The 7 Types of Language Learners

In the more or less two years since I started to get involved in the so-called “internet polyglot” community, I’ve met, talked and exchanged emails and messages with many fascinating people. One of the things that unavoidably jumps to my attention is their motivation to study one, two or twenty languages, and over time I’ve come up with the categories in which they may (or may not) fit as learners.

Now, keep in mind that many of the people in this community have multiple reasons to learn a language, so rather than fitting in one box, a lot of them would be better described as having two arms and a leg inside one box, and the remaining leg in another, a la late night game of Twister.

So without further preamble, I give you…

Sis Lagomarsino’s 7 Types of Language Learner!

The traveler

Motivated by a wish to see the world, this person has refined his or her language learning abilities to the point where it should be called an art. Rather than learning a language for the sake of the language, for them the experience of learning a language is means to an end.

Many of them are experimented writers and bloggers; being a sort of idiomatic Indiana Jones, they’re well admired by the community. They could (and should) be considered firestarters, for many people become inspired to learn a language after reading of their feats. Although he’s not alone in this category, a well-known Irishman is your model boy for this category, and a certain Aussie is also a very good example (although he’s a bit more academic in his approach).

The academic

This one tends to sit on the older side of the age range of language learners. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to their house, you’ll notice the titles in their bookshelves differ for at least eight languages. Prepare to be told anecdotes of their school exchange experiences or their hard time translating an old text from an obscure language over tea.

The wunderkind

This lucky specimen awoke to the learning addiction early on in life, and spends his free time poring over a shiny new text detailing their next prey, learning from a teacher or tutor, or (sadly) keeping the media from misinterpreting him. They tend to grow up into a moderate mixture of the academic and the traveler.

While I’m almost certain they won’t appreciate being put in this category, due to their public history Alex Rawlings and Tim Doner are the best examples of this kind of learner. While I don’t know either of them in person (would love to, though), that they’re both generously willing to talk to multiple media outlets about how they “learned to learn” at a young age speaks volumes about their character.

The man on a mission

The man on a mission has a clear idea of what he or she wants to do with the language they’re currently learning and a strong determination to get it done; therefore they have a drive that sometimes borders on zealotry.

While, due to their personal nature, they tend to be constantly fighting burn-out off, the intensity with which they enjoy their goal once they achieve it sometimes makes me green with jealousy. Although her Spanish mission is now over, Stephanie illustrates well what it is like to be focused in one’s target.

The wanderluster

More commonly known as “the hopeless language hopper”, this linguistically polyamorous individual has a tendency to fall in love with a new language every so often for a wide variety of reasons, and therefore ends up following one of two courses:

1. The one where they burden themselves with a workload that would make a camel cry, or
2. The one where they jump from language to language every second week.

Yours truly is a shameful example of the kind of wanderluster that usually follows course number one. Lindsay also seems to fit the type.

The window-shopper

Generally, this kind of learner is on the path to acquiring a second (or in the case of native bilinguals, third) language, so they make the rounds in the pertinent forums, asking what methods are better suited to their needs, how much is too much, or (in some truly absurd cases) what language they should learn. Seriously, people: what language you will learn next is not a call a bunch of strangers on the internet should do for you.

Online, a lot of window-shoppers grow discouraged by the attitude of more experimented and war-scarred linguists, but very much like real life window-shopping, in language learning one can only go so far on people’s advice. By making the leap on one’s own and deciding what methods, materials and languages you want to try, you’ll learn much more than by expecting other people to know what you want.

And finally…

The grumpy old man

The guy that ruins the party by explaining why Lojban rules so much more than Esperanto, grammar-rule by grammar-rule. His arguments are not only not up for debate, but he’ll yell at you till he’s blue in the face if you even consider rebuting.


What category do you belong to? Do you think there are any categories I missed? Comment and let me know!

  • Stephanie ,

    Very fun post! I had to laugh at being placed in the “man on a mission” category…you make me sound so much more effective than I actually am. Haha! But you’re right, I have a reason for learning each language that I choose. I learn a language because I want to be able to communicate with people. I have to say, though, that since I’ve started reading language blogs, my “to learn” list keeps getting longer and longer! It’s all pipe dreams, though. I commit too much to my languages to be able to dive in to too many…I’m not a dabbler, I’m a lifer! 😉

    • Sis L. ,

      Thanks for commenting, Stephanie!
      I just felt I had to include you in the list. The passion you convey in your blog is very easy to relate to. 🙂 Yeah, I can totally relate to the “infection factor”–you read other people’s blogs and go “man, I’d love to learn that language too”, haha.

    • Chris Broholm ,

      Fun post Siskia! Personally I struggle to fit myself in category, I think it would be a combination of wanderluster and traveler. I want to travel, but currently not able to due to educational commitments 🙁

      • Sis L. ,

        Hi, Chris! thanks for commenting.
        I think everyone’s a mixture of at least two categories (and so, we should probably take measures not to become the Grumpy Old Man, haha). I’m about 80% a wanderluster and 20% an academic, but I’d like to throw in a bit of travel in the mix as well. Maybe someday!
        I took the liberty of sending you a request on Facebook. Hope you like the blog!

      • tlacamazatl ,

        Reblogged this on Football Bats and commented:
        Very interesting.