Polyglot Gathering 2023 changed me


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It’s been one day since I got back from the gathering, and because there is no vlog this year, I’ve been spending extra time revisiting my memories and consolidating them in my head. I thought perhaps words would help the memories stay there, so I wanted to film something spontaneous.

This year’s gathering felt a little bit different from last year, for me. Partly because last year, after the three-year gap, I was focused on exploring what the event had to offer and learning new things, along with my little gang of new friends — that have remained close till now. And as an eager newbie video creator, I was excited to document my experience, which sometimes put me into more the mentality of an observer. This year for me has all been about the people, talking to them, dancing with them, losing quizzes together, fighting hangovers together…meeting new faces, meeting faces that I’ve passed by but never met, meeting faces that I knew very well but were previously disembodied virtual heads in my mind…I spent most of my time lurking in the garden (I brought sunscreen), in the little multilingual hut, hearing stories and stroking kittens.

I have accepted that vlogging remains a hobby-ish side hustle and in this case, it’s not worth taking myself out of the action. And it’s frightening how this week feels like it flew by even quicker than it did last year.

This Gathering was also full of milestones for me. The first was having a real, proper conversation in BSL. It may have been short and seemed trivial at the time, but after all the scripted dialogues in the two courses I’ve done, it felt magical to actually convey and receive information through this medium.

Of course, giving two talks — one in Polish — was one hell of a debut for my entrance into the super secret PG speakers club. Initially I had troubles and worries with the scheduling: I greatly regret rejecting to speak in Polish at 9am out of nervousness, because not only did I ending up speaking at the exact same time — after multiple reschedulings — except not recorded, but over these few days, I also learnt that my Polish was more than ready for a talk at 9am. With a topic as whimsical as mine, I was fully expecting an empty or quickly bored audience, but when people walked up to me, expressing their interest and appreciation for what I had to say, I was overwhelmed. Some said I made them think about the importance of talking about language in different languages, and some were inspired by my courage to use this difficult (yes, it is still difficult) language to express myself.

This was originally just a language learning goal, a little project that I planned just as a technical test for myself and my language skills, but it’s become more. It’s a message that I’ve put out there. For the first time, I felt like I had something to say, something to contribute to a different linguistic world through my words.

I guess the next skill for me to learn would be not to overstuff my presentations.

Looking back at all the people I’ve met, there are two particular highlights in my PG2023. First was the biggest gathering of Welsh speakers you could probably find in Poland — and also one of the biggest I’ve been a part of, anywhere. Of course, Richard and Gareth have always been there, and indeed, one year ago, I bust out my barely existent Welsh for the first time ever in my vlog, sort of to document my progress. One year later, I’ve become much more comfortable in the language, striking up conversations with anyone with the red dragon on their badge. One day, when I was grabbing a latte at the bar after lunch, I found Paul and Anna (Manx speakers, which itself is even more surprising) and started a conversation. The strange moment was when I heard a separate Welsh conversation, just a few feet from us, between Kali and Richard. How often does that even happen? As we all engaged in sgwrs in yr hen iaith, Gareth passed by and we had to drag him over for this monumental encounter. We come from multiple different countries (even more if you count where we currently reside) and have all acquired this language, which became like a lingua franca among us. It was truly a bizarro world.

The second highlight has to be meeting Easy Polish in person (I’m sure they’re tired of being tagged by now). If you’ve been following my Instagram, I apologise for all this fanboy spam. I actually just realised that Easy Polish started just a few months before I started learning Polish in 2015-16, so in a sense, they’ve always been there to help me along. I even made a video where I watched their video. I remember contacting them once, trying to visit, but never managed to make it happen. So when I saw Aga and Justyna’s names in the participant list, I had butterflies in my stomach. Easy Dutch were here last year (and this year as well), so it makes even more sense that they’d come. One day, I was just sneaking out of a talk, and there they were. I don’t think you have any idea how unnerving it is to speak to someone whom for years you have modelled your language after: it’s like talking to your teacher, except they don’t know you and have 40k other students doing the same thing as you.

Sometimes you forget that popular people on YouTube are real people. But then you watch the magic work from behind the scenes, you talk about it and you take part and you dance together and swear together and take silly pictures and really connect, and suddenly, they leap out of the screen and become people that you can grab a pint with, and perhaps, even be friends.

Oh, and Luca saying (unprompted) that he’s seen my videos and complimenting my Polish was pretty mind-blowing as well, on our first encounter. I’ve looked up to his craft and methods and used his level of Polish as my goal for years, and even knowing that I’m not there yet, it felt like an affirmation to the effort I’ve put in.

Funnily enough, with my presentation, language practice tables, serious discussions, and 3am drinking sessions all in a row, the past Sunday was probably the only day in my life where I’ve spoken Polish as a main language. Having lived in an anglophone country for 5 years (I kept getting asked that for some reason, and my response still boggles my mind), this was like an out-of-body experience. Like…is this now a thing that I do? Is this part of who I am…or maybe even more?

This was overall my fourth in-person Gathering (but first time revisiting the same venue), and every time I go, even when the backbone of the programme is the same, it’s always fresh, because every time, you go as a different person and meet different people, who also change in fascinating ways every year, thanks to language learning. And as we all say…everything else goes on hold when you’re at the Polyglot Gathering. The outside world fades away, all worries suddenly matter less than recalling that one niche word in your head or finding the one person who loves a language as much as you do.