About 70 people from the Jakarta Polyglot community are gathered in a room divided into groups. Once the discussion starts, each group speaks in a different language: English, French, Italian, Mandarin, and Spanish, to name just a few.

Vivian, 18, is a member of the community.

Born in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, Vivian (who goes by one name), is of Chinese descent and speaks Hakka as well as Indonesian in her daily life.

“I have many Malay and Dayak friends back in my hometown, so I developed an interest in languages when I was a kid,” she says.

She started learning English and Mandarin in Year Four, though she says that her English class was not good so she wasn’t able to master the language then.

It was not until she joined a K-pop fan group on Facebook that she started to hone her English skills, even though at first she used Google Translate most of the time.

Polyglot people learn culture along with languages

In a divided world, learning another community’s language can help ease barriers. Photo: Filepic

Later on, when she was in lower secondary school, a Facebook friend from Argentina added Vivian to an international polyglot group, where she could actively practise her English.

After moving to Jakarta a year ago, Vivian began to earn a living by teaching Mandarin.

Currently, she is investing her time and efforts in learning Japanese, Korean, and Spanish, which she can understand but cannot speak. She joined the Jakarta Polyglot community to polish her language skills.

She says that being a polyglot had made her more tolerant because she has tried to understand cultural differences.

“Language is a part of culture, and I learn culture while learning language,” she says.

According to Jakarta Polyglot’s regional coordinator, Fajar Triperdana, the polyglot community was first established in 2010 in Yogyakarta. However, when the founders went to study abroad, the community became inactive until the Jakarta Polyglot community started to operate in 2013.

The polyglot community has an open membership system and currently has almost 16,000 members across the Indonesian archipelago. The multilingual club exists in Banda Aceh; Medan in North Sumatra; Bandung in West Java; Semarang in Central Java; Yogyakarta; Surabaya and Malang in East Java; Denpasar in Bali; and Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara.

The community holds regular meetings; Polyglot Jakarta holds a three-hour gathering once a month.

At each gathering, different discussion topics are raised, such as Valentine’s Day, World Ocean Day and strange habits, to name a few.

The participants are grouped based on the language that they have mastered or would like to practise. A coordinator is assigned to lead the discussion and make sure everyone gets a chance to express his or her opinion.

Arvin Tehupuring says that the Jakarta Polyglot community has helped him to improve his language skills. He found out about the community from his good friend who joined the group on Facebook.

“I speak Dutch, English, French and a little German. I would lose my language skills if I didn’t practise,” the 38-year-old English teacher says at a recent interview.

He says he got his passion for languages from his mother who could speak English and German, as well as Sundanese and Javanese.

He was exposed to multilingualism from childhood: His parents and grandparents spoke Dutch, and at upper secondary school in Singapore, he had to speak English.

According to Arvin, becoming a polyglot has helped him to socialise with people of different cultural backgrounds. The Ambonese man who loves travelling says that being a polyglot has made him more open-minded.

In the future, Arvin hopes to learn Italian, Spanish and German. He considers language skills to be a long-term asset, both personally and professionally. – The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network