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The Insider’s Guide to Multilingualism

An Interview with the Superpolyglotbros

Matthew and Michael Youlden are identical twins from Manchester with a super power — they are fluent in 11 languages and have knowledge of more than 20. They currently live in Berlin where they dedicate their time to spreading their passion for languages and sharing their linguistic skills, as translators, interpreters, teachers, accent coaches, e-learning experts — you name it, they do it. As fellow language-lovers, the Idioma team know all too well the addictiveness of language learning, as well as the importance of multilingualism, so we caught up with Matthew and Michael to find out more about the life of a polyglot.

How do you incorporate your love of languages into your daily life?

Michael: This might sound somewhat cheesy but we live and breathe languages every single day: with us it’s pretty much languages 24/7. From reading our emails in them to teaching in them or about them, from having our phones in different languages to listening to the radio whilst we work in them, from reading the newspapers in them to playing games in them, be it as part of our workshops or a language challenge, or simply as part of us relaxing and winding down after a day’s work, from listening to music in the language whilst jogging to enjoying a movie or series in the different language. There are so many different and ‘normal’ ways that languages form part of our day-to-day lives, and that’s what we find important: making another language a normal, everyday part of your life. 

What’s the best and the worse thing about being a polyglot?

Matthew: The best thing about knowing multiple languages is without a doubt the ability to learn more languages from knowledge of the ones we know. That, and travelling and getting to see other places. There isn't really a downside to being a polyglot, apart from occasionally being treated as a walking-talking dictionary and asked random stuff such as “How do you say laser printer in Danish?” (It’s ‘laserprinter’ if you’re curious but, with it being Danish, it has a wonderful sound to it!).

What’s the best way to get started when learning a new language?

Michael: As unusual as this might sound, the best way to get started is literally to get started. We've met so many people over the years who “really want to learn Spanish” or other languages but don't think that (a) they can and (b) they have the time. We can all learn a language just by actively learning for as little (or as much!) as 15 minutes a day. The first barrier is crossing it, and when that has been achieved, the best way to get the ball rolling further is by making that language your own. We're firm believers that anything you do in your mother tongue you can do in another. In order therefore to fully connect with a language, that language ultimately has to become part of you, so start combining for example your hobbies with the language you are learning. I am football bonkers and so I read the Italian football dailies, watch German matches, play Fifa in Hungarian etc.

What do you think about the widely-held belief that if you haven’t been exposed to a language since birth you can never be completely fluent in it?

Matthew: This is very important to our work and, as we mentioned above, it’s part of our mission to dispel it (I also talked about it in my TEDx talk last year in Clapham). That and referring to languages as “foreign language”, which makes them sound alien or distant to us, and that’s also something we definitely don’t believe: a new language ultimately becomes part of us.

There’s more than enough proof out there that shows that people who have learned a language at a later stage have gone on to master the language. The famous Czech author, Milan Kundera, has been writing in French for over 20 years now.

Besides, as so-called native speakers of English, we also don’t know every word there is in our language. How many of us have tried to read an article about rocket science and haven’t understood everything in it, despite it being in our own language? Yet we would never doubt for one second that it’s our mother tongue. Any new language can be mastered.

What do you think is the best way of perfecting your accent when speaking another language? Is it possible for everyone?

Michael: Absolutely. It might take a while, but as we say, practice makes perfect! It’s all about being in constant contact with the language and using and practising it daily. Think of young children when they’re learning their own language. They pick up the words, intonation and the accent from their family and their surroundings, from imitating it and also from making mistakes in it. Speaking of imitating: A great way of developing your accent is to mimic someone you know that speaks that language. It could be an actor, sportsperson or even a politician. Essentially, it’s about finding your own accent in another language, just like we found our own accent in our mother tongue/s.

Do you have any favourite foreign language words or expressions?

Matthew: Sure, they’re what makes language learning even more fun! There are so many words out there that either sound absolutely amazing or, on an even more interesting note, have no direct translation in either English or other languages whatsoever. English has a wealth of words from other languages which we might not even perceive as non-English anymore. German has lent our language quite a few! Think of the word Doppelgänger for example. Another word here is ‘Futterneid’, and the beauty about German compound nouns is that there is a real sense of logic to them. If you break ‘Futterneid’ down into the two words that make up the word, ‘Futter’ and ‘Neid’, with ‘Futter’ meaning ‘(animal) food’ or even ‘fodder’, and ‘Neid’ meaning ‘jealousy’ or ‘envy’, the word therefore literally means ‘food envy’. Food envy alone however makes no sense in English, and the closest equivalent is perhaps another expression in English - the green-eyed monster - but in German it’s that feeling of envy, even regret when you see someone else’s food and it looks more appetizing than yours! We particularly love the sound of Danish, and one of our favourite words is ‘tanketorsk’. We love it for two reasons - one, the pronunciation of it just sounds marvellous, and the second reason is its meaning in English. The closest equivalent would be a gaffe, but it literally means “thought cod”!

What does the future look like for the Superpolyglotbros?

Michael: Even more multilingual! But not just from our side, but that of others too. We hope that the love, interest and passion we have for learning and promoting language learning and multilingualism spreads and we’ll do our utmost best to make sure it does!

 

To find out more about what Michael and Matthew do, check out their:

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