This summer, from August 25-27, language enthusiasts from all over North America, and even some from Europe, gathered at Concordia University in Montreal for the second annual Montreal LangFest.
What is the LangFest?
LangFest is a place for people to indulge their interest in languages and learn from each other. There were workshops on different languages, as well as conferences on different aspects of language learning. And that was just the formal part of the gathering. The numerous social activities included visits to important Montreal sights and landmarks, walks around historical districts of the city, as well as social get togethers and dinners.
As can be seen from the LangFest website the event attracted not only language learners but also well known speakers in the field of language acquisition, such as world renowned expert Dr. Stephen Krashen, teachers of languages, important providers of language learning services both online and through publications, famous polyglots, language bloggers, a five-year-old girl from Russia who already speaks eight languages, as well as ordinary learners.
The LangFest is symptomatic of a trend. As a result of the Internet and modern information technology, language learning does not only take place in the classroom, although the classroom is still dominant. What is happening is that people are connecting all over the world, sharing languages, sharing their learning experiences and sharing resources and tips and tricks. Opportunities and facilities for language learning have never been better than they are today. LangFest is a manifestation of this explosion of interest in learning languages.
The original name for this gathering was the North American Polyglot Symposium. A polyglot is someone who speaks many languages. However, the term polyglot is not well known even to native speakers of English. The organizers realized this and changed the name in order to to attract ordinary language learners including even people who were struggling to learn their first foreign language. Thus LangFest, or the Festival of Languages, emerged as a place where accomplished speakers of many languages, and people just discovering the joys of language learning could come together to learn and have a good time. Who comes? Everybody and anybody who is interested.
This year was my second LangFest and my third meeting of language enthusiasts, or polyglots. I attended the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava in June of this year, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Of course, that event attracted people from Europe, whereas the Montreal LangFest attracts mostly people from over North America. I am sure there are, or soon will be, similar events in South America, Asia and elsewhere.
The emergence of this kind of meeting is an initiative of Richard Simcott, renowned polyglot. He first organized a meeting of polyglots in Budapest a few years ago. This year he is hosting a Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik, October 27-29. I interviewed Richard in Montreal, as well as Dr. Stephen Krashen and polyglots Lýdia Machová and Mark Pentleton. You can see all of these interview in this YouTube playlist:
These meetings are the natural extension of the development of a dynamic group of independent language learners who connect via the web, and want to get together face to face. The overwhelming mood at these gatherings is a sense of mutual support, help, and goodwill. A friendly warmth emanates from all participants and takes a hold of you throughout the exercise.
Everyone should think of attending the Montreal Language Festival
Montreal is an ideal venue. While it might be quite cold in the winter, in the summer the streets are overflowing with people laughing, talking, eating and just being themselves. Montreal is a virtual Tower of Babel. One hears lots of languages in Montreal, not only the casual bilingualism of Canada’s two official languages, but many others. LangFest and Montreal are natural partners. The plan is to hold this event every year.
The goals of the organizers and participants is to make everyone realize what a wonderful and rewarding experience language learning can be. Many people have had disappointing experiences with language learning in school. Some people may be intimidated at the presence of people speaking 10, 15 or 20 languages.
Just as we learn languages gradually, one word or phrase at a time, we learn languages one at a time. What at first seems difficult, even intimidating, just becomes second nature with the passage of time. Often it is the first language that is the most difficult. Once we overcome the psychological obstacles to language learning, everything becomes easier.
LangFest is a wonderful get together, a support group for anyone interested in languages, not just those who speak many languages. I had a wonderful time and came away even more enthusiastic about continuing my own language learning journeys. Needless to say, I am looking forward to meeting up again next year at Montreal LangFest 2018.