Regulars on the site or the YouTube channel will know that I’m a fan of meetups at which language learners share their passion, hear about the latest language learning books, courses and tech, exchange tips and listen to the experts. This post tells you all about the main language events. Who are they for? Where and when do they take place? What are they like? Let’s look ahead to the 2020 calendar!
The Polyglot Conference
Dates: Friday 16th October to Sunday 18th October 2020.
Venue: Chulola, Mexico (details to follow) UPDATE: EVENT POSTPONED UNTIL 2021 BUT POLYGLOT CONFERENCE “GLOBAL EDITION” WILL TAKE PLACE ONLINE EVENT WILL TAKE PLACE 16-25 OCTOBER 2020
Cost: details to follow (usually an early bird fee; usually possible to pay for both or just one day).
Accommodation/catering: to be confirmed. Usually you find your own accommodation. No evening catering but lunch is usually available at or near the venue (but not usually included in the price).
Richard Simcott was one of the first of the “internet polyglots”: enthusiasts for learning multiple languages “just because” who started posting videos on line or blogging. He had the idea of bringing together serial language learners in real life and the result was the first Polyglot Conference, in Budapest in 2013.
The “Polyglot” branding reflects the origins but Richard is always at pains to stress that the event is for “everyone who loves languages”.
The Polyglot Conference takes place in October and has moved from place to place each year since: Novy Sad, Serbia (2014), New York City (2015), Thessaloniki (2016), Reykjavík (2017), Ljubljana (2018) and Fukuoka (2019)(links are to my reviews and vlogs). This year’s event will take place in Chulola, Mexico (Friday 16th to Sunday 19th October).
The ever-changing location always means that some people are unable to attend but opens up the event to others.
The biggest Conference so far has been Ljubljana (around 600). The first Conference was a select bunch of only 140 participants and I wasn’t one of them. I only found out about the event late in the day. I’ve attended all the rest, though, and the core format has always been the same: two (more recently three) tracks of talks or workshops over Saturday and Sunday, after an opening get together at the venue “on the eve” (Friday evening).
The speakers tend to be a good mix of academics, other language professionals such as journalists, writers and teachers, graduate students and well-informed language learners from varied backgrounds. The talks are aimed at an educated, interested audience (rather than specialists). While there are always a good number of “general” talks there is some theming to the programme each year too, both to pull out a particular topic and to reflect the languages and culture of the year’s location.
The intensity makes the Conference feel longer than it is but a welcome development for the last two years, has been a full “pre-event” programme on the Friday.
In Ljubljana there was day-long, separately-ticketed methods workshop. In Fukuoka the first day was included in the price (karate display, group lessons from sponsors italki, a tea ceremony, Vietnamese singing and the evening opening ceremony).
In addition, there have sometimes been connected language courses held in the few days before the event, like the three-day one I attended in Icelandic before the Reykjavík Conference.
Catering has varied from venue to venue. Most years lunch is included in the ticket price. It’s always been up to participants to make their own arrangements to eat in the evening. Participants also sort out their own accommodation.
I cut my vlogging teeth at the NYC Conference in 2015, with the brand new little Canon G7X that I’d just bought in the B&H camera store in the City.
The talks are professionally filmed for the Conference’s YouTube channel.
The Polyglot Gathering
Dates: Tuesday 26th May to Saturday 30th May 2020. UPDATE: THE EVENT TOOK PLACE ONLINE END MAY/EARLY JUNE 2020. NEXT PHYSICAL GATHERING WILL BE AT THE SAME TERESIN VENUE IN 2021.
Venue: Kuźnia Napoleońska Hotel, Teresin, Poland.
Cost: programme fee Euros 120 (some discounts available and fee drops if you don’t attend the whole event).
Accommodation/catering: yes, up to full board if desired and several hotel options at or around the venue.
For a period in late 2013 it looked as if the second Polyglot Conference would be in North America. In response, a group of Europeans led by Judith Meyer started to plan an alternative European language event for 2014 for those who wouldn’t be able to travel. As it turned out, the second Conference then ended up being in Serbia, but the Polyglot Gathering went ahead anyway and has never looked back. There were about 250 people at the first one and that had grown to nearly 700 in 2019.
The 2014 Gathering was the first of the events that I ever attended. I can remember feeling rather nervous when I arrive at the live-in venue: a youth hotel about fifteen minutes’ walk north of the Hauptbahnhof. I was a little uncomfortable first because I didn’t know anybody and second because I didn’t think of myself as a “polyglot”.
I need not have worried as the event was welcoming and friendly and I’ve attended and spoken at every Gathering so far. In addition to the link to my 2014 review, above, I reviewed in 2015 and can offer you these further personal insights: 2016 vlog, 2016 review, 2016 vlog, 2017 review, 2017 daily vlogs, 2018 daily vlogs, 2018 review article and vlog and 2019 daily vlogs, 2019 review article and vlog.
The essentials of the Gathering format have remained the same since the beginning.
Held at the end of May/beginning of June, the it’s a full, five-day programme of talks and workshops running in parallel tracks.
Judith and many of the original team were keen Esperantists and imported various features of Esperanto meet-ups. So, the gufujo is a room set aside in the evening for quiet, informal conversations, coffee, tea and biscuits by candle- light for those who want a change from the packed bar. The “krokodili” room is a place where you can speak in any language except your native tongue.
Unlike at the Conference, there is a full evening programme too. One night there’s the “international culinary evening“, (people bring typical sweets, cheeses, biscuits, drinks from their countries, to share). There’s usually a concert with a guest performer (singer or, one year, a magician) and then, on the last night, an “international cultural evening” where attendees themselves perform (instrumentals, singing, dancing, poetry). speakers dinner.
In recent years (and this year) language classes and trips out and about to surrounding sights have been available (separate booking) before or after the Gathering.
How do the Conference and the Gathering compare?
Of the two language events, the Conference programme has a slightly more academic flavour. The Gathering is slightly less formal. There are fewer academic speakers and more enthusiasts. I’d say there’s slightly more of an “alternative” feel and a slightly higher geek element to the Gathering too.
To my mind, these differences are marginal, though. There’s a large overlap of attendees and speakers and main difference in vibe comes from the longer duration and wider programme of the Gathering, plus its fun evening events.
The flip side is that it can be quite exhausting to throw yourself fully into the Gathering for five days. Some people don’t attend all sessions but prefer to chill, catching up with friends, playing board games in the communal spaces or browsing the sponsor book stalls and the book swapping boxes.
After three years in Berlin, the Gathering had outgrown the Berlin venue and relocated to the Economics University in Bratislava. Many of the stalwarts organisers remained just as involved. Judith, though still a speaker, handed over the reins to Lydia Machova and Peter Baláž for 2017 and 2018. Peter and Jitka Vršovská the head organisers in 2019 and Petr takes on this role alone for 2020.
Eyebrows were raised last year with the closing announcement that the 2020 venue would be a hotel in a small town called Teresin outside Warsaw.
Most people I spoke to really liked combination of Bratislava old town for accommodation and after hours socialising and the Economics University’s excellent lecture halls and foyer areas.
On the other hand the 2020 venue is a hotel and as many participants (including me) will be staying and eating at the venue, there’ll maybe be a feel of the “Berlin years” once again. I’m certainly keeping an open mind and looking forward to my seventh Gathering.
Like the Conference, the Gathering has its talks professionally filmed, so you can check out its YouTube channel (only after you’ve watched my vlogs…, mind 😉 )
Dates: Wednesday 14th October to Friday 16th October and Monday 19th October 2020. UPDATE: POSTPONED DUE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC (SEE ABOVE RE: POLYGLOT CONFERENCE).
Venue: Chulola, Mexico (joint with Polyglot Conference).
Cost: to be announced.
Tetsu Yung set up the not-so-snappily-named North American Polyglot Symposium in Montreal in August 2016 to provide an alternative to North Americans who didn’t possess passports couldn’t make it to events in Europe.
Since then, the event has had a re-brand as “LangFest” and took place again in Montreal in August 2018 and 2019.
I haven’t managed to attend myself yet. To judge by all the reports I’ve had, and from what Testu and co-organiser Nicolas Viau told me when they joined me for an interview on YouTube before last year’s event, it’s pretty similar to the Conference and the Gathering. I’ve only heard good things about event.
The big news in 2020 is that LangFest won’t be happening in Montréal in August. Instead, in a surprise shot from left field, LangFest-run events will take place beginning on Wednesday 14 October, with the Conference taking over for Friday to Sunday and then LangFest again on Monday 19th October.
Check out LangFest’s YouTube channel!
The Language Events (Melbourne, Edinburgh)
Dates: Evening Friday 28th February, Saturday 29th February, Sunday 1st March 2020.
Venue: Institut Français Écosse
Cost: “Early bird” tickets (bought online in advance) Sat and Sun Euro 79. One day only Euro 69
The Language Events are a new spin-off from the Polyglot Conference. Conference organiser Richard Simcott co-operates with local organisers.
There has been one “Event” so far, in Melbourne, Australia.
It was a two-day programme of talks over one weekend late in September 2019, with an opening reception on Friday night. So, the same structure as the Polyglot Conference, but on a smaller scale. There was just one track of speakers, rather than two or three.
The Language Event: Edinburgh is on the evening of Friday 28th February and then all day on Saturday 29th February and Sunday 1st March.
The event has grown out of a smaller language meet up that was put together at short notice in the Scottish capital in Edinburgh last year. I travelled up for that with my friend Kris Broholm. The organisers were Maureen Millward and Gary McCann. This year they have brought Richard in too to build things out under the Language Event brand.
The format will be the same as in Melbourne: a Friday evening opening and then a two day programme (one track only). I’m looking forward to going up to Scotland next week to attend as a speaker and participant. The venue will be impressive home of the Institut Français Écosse right in the heart of Edinburgh’s old town.
The Language Show
Dates: Friday 13th to Sunday 15th November 2020.
Venue: Olympia, London.
Cost: free, but tickets must be booked online in advance.
Accommodation/catering: no accommodation, limited catering at the venue (sh*te coffee the last two years).
The Language Show used to be called Language Show Live and has been taking place for one long weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) in the autumn in the UK’s capital since the early 1990s.
There’s a trade fair feel and the venue is one of London’s best-known exhibition centres, Olympia.
Talks and workshops are put on around a central space filled with stands and displays. The exhibitors include language book publishers, private language schools, start-ups showing off their new apps, language employers and the state-backed language institutes (such as Cervantes, Goethe, the British Council and the Institut Français). There are periodic performances of music and dance during all three days.
The dates this year are Friday 13th to Sunday 15th November. Attendance is free but you need to book a ticket online in advance.
The Language Show caters for several overlapping groups. First, teachers of modern foreign languages (to children infant through to 18). Second, teachers of English as a foreign language Third, language professionals such as translators and interpreters. Fourth, recent language graduates looking to forge a career in any of these fields. Adult independent language leaners will enjoy browsing the stands, talking to stall holders and the free taster classes. My impression is that the organisers have been trying to boost the number of talks aimed as us over the last couple of years as well.
Unlike the “polyglot” events, the Show is not something I’d travel specially from overseas for if you’re an adult independent language learner. If you’re in London when the event is on, though, do check it out! There’ll be enough to keep you busy for a few hours at the least.
I’ve always attended at the weekend. I also went on the Friday in 2019, though on that day there were swarms of bored school children, presumably there because their teachers couldn’t get away without dragging them along.
Dates: Friday 20th and Saturday 21st November 2020.
Venue: Russische Haus der Wissenschaft und Kultur, Berlin.
Cost: From Euro 2 (group, 1 day) to Euro 6 (individual, both days), on the door.
As with LangFest, the only reasons I haven’t been to ExpoLingua yet are the usual ones of cost and time. My impression is that it’s Berlin’s answer to the Language Show. I get the feeling, though, that there’s more of a focus on exhibitors aiming at adult learners.
The 2020 event takes place at the Russische Haus der Wissenschaft und Kultur in Berlin on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st November (yes, one week after London’s Language Show). Tickets are five euros for one day and two euros for both days (with discounts for students and groups). It’s not clear from the website, but it appears that you pay at the door.
I can’t wait for a chance to attend!
The Polyglot Cruise
Dates: Saturday 18th to Saturday 26th April 2020 UPDATE: THE FIRST CRUISE HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL 2021 DUE TO THE CORNONA VIRUS SITUATION. MORE DETAILS ON THE CRUISE WEBSITE.
Venue: MS Broholm, on the High Seas.
Cost: shared cabins still available for Euro 770.
Accommodation/catering: shared or single cabin on board, food and drink packages.
Thought you’d seen it all in the world of language enthusiasts’ events? Well, the first Polyglot Cruise (!) takes place this spring, with Kris “the Dane” Broholm from Actual Fluency at the helm
Premium participants will get a walking tour of Barcelona on Saturday 18th from Alex Rawlings. Then Kris steers the vessel out of the harbour to Genoa and back, via Mallorca, Malta and Sicily.
Ok, ok, the event will actually be on full-size cruise ship and I am 100% confident that, there’s absolutely no chance that Mr Broholm will be let anywhere near the bridge, his Viking seafarer genes notwithstanding,
Much of the time will be given over to enjoying the facilities on board and exploring each city en route. Then, in late afternoon and will be one keynote followed by lots of mingling time and dinner together. The focus will be on methods and also on the “language business”.
I’m not one of life’s natural, erm, “cruisers”, but as this is the week of my birthday, I’ve decided to treat myself. With over forty language lovers, movers and shakers signed up, I think we’re in for a memorable week.
Any other language events?
Are there any language events that I’ve missed from the list? Let me know in the comments below and drop any questions you may have too. I’ll do my best to answer them or put them to the organisers directly myself!