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What is a polyglot?

We can start with the definitions from 4 different dictionaries.


Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition:

  • One who is polyglot : speaking or writing several languages

Collins English Dictionary definition:

  • A polyglot is a person who speaks or understands many languages.

Cambridge English Dictionary definition:

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries definition:

  • A person who knows, uses or writes in more than one language

What I notice about these definitions is the use of “or”. There are generally 4 areas of language skill: listening comprehension, reading comprehension, verbal expression and written expression. I also like to add a fifth area, which is pragmatic/social use, which involves knowing the social and cultural norms related to using a language. However, you must have a certain level of skill in listening comprehension and verbal expression in order to truly show your abilities in this area.


The four definitions above provide an “or” which allows us to consider that being a polyglot only requires skill in one of these categories. This is great news for aspiring polyglots, especially those learning a new alphabet!


What these definitions don’t provide us with is a number of languages needed, except for the Oxford Learner’s dictionary stating “more than one.” The other definitions use non-specific terms, such as “several” and “many.” How many is several or many? Several could be thought of as 2 until many. And many is “a large but indefinite number” (Merriam-Webster). So are you a polyglot if you can understand 2 languages? That’s what logic tells me according to these definitions.


But then you may actually consider yourself bilingual, though the definition of bilingual actually requires equal fluency in both languages. Being a polyglot is not so strict. To be on the safe side, I would consider the use of 4 or more languages as a definition for polyglot, as the majority of these definitions stated “several” or “many,” though your abilities in each of these languages is not as important. The definitions above do not require a specific level of ability in each language. All of those dabbling in new languages get the thumbs up on this one. 


So here’s where I stand on “What is a polyglot?”. If it's in your heart to include 4 or more languages in your everyday life, I think you can consider yourself a polyglot. (Everything being said, there is always room for interpretation and I’d love to discuss it further with you.)


To all of the language learners out there, and “aspiring polyglots,” if you consider yourself an aspiring polyglot, and are using your languages every day, just go ahead and call yourself a polyglot, and send anyone this way if you run into trouble.


Sources of Definitions:

"polyglot." 2020. (27 July 2020).


"polyglot." 2020. (27 July 2020).


"polyglot." 2020. (27 July 2020).

"polyglot." 2020. (27 July 2020).

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