YouTube Polyglot Decline?

There’s an interesting forum post over at HTLAL, asking, “Were YouTube polyglots a fad?” The poster goes on to say:

I wonder now if the YouTube polyglot was a bit of a fad. That in truth there’s only so many different and totally distinct approaches to self-study and once you’ve understood the general process, there’s no urgent need for you to watch masses of videos of people speaking many languages! What do you think?

I would agree that it was a sort of fad, and the explanation given above is why. People only need to be told the basic steps of learning a language so many times, whether it’s in video format or otherwise. Granted, though, that’s not to say I don’t still occasionally watch a polyglot on YouTube, but when I do, it’s mostly because I like the person speaking, not because I think I’m going to hear anything groundbreaking. Steve Kaufmann comes to mind here; I enjoy his enthusiasm, even if I don’t agree entirely with his methodologies.

It’s neat to be able to see fellow language learners rattle off things in a bunch of languages, but ultimately, it’s not very helpful for learners – listening to a native material would be a better use of your time.

By |2014-10-02T11:09:42+00:00October 2nd, 2014|Language Learning|4 Comments


  1. Axel H. October 2, 2014 at 11:05 am - Reply

    Steve Kaufmann’s YouTube channel has only one objective: to increase the number of LingQ subscribers. That’s why he posts a new video nearly every week. The problem is that the free version of LingQ is more or less useless, so you must pay $10 per month to become Premium user and give it a “real” try! The basic idea of LingQ is not bad, but IMHO it is a good tool only for intermediate or advanced learners who like to learn in front of a computer by reading many foreign texts. If you do, you will like free alternatives to LingQ, like LWT “Learning With Texts” or FLTR “Foreign Language Text Reader” (just google these to learn more!). Absolute beginners will have the problem that they are not guided through new grammar structures within LingQ, so they must be already experienced and motivated learners (like Steve), but the majority of people isn’t. So those people will lose interest to learn a new language “the LingQ Way”. By the way, I don’t think that watching videos of polyglots is a good way to learn how to learn languages better or faster. Most polyglots now want to earn money for giving you that advice (like in books or seminars), so they will not tell you on YouTube…

    • Josh October 2, 2014 at 11:13 am - Reply

      Hey Axel,

      Despite liking some of his videos, I largely agree with you (hence my remark about his methodologies). Frankly, the commercialization of most YouTube polyglots is one of the big reasons I lost interest. They’re all trying to sell their books or seminars or service – which is fine, I suppose, it’s just not much help to me. I get that they all want to make a buck, and if they’re able to, I’m happy for them, but at this point in the game, I don’t feel like any of them have any amazing insights that are worth my money. Language learning isn’t an overly complicated activity, it’s just a time consuming one.

      Also, agreed about LingQ. I have an installation of LWT installed on my server that I use. I tried (and liked) LingQ, but the $10/month cost was a bit steep, considering I can have essentially the same thing for free. LWT is a little rougher around the edges, but it’s not so rough that I feel compelled to drop $120 for a year of LingQ.

  2. Kerstin Hammes (@kerstinhammes) October 6, 2014 at 8:16 am - Reply

    This is a great observation and makes me just a slight bit happy — sorry, but obviously I’ve previously made my feelings clear ( about the downside of having lots of self-declared polyglots touting their brilliance around and leaving another group of people feeling discouraged in their wake. I don’t want to see a stop to people talking about foreign languages on youtube, but it will be much more interesting to see vloggers telling us of their everyday adventures.

    • Josh October 6, 2014 at 9:54 am - Reply

      Hey Kerstin,

      It makes a little bit happy, too. I had missed your article in May; I just read it and agree wholeheartedly. The group of people who make video after video to essentially tout their abilities (or sell their junk) have long bugged me, and your comparison to their behavior to guys competing in the gym is apt. Why can’t we all just be happy that people are learning new languages, and stop trying to one-up each other?

      In regards to the term “polyglot,” I’ve always kind of hated it and refuse to use it when talking about my own language learning. I generally try to understate my abilities in my different languages, rather than showing off. There’s always more to learn.

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