Tips to Becoming a Polyglot

The English word linguistics is shown, along with its Chinese, French, Italian, and Japanese translations.

So you want to become a polyglot? Even after knowing the time, effort, and embarrassment needed? Very well, then at least know some general linguistic guidelines to help you on your journey.

The majority of languages are either subject-object-verb (SOV) or subject-verb-object (SVO) languages.

If you manage to wrap your head around how the constituent* order works in SOV and SVO languages, you are then able to understand the basic syntax of about 80% of currently-spoken languages, i.e., around 5 600 languages since there are approximately 7 000 languages spoken today.

Examples of SOV languages include Hindi, Japanese, Korean, and Turkish.

Examples of SVO languages include English, French, Italian, and Spanish.

If you want to go the extra mile, then wrap your head around the constituent order of verb-subject-object (VSO) languages, such as Irish and Welsh, because the order of VSO is the third most common after SOV and SVO.

In SOV, SVO, and VSO languages, the object is placed after the subject. In other words, the subject is said before the object.

SOV languages tend to use postpositions while SVO ones tend to use prepositions.

If you know a language is SOV, like Japanese, then it’s highly likely to use postpositions as adpositions.


友達と (Japanese)

tomodachi to

friend with

‘With a friend’

Notice that the adposition ‘with’ comes after the word ‘friend’.

Likewise, if you know a language is SVO, like French, then it’s highly likely to use prepositions as adpositions.


avec un ami (French)

with a friend

‘With a friend’

Notice that the adposition ‘with’ comes before the word ‘friend’.

Knowing these linguistic guidelines and others will help you become a polyglot much faster. For example, if someone tells you about an SOV language that you didn’t know beforehand, you will immediately know that it’s likely to use postpositions instead of prepositions, even before formally studying the language.

Note: constituent

Examples of constituents in linguistics include noun phrases and verb phrases. Therefore, talking about the constituent order of a language rather than its word order is more precise. For example, in the following sentence in English, which is an SVO language, ‘those big books are heavy’, the noun phrase is ‘those big books’. It contains 3 words, and not just 1 word.



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Shay Chu

Shay Chu

Product Designer | Multilingual | Fan of the Oxford Comma & Oxford Spelling | LinkedIn: Portfolio: