Polyglot Indonesia: Honing Foreign Language Skills

Here’s some good advice on how to maintain and expand your language skills. Article by Nani Afrida in The Jakarta Post, April 16, 2013:

Arradi Nur Rizal could speak Spanish after living in Argentina for a year. As a fellow in a student exchange program, learning to speak the local language was a must.

Unfortunately, after he returned to Indonesia, Rizal lost some of his speaking ability, as he didn’t have any friends to practice with.

“I had not spoken Spanish for six years and I lost so much vocabulary as a result,” Rizal told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview.

He said he did not want that to happen to others who had learned a foreign language but had nowhere to practice. Rizal and some friends who agreed decided to establish the Polyglot Indonesia community. A polyglot is someone who can speak several languages.

In Polyglot Indonesia, people who can speak several languages can meet up and practice.

Rizal believes learning a language is not easy because it requires serious study and a lot of effort. Meeting people with a similar interest in learning languages and continuing to practice is important to developing language skills.

“People in Indonesia often look down on language skills, even though many people still have the spirit to learn foreign languages, to be a polyglot,” Rizal said.

Polyglot Indonesia was established in June 2012. It is the second polyglot group in the country after a similar community was established in Yogyakarta in 2010.

However, the managers of Yogyakarta’s polyglot group received scholarships overseas and the community was abandoned temporarily.

“Now, Polyglot Yogyakarta has merged with Polyglot Indonesia and we do many activities together,” Rizal said.

The establishment of a polyglot community has drawn the attention of youth throughout the country. Besides Indonesians, foreigners have also signed up to learn Indonesian.

The community now has at least 4,000 members, according to its Facebook page, mostly those who want to practice their language skills.

The community targets three groups of people: those who have learned a foreign language abroad and are trying to maintain proficiency, those who want to improve their foreign conversational language level by practicing with native speakers, or those who want to practice their Indonesian and want to help others learn their native tongue.

“This group is fantastic for helping us develop our language skills,” Shinta, a student of Japanese literature at the University of Indonesia, said.

According to Shinta, learning with others will help enrich her Japanese proficiency.

“By practicing a lot I will not be awkward speaking or writing,” she said. “Besides, I will get more new friends who have similar interests.”

Ihtiar Nur, the Polyglot Indonesia coordinator for English and Indonesian, said the community held regular gatherings.

“We are trying to hold a gathering once a month and in the future it will be once every two weeks,” Ihtiar said, adding that currently the gatherings were once every three months.

At polyglot gatherings, members practice their language skills with other members. So far, Polyglot Indonesia has seven language desk coordinators for English, Italian, Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

There are two kinds of gatherings, those among members of the same language desk or among members of different desks.

For instance, in a gathering of Italian and Spanish desks, coordinators will set up two areas, one for Italian and the other for Spanish. Members should be able to speak in Italian when they sit at the Italian desk and in Spanish at the Spanish desk.

“The members spend 15 minutes sitting at each desk. This is the way polyglot changes languages,” Rizal explained.

According to Rizal, Polyglot Indonesia provides an environment in which people can practice languages without being intimidated.

“We expect people to share knowledge and improve their speaking skills,” he said.

However, people require only some language knowledge before joining their gatherings.

“We recommend members who join the meet-ups are those who can speak the language at a certain level, because for beginners it will be difficult,” Ihtiar said.

But beginners do not need to worry, because they can also start learning through Facebook, Twitter and the Polyglot Indonesia website.

Ihtiar, for instance, wants to learn Spanish but does not have enough ability to join meet-ups with other polyglots.

“I study the language by myself. I know that Polyglot is not a place to learn basic language,” he said, laughing.

The freelancer has been living in Sweden for two years, but cannot speak Swedish.

“All Swedes speak English, so I can speak English instead of Swedish,” he said.

As the founder of Polyglot Indonesia, Rizal believes Indonesians have the ability to learn many languages. “Indonesians are easy learners of new things because they are tough, dynamic and curious. They also have talent as they speak various languages, including local languages.”

Some tips on learning foreign languages

• Speak using simple structured sentences and easy vocabulary.

• If you are shy speaking face to face, you can use Skype or g-talk.

• To enrich vocabulary, listen to live or streaming radio, or songs in the new language.

• Always be confident.

• Try to find something interesting about the culture or country of the language.

• Focus on interlocutors’ gestures. It will help you to understand the message.

• Try to practice as much as you can because language is something developed if used often.

• Never be afraid of making a mistake.

• Join groups that have a similar interest.

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