The Polyglot Club A Unique Place For Learning:

All The World’s Languages

By Sonja Ciric

Do you speak a foreign language? If your answer is in the affirmative, are you sure it is correct? Can you really communicate, in every situation and about everything, in the foreign language that you know? Specifically, most people understand and read a foreign language, but don’t speak it well enough

In our schools and on language courses, few lessons are dedicated to learning a spoken language – not to mention the fact that spoken language is one of those forms of knowledge that is necessary to renew constantly. “How is spoken language renewed? Exclusively through practise, i.e. talking, and most of us don’t have enough money for private classes, nor someone willing to speak a foreign language with us. That’s why we founded the Polyglot Club,” explains Aleksandar Ristin, while we sit in the very pleasant ambience of a Belgrade café at 6 Nušićeva Street. At each table in our vicinity is an inscription with the name of a foreign language: English, German, Greek etc.

Ristin is one of several polyglots who founded the Polyglot Club at the beginning of this year, as a place where anyone who wants to perfect a foreign language for free can come. The Polyglot Club is a European organisation that was founded in Paris two decades ago and has since spread all over the world.

“Language exchange is an idea that has long been confirmed in practice,” says Aleksandar. “When we consulted the parent Polyglot Club in Paris about our intention, they told us – make an event and it will exist. And so it was. We made a Facebook page and for the first few days shared it with friends. The response was small, until we posted an announcement on the page on the Faculty of Philosophy. After a few hours, hundreds of people had called! That was the kind of response we’d only hoped to receive at the end of the year.”

On the first night 160 people came, too many for the available space in the club, so a second date was soon added. “We meet every Sunday and Wednesday from 8pm to 11pm, even during holidays. Our members are both local people and foreigners. No membership fee is paid, nothing is paid. Whoever wants to drink can, whoever doesn’t want to doesn’t have to. The desire to learn a language is sufficient. All languages are spoken here. Everyone who comes sits at the table displaying the name of the language which interests them, or they can form their own group if need be. It doesn’t matter how well you know a language; you don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to: you can sit at a table and listen to others. You can spend the whole time talking to one group, or you can walk from table to table”.

Shortly after this conversation, the Polyglot Club expects to form a partnership with the organisation “SOS Children’s Villages”, who want to introduce to their Strong Youth programme a spoken foreign language course in order to help young adults when they apply for work.

The most common languages, as is to be expected, are English and Spanish, but there is also interest in languages that are only spoken by a few – Japanese, Indonesian and Korean. Almost every time there is also a Serbian table that is formed and occupied by foreigners. Alexandre De Lima, a diplomat from the Embassy of Brazil in Belgrade, says that he has not missed a single meeting in the last two months. “I’ve been in Belgrade for almost five months, but I was in the Balkans before and it was then that I began learning your language. I’ve noticed that my Serbian has improved considerably since I started coming to the Polyglot Club. This is an extremely good experience. I socialise with people who are linked by their desire to learn the language better, and we encourage each other to speak as well as possible. We talk about everything and anything, but most of all about the topics we deal with: culture and economics. Every time we discuss something else. I must admit that there is least talk about football, and I really love football,” says De Lima.

Around 200 members attend regularly, while the others who interchange give the club its liveliness. Ristin says that word about the Polyglot Club is spreading through Facebook by the targeting of those whose location is outside of Belgrade and who post that they will be in Belgrade within 48 hours. One of them is Icelander Marcus Gudmunndsson. “I came to Belgrade for work. I have a small company that deals with computer software and I collaborate with one of your companies. Nobody speaks my language here, but I didn’t expect them to. We speak in English. It’s very exciting to hear so many languages at the same time. I don’t think there’s a better way to learn a language.”

Belgrader Mirjana Georgiev says that she comes occasionally. “I would like to learn Italian and practise German. The club is great, everything is relaxed and I talk to various people. The last time I met people from Pakistan – these are wonderful experiences. I invited friends to come, and I know they enjoyed it.”

According to Ristin, the work of the Polyglot Club is divided into several topics. The main gatherings are on Wednesdays and Sundays, while once a month an evening of international music is organised, twice a year they will organise a picnic, while they also plan thematic lectures and trips. These programmes will also include the participation of other organisations interested in partnership with the Polyglot Club. The Brazilian Embassy in Belgrade hosted an evening in June, inviting guests from the embassies of Mexico, Cuba, Portugal and the Spanish Cervantes Institute in Belgrade.

“This year we will have six such evenings. If each of our meetings is attended by 60 people on average, that means that there are 500 per year, or 6,000 per year. We do all of this as a non-profit project,” says Ristin.

Shortly after this conversation, the Polyglot Club expects to form a partnership with the organisation “SOS Children’s Villages”, who want to introduce to their Strong Youth programme a spoken foreign language course in order to help young adults when they apply for work.

Testifying to the fact that the Polyglot Club is a good idea is the interest among other organisations in forming partnerships with the club, but also the willingness to participate in this non-profit project. They also plan to open a branch in Novi Sad this summer.

Concluding with his personal experience, Aleksandar says: “I use seven foreign languages. Most of them I didn’t learn in school or through courses, and I have excellent awareness of how valuable it is to have an opportunity to speak in the language you are studying. I claim that this is the most reliable way to conquer and adopt any foreign language.”