Polyglot Diaries: A Weekend in the Life of a Language Enthusiast

Guest blog post by Jhenifer L.

A polyglot is, by definition, someone who can speak several different languages. It still feels odd to slap that label on myself, but truth be told, I'm right there in the club. In fact, there are few things in life that bring me as much joy as learning world languages, with the possible exceptions of petting my dogs and singing "Super Bass" by Nicki Minaj on a karaoke night.

For the time being, I can speak Portuguese, English, and French fluently. I also have a good level of Spanish, which helps me understand some other Romance languages, such as Italian and Catalan. I've also been applying myself to Dutch and Swedish lately while studying Latin and Old French, the latter two mandatory for my degree.

My enthusiasm for languages has profoundly influenced my academic and professional choices, leading me to pick Languages and Literature as my major and embark on a career as a language teacher. Indeed, it has influenced my lifestyle as a whole—the city where I live, the communities that I've chosen to join, and the activities in which I engage.

This lifestyle allows me to live fully immersed in a multilingual environment and that's why I decided to share with you what a weekend in the life of a language enthusiast can look like. Are you ready for a linguistic adventure?


black metal bunk bed
Photo by Marcus Loke / Unsplash

Without fail, every time my friends and I come together, we make travel plans—Spain, Ireland, Greece, you name the destination. This time, however, we put our plan into action right there in my friend's kitchen.

After a few hours of discussing how to spend our last weekend of vacation, we settled on a seven-hour bus ride from Paris to Amsterdam. That is how a group of seven people from Brazil, France, Italy, Turkey and Germany ended up in a hostel room more than 270 miles away from home.

It's easy to imagine that this mix of nationalities could make communication a challenge. In fact, I lost count of how many times I heard, "How do you say this again?" and "Sorry, I accidentally switched languages."

In our friend group, only two people are native speakers of French. However, because we go to university in France together, that's usually our go-to language. But, to be fair, at least once a day there's a word one of us doesn't know, and that leads to a lot of laughter. The word in question for the day of our trip was "bouchon."

Our friend, who's used to staying at hostels, was giving us recommendations on what to take with us. She said to bring a towel, flip-flops, and some "bouchons." When I first saw the message, I was very confused. "Bouchon" is usually used to refer to a bottle cap or a cork, so when put alongside the other two items to be used in the bathroom, my first thought was that she wanted us to take drain stoppers with us for the shower. As it didn't make any sense at all, I sent her a screenshot of my Google search, and she called me laughing. She meant "bouchons d'oreilles," that is, ear plugs—or, quite literally, "corks for the ears."


man in yellow jacket and black pants walking on sidewalk during daytime
Photo by ALAN DE LA CRUZ / Unsplash

Let's be honest: our trip to the Netherlands wouldn't be complete without visiting the Van Gogh museum. Located in a region full of other museums, called Museumplein, it's a beautiful three-story building where you can learn all about the Dutch artist and see his most famous paintings.

Even though I love Van Gogh, it was more the information about his paintings than the paintings themselves that caught my attention. All of the descriptions and explanations were written in both English and Dutch, side by side. I soon started trying to understand the texts in Dutch and felt ecstatic whenever I was right!

Leaving the museum, I had already made up my mind. I decided that Dutch would be the next language I would learn. I even bought a book in the language at the souvenir shop and kept on looking for some newly-learned words in it on the way out!

Dutch is very close to German, which made my German friends protest a little. "So many more people speak German," they said. And they're right. "German is more useful academic-wise." And they also might be right. But the country's beauty and the excitement I felt made me stick to my decision.

On our way back to Paris, I watched plenty of videos on Dutch pronunciation and downloaded some songs in the language while watching the windmills in the distance. I analyzed their phonetic system, compared it with the ones with which I am acquainted, and asked my friends to help me translate a few sentences.

Although the trip is not exactly typical for me, the constant contact with many languages is. Languages fascinate and amuse me, and, for that reason, I surround myself with them.