Tips from a polyglot


“How can you remember so many words in so many languages?”

Remembering individual words is hard, especially in your fourth, sixth, or eighth language. That’s why I always try to make connections. When I look up a word in a dictionary, I examine its neighbors as well – are they related? Are they also worth learning?

As a result, instead of memorizing only the word for, let’s say, „clock“ (and putting myself in danger of forgetting it quite soon), I end up learning the whole „family“ encompassing also “alarm clock“, “clockwise“, and “counterclockwise”. Then, you have the abstract words. They are usually complex and hence easier to dismantle into parts.

Let’s take the Hindi word for “tolerance” – सहनशीलता ‘sahanśiltaa’.

There are three components here: सहन ’sahan’ – patience, endurance + adjective-forming शील ’śil’ + noun-forming ता ’ta’.

If you substract ता ’ta’, you have the adjective “tolerant”.

If you add the negative prefix अ ‘a’ – you have the noun with the opposite meaning, “intolerance”.

That’s how I also teach – pointing out similarities and connections to my students.


“Should I rather focus on writing or speaking?” This is a false alternative. That‘s not the point. The clue is to form sentences by yourself. And then expend those sentences over time. Depending on your personal traits, you may prefer to write things down (keeping a diary in a foreign language is a great idea!) or talk to yourself in a target language. Just don’t do it too loud when you’re outside!

A good tutor (like me and all of us at Flowently :)) will not stop at teaching you ready-made sentences, but will make you rephrase them to make sure you understood the concept. Once you’ve heard „I am wearing a shirt“, you will be asked to produce another sentence like „you are wearing shoes”. Unless it’s Hebrew, which expresses wearing clothes and wearing shoes with two different verbs…


“I’ve had some lessons but still I don’t feel like I really know the language.” Find the ways to use what you’ve learnt outside the classroom. Chat with real people. Listen to music. Maybe at first you will just get just a few basic words of the song (“that was a ‘no’ and I understood it, yay!”). After several weeks or months of learning, upon hearing it again you will be surprised to find out how much you understand now. Hardly anything beats this joy! And, yes, “joy” is the key word. If learning languages makes you happy, you will keep on doing it and adding more and more of them to your list!

By Flowently tutor: Natalia Wojnakowska

written by: Flowently

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