Imagine someone comes to you and asks: “Who is a polyglot?” You probably answer: “Someone who speaks several languages”. Well, good. Proud of yourself you forget this conversation and then another person comes to you and asks: “Who is a plurilingual then?” Hesitating slightly you would repeat “Someone who speaks several languages…”. That is where we seem to have a little problem. If the words mean the same what is the point to use both?
Photo credit: http://www.yeahwrite.org/?p=2548
First of all, let’s try to draw some parallels between these concepts. Many of the readers of this blog are plurilingual because to some extent they can speak Russian, Kazakh, English, and many other languages. However, not many of us would dare to call themselves polyglots. When I hear the word “polyglot” I recall a number of amazing stories about people who learned five, seven, ten and more languages in a very short period of time. Somebody like Timothy Doner or Mabou Loiseau. However, thinking about plurilinguals, no exceptional stories come to my mind (apart from my fantastic groupmates). So does it mean that polyglots learn languages faster than plurilinguals? No. Does it mean that they know more languages? No. Does it mean that they are polyglots because it is just a fancy way to call them? It sounds a little fancier, but no.
The main difference between these terms is in the way people acquire the languages. Marta Krzeminska, a language coach on the Languages Around the World portal, writes that polyglot is someone who learns languages deliberately because finds joy in it. The plurilingual person is competent in several languages too but uses them in different linguistic situations; there is no emphasis on whether the languages were acquired simultaneously in one’s childhood or just added to the repertoire later.
Again, if we refer to Quora, the website where people share knowledge from a variety of fields, linguists, language learners, and linguistic enthusiasts claim that polyglot and plurilingual individual have a different attitude toward language and its learning. Polyglots learn because of their interest, plurilinguals are competent due to some external factors (multilingual society, family languages). Consequently, the word combination “plurilingual polyglot” expresses how I perceive myself. Plurilingual due to the environmental influence and the number of languages spoken; polyglot because I still enjoy learning other languages a lot.
The question is getting clearer if we go into the details but I still think that it is the matter of someone’s own perception whether to be a polyglot or a plurilingual individual. What is important is that we learn languages. The more the better.