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 at the 2024 calendar! (Latest update, 11 February 2024).
Dates: 10 to 14 January 2024 Next event: January 2025. Venue: Online only. Cost: Free with paid upgrade option.
In January 2024 this is online event founded by Kris Broholm from the Actual Fluency was for its third year. There were over thirty speakers (including me) covering three broad areas: motivation, mindset and memory. This year, the focus was on learning as you approach the upper intermediate/ advanced level in a language. (In 2022 the focus was beginning a new language, last year, most talks were about learning at the intermediate level.) It was free to register and watch live for free, with access to the recordings of the talks for 36 hours after they take place. If you upgrade to a paid VIP ticket, you get permanent access to the recordings and some other bonuses.
The Polyglot Conference
Dates: Online “Global” Event and separate physical event. 2024 dates: not yet announced.
Venue: 2024 physical event: Valletta, Malta.
Cost: to be announced.
Accommodation/catering: Not applicable for the online event. 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). When COVID finally allowed, the in person event convened again, in Chulola, Mexico (2022), Budapest, Hungary (2023) and, in autumn 2024 the event moves to Valletta, Malta.
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). At the Budapest event in October 2023, Richard did not announce a location or dates for 2024. If the event is to take place in 2024, he will announce that in due course.
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: Online Gathering: 29 February to 2 March 2024; in person event, Prague 15 to 19 May 2024.
Venue: TBC (in Prague, Czech Republic).
Cost: participation fee + accommodation.
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 language event 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.
I also did three fun, daily vlogs from the Polyglot Gathering Online 2020, with lots of the attendees participating in the vids via Skype or Zoom.
When we finally got to meet in person again, in Teresin, near Warsaw, Poland, I was there, camera in hand: 2022 daily vlogs. I shot some great interviews at the 2023 event (also in Teresin), which I’ll post when they’re ready.
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 has now taken on this role in full, helped by his colleagues at E@I .
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: Joint events in 2022 in Chulola, Mexico just before the Polyglot Conference. 2023: no event. Not clear yet whether LangFest will return in 2024.
Venue: No information yet.
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.
In 2020 it was not possible to hold the in-person LangFest in Montréal, due to the pandemic. Instead, in a surprise shot from left field, there were LangFest-run events online in combintation with the Polyglot Conference Global. The same thing happened in 2021. In October 2022 LangFest’s organisers are organising some events in co-operation with the Polyglot Conference in Cholula, Mexico.
Check out LangFest’s YouTube channel!
The Language Events (Melbourne, Edinburgh)
Dates: 16 to 17 December 2023. 2024 Events to be announced later.
Venue: Penang, Malaysia
Cost: “Early bird” tickets (bought online in advance) are cheaper. Possible to buy tickets for first or second day, or both.
The Language Events are a new spin-off from the Polyglot Conference. Conference organiser Richard Simcott co-operates with local organisers.
There have been three “Events” so far. The first was 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 first took place at the end of February 2020. It grew out of a smaller language meet up that was put together at short notice in the Scottish capital in Edinburgh in early 2019. I travelled up for that with my friend Kris Broholm. The organisers were Maureen Millward and Gary McCann. In 2020 year they brought Richard in too to build things out under the Language Event brand. The “Event” was hugely enjoyable (and the last trip I did before the UK was “locked down” a coupel of weeks later).
After a three year break due to you know what, the Language Event took place in Edinburgh for a second time in April 2023.
The most Language Event was n Penang, Malaysia, 16 to 17 December 2023.
Check out my review of the Language Event Edinburgh 2020 (including three daily vlogs).
The Language Show
Dates: 10 to 12 November 2023.
Venue: Online only.
Accommodation/catering: Not applicable.
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 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.
I’ve been attending with enthusiasm annually since 2013. You can check out my 2014 review and review and vlogs from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. The event was held online in 2020 and 2021 and will be again in November 2022.
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. In 2023 (as during the COVID years), the event was online only. Looks like this is, sadly, the “new normal” for this event.
Dates: ExpoLingua Berlin 1-2 December 2023.
Venue: Reinhardtstraße 12-16, 10117 Berlin-Mitte Cost: Physical event, from Euro 2 (group, 1 day) to Euro 6 (individual, both days), on the door. Online events have been free so far
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.
Women in Language
Dates: 4th-6th March 2022 9am to 9pm (London). No event in 2023. Probably back in 2024.
Venue: online only.
Cost: Was USD 29. In future: TBC.
The three-day Women In Language is five this year. It’s always been an on-line only event and the organisers Kerstin Cable, Shannon Kennedy and Lindsay Williams aim to “inspire and empower everyone who loves language.” If you can’t attend everything live, you’ll have the recordings for catch-up. While the event highlights female and non-binary voices as speakers, everyone and anyone is welcome to attend. I’ve signed up for every one so far.
For this year’s event speakers will talk about three key aspects of language spanning the three-day event. Parallel Perspectives: looking at holistic language learning and other aspects of our lives parallel to language learning to help you these areas to become better language learners.
(Re-)Connected Perspectives: the different ways languages connect or re-connect people.
New Perspectives: Innovative ideas and strategies for language learning.
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!