What Makes a Polyglot? (Part 3)

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2011 at 5:48 am

And What do Polyglots think

By Antonio Graceffo


This month, in the Polyglot Interviews, we are featuring Mike Campbell, from Glossika. Mike lives in Taiwan and has done significant study in Chinese and Taiwanese languages, among others.


  1. Are most polyglots made or born?
    I think everybody is born equally but with their own interests, so given the same environment two children grow up to be completely different people. However, I believe that environment creates the potential for a polyglot, for example access or exposure to different languages. Interest then drives the child to discover more.
    2. Did most polyglots learn their languages as adults?
    I believe that typically a child may learn as many as three or four languages to fluency based on his interaction with people. But there will be a tendency to only use one or two at most. True polyglots are of a different nature, those people who search after and discover more languages out of their own interest. This drive helps them achieve a lot over a lifetime. Most polyglots are not able to pursue these interests until they reach adulthood anyway.
    3. Do children actually learn languages faster? And if so, where are these child-polyglots?
    It takes a lot of exposure and interaction for a child to learn a language. There is also peer pressure and the embarrassment of sounding different that can intimidate a child’s use of another, especially minority, language.

    1. Were you born into a multilingual family? Were you raised bilingual?
    I was born into a family that had only studied foreign languages formally. My mother attempted to raise me bilingually in English and Spanish but failed probably because the one person – two languages approach doesn’t work with children.
    2. When did you start studying languages seriously?
    I was exposed to my foreign languages early as a child, but my first foreign language classes (French and Latin) came in first grade. I was fascinated by all the rules of Latin and by the age of 8 or 9 I was spending a lot of times in libraries looking at the grammars of various languages. I managed to learn a lot about grammar while still in elementary school.
    3. Did you do any of your language study in a formal setting? If so, where and which languages?
    I had formal language study of French, Latin, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, and Japanese up through high school. In university I focused on Russian, but also did classes in Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Malay and Kazakh.
    4. How much of your knowledge is the result of self-study?
    Of course these classes gave me a foundation and groundwork for building more fluency in these languages. However, it was through my own self-study and drive to become fluent in any of them. Of those mentioned, my Chinese is strongest.
    5. How many hours do you study per week?
    Now I’ve been out of school a long time and I’m working. But even now I spend 4-6 hours every day devoted to training (not studying) foreign languages.
    6. How many hours do you believe one needs to master a language?
    I believe there is no true mastery, but to become good at a language at least a thousand hours of speaking needs to be devoted. To gain true mastery, I would say ten thousand hours. I’ve put in more than 25,000 hours of speaking Chinese.
    7. Do you have any goal in learning languages? Are you training to be a professor, teacher, translator, or do you just study for love.
    I have only the goal that someday I can use these languages when I travel and if not open new opportunities. To be able to interact with people in their countries in their native languages is respectful to them and very eye-opening to me.
    8. What is your occupation?
    I run an online business, I make videos, I write and I teach.
    9. Do you learn more than one language at a time?
    Yes, as a polyglot I have to continuously use my strong languages and maybe even use them to learn new ones. During any given month, I’m using a dozen strong languages, learning two new ones and reviewing two other from the previous month.
    10. Have you studied overseas? Where? How long?
    I spent most of my childhood living overseas primarily in Italy, Germany and Russia. I traveled Europe, the Middle East, and Africa extensively with my parents during that time.
    11. Do you believe children learn languages faster than adults?
    As a child I learned to speak some languages naturally, but these languages are completely different than the ability I have gained as an adult. For example, I learned to speak German like a child and then moved away later, but I could not function as an adult with the German I had. Primarily because as a child I didn’t understand a lot of concepts, or even if I could say them I didn’t really have any use for them; concepts like taxes, bank accounts, loans, bills, interviews, marketing reports, financial plans, etc. But these are terms that I learn with my languages as an adult. My adult language capability is much stronger and much more expressive than any child, and my skills at persuasion cannot be beat by a child.


12. Do you feel that polyglots are qualified to work as translators and interpreters or must one do formal studies first?
I was hired to work as a translator of Chinese to English, then I opened a small agency that I ran for four years. Through constant translation work and practice, you build up a vast amount of skills in working between languages, both orally and in writing. I would not say polyglots are qualified to work as translators or interpreters, especially if they only use one language in certain environments. But those who are most qualified have been working between two languages at the same time and have a lot of experience doing so.
16. Why do the vast majority of people who begin a language fail to learn it?
Learning a foreign language is like anything else. The same can be said of those who sign up for martial arts classes, or dancing classes, or gym membership, or music lessons, or train to run a marathon. Few actually follow all the way through. It’s a long process and requires a lot of work and determination. But the results are rewarding.
17. Any comments on language learning or polyglot life you would like to share with the world would be great.
Languages are like puzzles and they’re great mental stimulation, but more rewarding because of the social interaction. I’m constantly sharing my thoughts on language learning and polyglot life through my youtube channel and welcome everybody to come interact.

19. I need your name and if you want me to include your website, please send me the URL
My name is Mike Campbell, my online name is Glossika, and the website is


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.


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