Different Kinds of Polyglots: Perfectoglots

Cloggers, ballroom dancers and break dancers put on very different shows. At a professional level, you are bound to be very entertained even if clogging isn’t necessarily your cup of tea. Break dancing fans also have to admit that there are some real posers out there who are not very good. Wouldn’t it feel just plain rude if you saw a clogger walk out of a professional ball room performance saying, “Well, it was a nice show but I just don’t understand how they can call themselves dancers.”

That is exactly the kind of thing I’ve heard many Polyglots and aspiring Polyglots say. What many of us fail to realize is that we often have different goals when we start learning languages. A ball room dancer is trying to do something different than what a break dancer is doing but they are both dancers. From what I can tell, there are three main types of Polyglots: Dispersoglots, Perfectoglots and Lectoglots.

Perfectoglots: Polyglottery’s Committed Polygamists

Many Perfectoglots are raised speaking two or three languages. It is not unusual for them to have lived in several countries or for them to have spouses and friends that speak several languages. Their jobs also usually include several languages. Being a Polyglot is a way of life for them. Perfectoglots generally know between four and six languages at a very high level. To them, any language worth learning is worth learning well. They are often so good that it is difficult to tell what the Perfectoglots’ native languages are or where they are from.

Cons to being a Perfectoglot: Perfectoglots run the risk of being bland and playing it safe. For many, their self-esteem is based on how well they can learn a language so they may avoid languages that are unrelated to those they already know. They are often only interested in Far Eastern, Indic, European, etc. languages but not usually a mix of them. Consequently, they wind up missing out on what many other cultures have to offer.

It’s not unusual for Perfectoglots to appear a little snobby. They expect a lot from themselves and that often transfers to their expectations of other self-proclaimed Polyglots. If you want to gain a Perfectoglot’s respect it’s best to stick to your strengths.

Pros to being a Perfectoglot: Perfectoglots really master their languages; they don’t let their languages master them. They leave few, if any, communication barriers between them and others who speak their languages. In fact, they almost always know more about the languages they speak than native speakers. If they don’t get showered with praise for how well they know a certain language it’s because people believe that it is their native language and it would be silly to praise someone for how well they speak their native tongue.

These formidable skills give them richly profound professional and cultural experiences. They feel that a cultural knowledge, in addition to a linguistic knowledge, is necessary to really understand a language. They can usually understand and tell jokes, make literary and pop-culture references and use special sayings and refrains very well. There are those who feel that Perfectoglots are the only real Polyglots because they think that the only worthwhile language learning goal is native like mastery.

Examples of Perfectoglots: Joaquim de Alameida, the UN interpreters.

Are you a Perfectoglot? Do you know one? Do you want to be one? Are you more of a Dispersoglot or are you reserving your judgement until you find out what a Lectoglot is? I’ll be back with another post about that in a few days.


4 Responses

  1. Hi,

    This is great! Reading this actually gave me my first ever that’s me! that’s me! feeling. I love it!
    The only difference is that I don’t believe Perfectoglots are the only Polyglots. I would say:
    Perfectoglots: get recognized as native by the native
    Polyglots can include those who are native like (excluding some parts of meta-communication like behaviour, cultural aspects or mimic) or very fluent (but having accents, not being too much into the according cultures and/or cannot adapt quickly)
    I’ve been, for long, looking for a way to analyse myself in these culture and language matters. The deepest I got so far is an analysis of what my mothertongue is by a professor who categorized me as trilingual, with 3 mothertongues.
    Do you have any good links to studies about Perfectoglots?

  2. very interesting i consider myself 80% percent perfectoglot and 20% lectoglot .. most of the time due to the fact that i take learning languages seriously and its my greatest passion artistically speaking.. because i do indeed consider linguistics.. as an art 🙂

  3. […] Blogger where Ryan divides polyglots into three different categories Lectoglots, Dispersoglots and Perfectoglots.His descriptions of the different types of polyglots are quite wonderful and instantly […]

  4. While I am as of yet not even bilingual, I sometimes find information such as this frustrating due to its ease of manipulation. I’ve met quite a few individuals who are eager to tell me they know x number of languages without any indication of how well they know it. Once you pressure them a bit, they fall back into the vague cliché of “it’s been a while since I’ve studied” or “I get most of what they’re saying”. They only ever demonstrate enough to maintain their air of superiority or avoid losing their enthusiasm. It gets annoying when I bring up someone like a Spanish teacher I recently had who holds a Ph.D in linguistics and has systematically studied and taught the five languages he speaks at the university level, only to be overrode with: “Did you hear about [Joe Somebody] down the street?” “Yeah, he knows *six* languages, four of which he learned last year!”

    Basically, I think what happens is people become very enthusiastic with the *idea* of learning a language and not with the commitment of doing so. These individuals, who wouldn’t even be considered dispersoglots, place themselves as such because they know they couldn’t wing perfectoglot and haven’t read and translated enough to be a lectoglot (although I’m seeing a lot of people blend lecto- and disperso-). It’s more of “how can I fit my part time hobby in with this league of people?” than “what describes me the best?”. More often than not, they just leave everything they aren’t to what they’ve created as a Platonic ideal of language capability, thereby inaccurately lowering the bar for the dispersoglots.

    In other words, becoming a dispersoglot by the standards that Ryan has described would be just as difficult, if not more so, than becoming a perfectoglot. Individuals such as Dr. Carlos Freire have spent their entire lives analyzing and understanding components of language structures in academic and professional environments. They did not pick up a few Rosetta Stones and a grammar book and call themselves “mostly fluent”. When you talk to someone who is bilingual, or even trilingual, proficiency and weakness become more obvious and often more asserted by that individual. “I can understand Tagalog, but I can’t speak it.” “I can handle French news but literature starts to get over my head.” Polyglottery is a blanket.

    To me, fluency is not stepping back “up” to your native language once you’re done with what you’re speaking. That includes a very high proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. It also includes a comparable vocabulary (as in by a few hundred, not a few thousand, words), understanding of idiomatic expressions and cultural references, and a strong background in literature and history of that language’s region(s). Thus, I’ve posted this in the perfectoglot category.

    Since language skill is often based largely on standardized testing, I think the dispersoglot and lectoglot categories could and should be more clearly defined. I don’t think people should claim those because they’re easier or more comfortable.

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