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A Polyglot World

The 9 Habits of Highly Effective Polyglots

Which will you rely on when learning a language?

“Habit” (built by repetition) or “Will power” (depends on your feelings) ?

I will pick a solid habit any day.

So I asked 9 highly effective polyglots the following question:

“What is your most effective habit that pays the most dividend when you are learning a language?”

Enter the polyglots.

benny speak to left1. “Make at least two hundred mistakes a day.”

-Benny Lewis, FluentIn3Month.com

I failed learning Spanish for months because of perfectionism, but embracing a “screw it, I want to actually use this language, mistakes or not” approach allowed me to communicate and ultimately make friends.

I go out of my way to use the language to the max, and effectively “get the mistakes out of my system”, rather than study them out. 

Even if you only know the basics, you will be surprise that you can still convey what you want to say, and if not, the native can help you find another way to make yourself understood so that you will come out of the exchange having learned something.

I’ve been doing this in a decade in real situations, and it seems like I have somehow survived 😉

luca Lampariello toward right

2. “My number one habit is, without a doubt, learning a little bit every day.”

-Luca Lampariello, ThePolyglotDream.com

By doing so, I make sure that I learn steadily in a cumulative way and avoid burning out.  In this way, time is not a foe to fight against, but rather a friend that keeps you going on your journey.  

No matter what method you use, you have to stick to this principle of learning a little bit every single day if you want to be successful.

Susanna Jan 20123. “I surround myself with my target language.”

-Susanna Zaraysky, CreateYourWorldBook.com

Even if that means having music in my target language in the background.

How I developed this habit for Spanish, Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian was simply by playing the radio or podcasts in those languages at home, while exercising or driving.  For other languages, I made an effort to find materials at the library or online to listen to or watch. 

Music in one’s target language is key because music activates more parts of the brain than language does. Find songs where the words are not sung very fast so that you can hear each word distinctly.

laoshu505000 - YouTube-14. “Leveling up. Well, before leveling up, my most effective habit is making sentences.”

-Moses McCormick, FLRMethod.com

Specifically, making sentences by using “keywords”.  

When I first started learning Mandarin, the first thing I thought I need to say was “Although I am an American, I am learning Chinese now, because I think Chinese is an interesting language.”

You see what I am doing?

I am using the “keywords” of “Although…now”, “because...”.

Keywords are frequently used words that connect short sentences together which allows you to build longer sentences.

That’s what I really do when I am studying, if I show you some of my notebooks you will think I am crazy (Brian: lol) I have notebooks full of sentences.  

So practice making sentences with keywords that build up cumulatively is my #1 most effective habit and the method I use. 

Anthoy talk 223 to left5. “I rely on short term time management combined with long term persistence.”

-Anthony Lauder, Youtube.com/FluentCzech

Short term time management keeps me productive throughout each day. I spend several short sessions (15 to 25 minutes each, using a timer) on focused learning in the morning, and several short sessions on “fun” with the language (cartoons, comics, books, newspapers, skype chats, etc) in the evening. 

Keeping the sessions short and focused stops me from burning out, and saving “fun” until last leaves me with happy memories each day and energizes me for more sessions the next day.

Long term persistence is about accepting that I make mistakes, often forget things, and always wish for faster progress, but I still stick with it “no matter what”.

Experience has taught me that it all does sink in if you give it enough time. The only way to not get there is to give up. 

olly6. “Showing up everyday, consistently, over a long period of time.”

-Olly Richards, IWillTeachYouALanguage.com

I’ve found that my learning gets more effective with each new language I take on,  but unless I actually show up everyday to do the work, nothing else matters.”


amir 37. “Accept the language the way it is.”

-Amir Ordabayev, YouTube.com/m32amir

Whatever language you learn, there will always be irregular verbs, irregular prepositions, etc. 

Many frustrated learners always complain, “Why is it this way?” 

Just accept it the way it is, without resisting the language  will save you a lot of time and energy so you can actually focus on learning the language.


judith crop8. “I make the biggest improvement when I hold myself accountable.”

-Judith Meyer, Learnlangs.com

I started to log the hours I studied and suddenly found that I wasn’t studying nearly as often as I had thought (see what my spreadsheet looks like here).

Whenever I felt that I wasn’t making progress in a language, I’d look at my spreadsheet and I would know why. Whenever I felt that I was making amazing progress, that would correlate with the hours studied as well. This motivated me to do a lot more. 

tommy9.  “Use a foreign language I’ve already learned to study a new language.”

-Tommy McDonald, YouTube.com/orangeroomstudios

I started doing this when learning Portuguese with “Ta Falado”, a podcast designed for speakers of Spanish, and later when teaching myself to read German using copies of The Little Prince with French as the base language. 

I have realized not only that the knowledge and perspective of the subordinated base language can be leveraged to learn a new language, but also that the base language becomes more familiar.

Now I use Japanese (for example, bilingual short stories and dialogues with side-by-side translations and audio) to study Korean and Farsi.


I’ve met all of these wonderful polyglots in person. (Beside Moses but we had plenty of skype sessions together).

From all the interviews I’ve done and from hanging out with these generous and humble people, the only difference between a polyglot who can speak 20 languages and someone who can speak 1 is:

Polyglots didn’t give up on the language they wanted to learn. They kept at it consistently and in time, they were able to figure out what works best for them (Methods, material, habits, time management, etc).

After they add their first foreign language (one at a time), they will then learn another because of the increased quality of life and countless benefits after being able to speak a new language.

They continued to improve and fine tune what works best for them on how they learn a language after they added that first one

So the only difference between a monoglot and a polyglot (besides the # of language they can speak) is, Polyglots started earlier and stuck to learning the language consistently.

That’s it.

Anyone (Yes including you!) can learn the language you’ve always wanted to speak.  As long as you are able to stay motivated, keep at it and not give up on adding that first foreign language.

If you would like a community of people, supporting each other to stay motivated, striving for the same goal together for 90 days, building effective habits and adding one language together, then join the Add1Challenge so we can all learn, have a tons of fun and study together :)

About the author: Lets learn to speak a new language together in the +1 Challenge! Join the party, join the new language learning movement :)

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