With a clear view of the spectacular sunset through the full length windows, it was hard to believe this was our stunning venue for the Polyglot Conference. This year the event was held at Megaro Moussikis in Thessaloniki, Greece. I have been to Greek islands many times but this was my first visit to Thessaloniki.
My day of arrival was free time for me to explore the city. There are many ancient buildings and sites to see in Thessaloniki. I wasn’t able to go inside them all as it was a Greek National Holiday but I took many photographs. Among the sites I visited outdoors were the Arch of Galerius and the nearby Rotonda, the Roman Forum, Palace of Galerius which dates from the 4th century AD and the 15th century Turkish baths known as Bey Hamam. My favourite site was the Church of St Dimitrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. Built in the 7th century AD, it has a stunning interior and was truly a special place for the locals.
I walked from Aristotelous Square along the promenade to the White Tower to take photographs at sunset and I had dinner at some of the fabulous restaurants along the seafront along with some of the other polyglots.
The Polyglot Conference consisted of two full days of interesting lectures and presentations about many aspects of languages and language learning. All presentations were recorded and will soon be uploaded onto YouTube. In total, there were 25 presentations over the two days.
One of my keen areas of interest is endangered languages and so I was excited to see on the agenda that Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann was coming from Australia to speak to us about Aboriginal languages and what is being done to revive them within their communities. I had been following his Facebook page for some time before the conference. He told us about his project to revive the Barngarla language within their community and about how the Barngarla people are now learning their own language which was last spoken around 50 years ago.
I became interested in Aboriginal languages when I visited Australia earlier this year. I bought a book about the Noongar language and I wrote a blog post about it with links to resources. You can read that blog post here.
Alan R King gave us a talk on learning small languages and told us all about a project he had worked on in El Salvador where he helped to grow the Nawat language within the local community because it was on the brink of extinction. You can hear a song he played to us in Nawat by clicking here.
Ellen Jovin talked to us about the many types of language books available in the marketplace and which types she prefers and why. As a learner myself who still prefers books, her talk made me think about my choices of language books and how the dialogue-focused books are not the best for my style of learning.
I enjoyed Tim Keeley’s talk about the age factor with language learning, looking at both young and old learners. I was always interested in how children who learn foreign languages at a young age grow up without having a foreign accent. Studies are not completely conclusive but they show that the oldest age we can learn a second language to be able to speak like a native is between 2 and 13. I’d say nearer the age of 13 because I know people who moved to a new country around that age and began to learn the language and now as adults they sound native. In our older years, studies have shown that learning languages keeps the brain healthy and delays dementia.
Lýdia Machová gave us the last presentation of setting priorities for language learning. She told us about how she would learn a new language by herself over a two year period and how she would focus on different skills for a couple of months at a time. It’s an approach I haven’t used myself and one that I would like to give a try!
I managed to practise all of my languages at the conference even my basic Arabic! However, by far the language I practised most was Greek and I was glad that I completed six months of speaking lessons in Greek beforehand for the Add1Challenge . I made videos speaking for 15 minutes with a native speaker. You can see my latest video here in Greek with English subtitles. Knowing enough Greek meant I was able to cope in the country for everything I needed to do at the hotel, in restaurants, taxis, sightseeing at the church and at the bookshop. Overall, a fabulous weekend in Greece with delightful food and friendly, welcoming people. It’s a country I will always return to.
Language Events for next year:
Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava – 31st May- 4th June 2017
Language Festival in Montreal – 25-27 August 2017
Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik – 28-29 October 2017
See you all next year!