own”.

About forgetting languages

I am sometimes asked if I have ever “forgotten” a language? Yes, I have.

When I was a little boy, I had a friend named Pete Epstein. When I visited his home, I could understand him and his mother when they spoke German to each other, but when they wanted to say something that they did not want me to know what they were talking about, they would speak in Estonian, which was his mother's native language.

After a year of visiting my childhood friend, I found that I could understand what they were saying when they spoke Estonian, but I never let on that I understood what they were saying. I would say, “Come on, guys, we're in America, speak German!”13

Later in life, I had the opportunity to study Arabic in a master's program at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, and I saw an advertisement for students who could speak foreign languages to help out at the Missionary Training Center (MTC). I volunteered to teach Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Modern Greek on various nights of the week. While I was there, I overheard someone say that they did not have a teacher for Estonian, but I had overheard the missionaries in training practicing some Estonian among themselves, and suddenly Estonian came back to me after decades of non-use. I was able to help them until a native Estonian and a “RM” (return missionary) showed up, then I stopped to concentrate more on my Arabic.

“I believe that after about 10,000 hours or 10-years of a foreign language that even with long lapses of use, it will still be there, and I won't entirely ‘forget' the language.”

Reginald Hefner about forgetting languages

I was only there for two semesters because I was supposed to go to the Middle East for a year, but I did not have the money to go. I was at BYU as one of the three percent of non-Mormons who study there as long as we follow their rules. I agreed to do so in order to study Arabic there with Dr. Dilworth Parkinson (author of Using Arabic Synonyms) and Dr. R. Kirk Belnap, two specialists in Egyptian dialect, and Connie Cannon, my MSA teacher there, who encouraged me to apply to the Arabic program at Middlebury in Vermont because she had been there twice and was very enthusiastic about it; whereas I had applied to the Japanese School in 1982 and was rejected by Middlebury.

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Despite that rejection, by 1989 I had become a Japanese-English interpreter at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, during which time I continued to practice judo at the Kodokan Judo Institute and Aikido at the Ueshiba Hombu (Headquarters) with the son and grandson of the founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei. These experiences help me to increase my Japanese even further along with practicing Shoogi (Japanese ) at the Shoogi Kaikan in Tokyo until I was tested at ILR Level 4 in Japanese by the U.S State Department and by various other government agencies at ILR 4+ in 1991 and 1992.

Research shows that if you can get your foreign language skills as high as possible, there is far less atrophy and for a much longer period of time than if you get stuck at a plateau level like ILR level 2 to 2+ or what the military calls “terminal 2's“.

Generally speaking, the idea is that to improve one must be challenged by material approximately one language level above one's current ability. Extensive reading with occasional intensive reading is the best strategy to develop reading ability, but the same principle of Level plus One generally applies. For example, the last time I was in Japan, my fifth time there, was on October 15, 1989 (I even climbed Fuji-san or Mt. Fuji that summer). I had also spent nearly twenty years translating or using Chinese and Japanese in one way or another for 8 hours or more a day. Although I had not actively used Chinese or Japanese for many years because of my efforts to learn Arabic, when I applied to the Middlebury College Summer Immersion Japanese program in 2019, they recommended that I be admitted to their highest level of Japanese classes.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to my open heart surgery for thoracic aortic dissection on March 11, 2020 (which had a two percent chance of survival, and those who survive often do not live more than three months) and the closure of the Japanese School due to the COVID-19 pandemic closure of Middlebury. Despite this setback, I can still pick up a novel in Japanese and read it comfortably with only occasional use of a dictionary. I know I am not so strong in Japanese as I used to be (in the C-2 range or higher in the European system), but I am probably still in the C-1 or ILR Level 3 range.

I've never been to the Middle East or any country where Arabic is spoken; yet I was officially tested by ACTFL at Advanced Mid and earned an M.A. in Arabic at Middlebury College in its first cohort of its first-ever M.A. program. Twenty-five Arabic M.A. candidates started with me in 2012 and in 2015, four summers later, only 7 of the original 25 walked across the stage to receive our M.A. in Arabic.

I was the only one who had never been to the Middle East, North Africa and half of them were native speakers of Arabic from various countries. I also had the opportunity to study some Egyptian Arabic dialect, Yemeni dialect, Levantine dialect, and Moroccan dialect while I was in the regular summer immersion program at Middlebury.

Hardest languages

Inevitably, someone will ask me what is the hardest or most difficult language I have ever personally studied. In both cases I would say, without a doubt and backed up by research by scientific linguists and over half a century of research at the U.S. State Department, that the hardest languages are:

Japanese, followed by Chinese, followed by Arabic, and then Korean.

These are the four hardest languages for native-speaking English speakers to acquire and these are the four listed in what is called CATEGORY IV languages (those hardest to learn). Russian is category III, as is Estonian and Finnish, despite the 14-case endings in Finnish, etc. These are Finnic languages in the Uralic language group and written with an alphabet.14

Japanese uses Chinese characters and if one wants to read Japanese literature, one must also know Classical Chinese and the special reading marks that make it amenable to a complex grammatical system.

An American scholar of Japanese once gave a lecture15 about Japanese in which he said that he had read about 20 some pages of Japanese text before getting to the key verb at the end “…..to omowanai (I did not think)”, so, he said, “I just read twenty pages of a non-thought.”

Every language has its difficulties, even Spanish! For example, many high school Spanish teachers are unaware that there is a future subjunctive in Spanish; some will argue that it does not exist. But, when I hear that argument, I know immediately that they have never read Don Quixote in the original Spanish, as there is page after page after page of future subjunctive there (Cuando in Roma fueres, haz lo que vieres is also a common proverb that uses the future subjunctive for “When in Rome ,…”).

Portuguese also has a future subjunctive, but the scale of Japanese simply cannot compare. One of the famous Arabists in the United States in the 1960's and 1970's and a co-author of the dominant University of Michigan at Ann Arbor orange-colored Arabic textbook Elementary Standard Arabic (EMSA) and Intermediate Standard Arabic (IMSA) [in a green cover] was Earnest McCarus, who started out as an M.A. in Japanese at the University of Michigan studying Japanese linguistics.

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For me personally, I often have to review Sanskrit, Latin, Swahili, and . I believe for Sanskrit, Latin, and Ancient Greek it is because I do not speak them, as I learned them, in order to read written texts. Though there is a movement now in high school Latin classes to teach Latin as a spoken language as well. Needless to say, there are strong arguments against this from some, but, on the other hand, Hebrew has been revived as a spoken language. And, there was an earlier effort by a Vatican expert on Latin, Father Reginald Foster, to teach Latin as a spoken language with a summer immersion Latin program in Rome. He charged absolutely nothing for his instruction, but insisted on total dedication.

I believe that after about 10,000 hours or 10-years of a foreign language that even with long lapses of use, it will still be there and I won't entirely “forget” the language.

The Lozanov Method

Some ask me if there was anything that did not work for me: yes! I tried to learn Arabic with what used to be called the Lozanov method, based on a Bulgarian approach to using classical music in combination with relaxation techniques and high doses of language content; it was later called “super-learning”.

I suspect the system did not work for me because the teacher was not really trained in the system, and the company I went to in Rockville, Maryland, eventually went out of business. Still, maybe it was working and I just wasn't aware of it on a conscious level.

Characteristics of successful language learners

Finally, I would like to share some tips that I find are just as true now as when they were first written in an article in 197516 in which the author Joan Rubin discusses the characteristics of highly successful language learners:

  1. Willing and accurate guesser (tolerates vagueness and realizes that one CAN guess wrong; it's a GUESS).
  2. Has a strong drive to communicate, or to learn from communication.
  3. Is often not inhibited (the greatest barrier for adult language learners is inhibitions).
  4. In addition to focusing on communicative competence or communication, focuses on form as well.
  5. Practices and seeks out opportunities to use the language as part of one's daily life.
  6. Pays attention to his/her own speech and the speech of others. (Listens carefully even when not spoken to and learns from mistakes. An active participant.)
  7. Attends to meaning (Uses contextual clues to help understand language which otherwise would be incomprehensible.)

I have paraphrased these seven, but I would also add:

  • Just because something is old does not mean it has no value; a cassette language course is still valuable for review. And, yes, Walmart still sells cassette players, and there is now this thing called the Internet, where you can even buy record players and vinyl records like those used in the wonderful Cortina Master Language Courses in various languages.

Note: You can download the Cortina Master Language Courses (free) on https://fsi-languages.yojik.eu/languages/cortina.html

Languages: French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Vietnamese

  • If one cannot afford to go to the country where the language is spoken, then try one of the immersion programs in your own country. I would recommend Middlebury College but apply in November for the following Summer and read their website or look for things on YouTube on the program.
  • Don't forget music. I still have my great great grandmother's Victrola and the recordings of Classical German pieces being sung in German and some recordings of German Lieder with folksongs. often reinforce grammatical structures. This can work with poetry too; for example, I can still recite the poem Lorelei in German, though I learned it when I was in the eighth grade from a homeroom teacher who taught be German using the old handwriting system. She was in her 90's and was still teaching Latin (some said that it was her native language; now they say it about me, or joke that they can't read my handwriting because my native language was written in hieroglyphcs).

The role of age

I almost forgot to mention: Does age matter?17

While anyone can learn any language at any age, age does matter, as recall becomes more difficult with age, at least according to recent neuroscience studies. So you have to review more often and it may take longer. I used to be able to look at a whole page of vocabulary and retain over 90 percent of it a day or a week later.

I can no longer do that. I have no idea if I had eidetic memory or not. I just know that I've spent thousands of hours hunched over desks studying in my life so far. And I've got so much more to learn. These days, it's usually health issues that keep me from doing all the things I'd like to do. But I think I am still a fairly capable language learner, and I hope to earn a Ph.D. before I die, or a Doctorate of Modern Languages from Middlebury College.


Footnotes

  1. Reginald Hefner would like to thank his friend and former Arabic M.A. classmate, Dr. July Blalack (D.Phil. SOAS, University of London) for her suggestion to him to write a book sometime perhaps entitled, A Day in the Life of a Polyglot; this title was borrowed from that idea and perhaps one day, he says, he may be ambitious enough to write a book rather than an article. ↩︎
  2. For an excellent peer-reviewed article on polyglots and hyperpolyglots, I would recommend: Anderson, R. W. (2022). Garfield, SLA gold medalist: Examining the investments of an exceptional US language learner/hyperpolyglot. Foreign Language Annals, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/flan.12652 ↩︎
  3. Reginald Hefner has a more practical approach and shares his thoughts as a pure language learner. He is not a “scientific-linguist” in the sense of an expert or Ph.D. in linguistics or what Academia refers to as a “hyper-polyglot”. ↩︎
  4. Reginald Hefner says that he does not speak Latin very well and that he has spoken it while teaching Latin 102 as a substitute Latin 102 professor at the former Wilson College for Women [it is now co-ed]. ↩︎
  5. Those who scored at a certain level on standardized tests then were automatically put in that “college track”. ↩︎
  6. Reginald Hefner served 4 years, 6 months and 24 days on Active Duty during Vietnam as a Chinese interpreter/translator/interrogator, then later retired from the Army Reserves as a Sergeant First Class (SFC)/E-7 after a total of 47 years of military service, for which he now receives $900/month and had his Social Security reduced to $132 (after a $256.00 deduction for Medicare) because of this “windfall profit”. ↩︎
  7. The title of this guest article was also inspired in part by Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The story is set in a Soviet labor camp in the early 1950s and features the day of prisoner Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. ↩︎
  8. The word “fortnight” is rarely used in U.S. English, except as a vocabulary word on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT's). It is, however, quite prominent in mid-summer during the Wimbledon tennis tournament in just about every advertisement on television about it. ↩︎
  9. The Luddites were members of a 19th-century movement of English textile workers who opposed the use of certain types of cost-saving machinery, often by destroying the machines in secret raids. The Luddite movement began in Nottingham, England, and spread to the North West and Yorkshire between 1811 and 1816. Mill and factory owners resorted to shooting protesters, and eventually the movement was suppressed by legal and military means, including the execution and penal transportation of accused and convicted Luddites. The movement took its name from Ned Ludd, an apocryphal apprentice. ↩︎
  10. Welsh is a Celtic language of the Brittonic subgroup that is native to the Welsh people. Welsh is spoken natively in Wales, by some in England, and in Y Wladfa (the Welsh colony in Chubut Province, Argentina). ↩︎
  11. Merlin (Welsh: Myrddin) is a mythical figure prominently featured in the legend of King Arthur and best known as a magician, with several other main roles. ↩︎
  12. Chambersburg is a small town 26 miles southwest of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and was the only Northern town burnt by the Confederacy en route Gettysburg. ↩︎
  13. German used to be the dominant language in Pennsylvania even in the 1800's — at least for those without political power. ↩︎
  14. Remark: An earlier version contained the following sentence, which was misleading and incorrect in its abbreviated form (see comment section – many thanks to Loheisa) and has therefore been corrected:”These are Indo-European languages with alphabets.” ↩︎
  15. Dr. Eric Gangloff was the U.S. Scholar who gave the lecture that I mention in this article. ↩︎
  16. Source: TESOL Quarterly,9,1:41-51,1975 ↩︎
  17. Regarding the question of age, Reggie told me that some might enjoy the book “Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin” by Ann Patty. The book describes how the author decided to take up Latin after she retired and became a senior citizen. ↩︎

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Loheisa
Loheisa
2 months ago

Hi, thank you for this great article. It is nice to demystify polyglots and share your experience with honesty.

I would like to bring a small correction: while Finnish and Estonian have been strongly influenced by Indo-European languages (Swedish in the case of Finnish, German and Russian in the case of Estonian), they are not Indo-European languages. However, your point is still valid, the specificity of those languages is less hard to grasp than Chinese or Japanese for an English speaker (or an Indo-European language speaker in general).

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