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How do you learn to speak more than 12 languages?

Have you ever dreamed of being able to speak dozens of languages? A new book, Babel No More by journalist Michael Erard, traces the history of people who can do just that: hyperpolyglots, people who speak 11 or more languages.

Obviously, hyperpolyglotism is a trained skill. No one just wakes up speaking multiple languages, but there may be factors that make it easier. As Erard told the Huffington Post, “Hyperpolyglots are not born, and they are not made, but they are born to be made. There is a finite subset of the human population which has the right neurological equipment for learning and using lots of languages.”

What does this mean? Well, it seems that hyperpolyglots tend to share a few characteristics other than their language ability. Hyperpolyglots tend to be male and left handed, and they also tend to have immune disorders and high IQs. It is unclear how or if these characteristics are tied to language ability or brain plasticity, and Erard makes sure to say these variables may be random or attributed to who responded to his survey. There is no conclusive evidence around what makes someone – physiologically – predisposed to be a hyperpolyglot, but there are some speculative correlations.

How do hyperpolyglot go about learning these languages? They study – a lot. After the first five or so languages, hyperpolyglots acquire a deeper understanding of how language systems work, making it easier to learn other languages. Despite that, it still takes hours of focus and vocabulary drills.

One interesting feature of historical hyperpolyglots are how language expectations have changed over time, particularly in terms of what exactly it means to “speak” so many languages. For example, one of the most famous hyperpolyglots, Cardinal Mezzofanti of Bologna spoke as many as 30 languages, but in his era, to “speak” a language meant to read and translate it, not necessarily to converse fluently. No hyperpolyglots have instant recall of all of the languages in their repertoire. Most hyperpolyglots are fluent in three or four languages and have a store of other languages that they must briefly review to speak with fluency, so called “surge languages.”

What about contemporary polyglots? In October 2011, Sonia Yang, a 10 year-old girl in England, was named the best young linguist because she can speak 10 languages: Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese, English, German, French, Spanish, Portugese, Kazakh, and Luganda (the language of Uganda). She is quickly on her way to become a hyperpolyglot.

Learn more about the book here.

Want to get started on your hyperpolyglotism? Even Cardinal Mezzofanti used flashcards to help him hone the many languages he spoke. You can too with Word Dynamo.

What do you think of hyperpolyglotism? Would you want to be able to speak a dozen languages?

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144 Comments

  1. Vishu V -  August 9, 2014 - 2:47 am

    Hi am from India I can speak more then 9 south Indian language but I want to learn more like am learning now Arabic and Chinese as well I want to learn in the world which language is more frequently used please guide me in this

    Reply
  2. alvin -  July 26, 2014 - 10:08 am

    What a dumb article. What is Taiwanese language? And chinese here refer to mandarin.

    A lot of people tryin to show off their language abilities. Dude I tell you youre just getting started, do not be happy too quick.

    Reply
    • BHG -  August 23, 2014 - 3:07 pm

      “Taiwanese” language is almost certainly referring to Minnan Chinese and not an aboriginal Taiwanese language

      Reply
  3. Laxpr1 -  June 17, 2014 - 10:15 pm

    Hi. I am fluent only with Spanish (native) and English (Speak, Read, Write). But I can read and understand conversation in Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and French. Why? Because all these language, including Spanish, have the same origin: Latin. The same story with German, Austrian, along with English: they are Saxon languages. Now I am understanding Ukrainian, but only words and some phrases. What I see is that other foreign languages are understandable because many words that are used are English. Try with a foreign language. Check a news site from a foreign country and you will notice that. Why? Because news programs use formal language and speak on a slow to medium pace.

    Reply
  4. Ishma Rotheinstein -  May 8, 2014 - 2:24 am

    Whoa, I thought I was insane learning German, Mandarin and Portuguese at the age of 23.
    These kids who can know so much my the age of 13, is sad to tell you guys the truth. Not only will most of them never get the chance to use all there knowledge, (as most wont have millions of dollars to travel the world) and highly doubt they plan to help rule the world as I

    But when they do grow up, they will see what they missed out on, such as watching cartoons, riding a bike, and knowing knowledge “other” than linguistics.
    To be so talented at something, requires a certain level of insanity.
    Such as Michael Jordan and basketball.
    He was insane, when he conquered basketball, it was onto baseball, than golf.
    Never satisfied.
    Same thing with us who aspire to know at least 15 languages by the time we die.
    No knowledge is ever enough for a true scholar.
    In which the saying goes “its lonely at the top”
    as once you reached that level you relise,
    only one were competing against. Is ourselves…

    Reply
    • Ishma Rotheinstein -  May 8, 2014 - 3:02 am

      Unless you are like me, planing to not only travel the world,
      But assist in ruling the world.
      Your pretty ignorant and unsatisfied with not only yourself, but life in general if have a desire to be a polyglot.
      My advise to you, if that is you. Is focus on spirituality, family other knowledge such as philosophy and the true mening of having a peace of mind. Before you ruin your life with knowledge that will never get to use besides trying to impress people.
      Which if your learning languages to impress such as Afnan Linjawi, you got a lot to learn about being a scholar

      Reply
  5. arbabhussain -  January 30, 2014 - 6:47 am

    yeah this great ,by the mercy of God ,i am able to speak english,persian,urdu,greece languge( elinika),italiano,and my mother language is pashto.i love this to speak more languages ,but i do not know how to be a best speaker.thanks to all respectable

    Reply
  6. Afnan Linjawi -  December 31, 2013 - 2:50 am

    It’s so nice to see so many polyglots in this blog alone. I’m 21 and my native languages are English and Arabic. I am at intermediate level in French, German, and Afrikaans and beginner level at Tagalog, Russian, Japanese, and Mandarin. A lot of people are astounded when the know about my multi-tongue. Although I enjoy the stardom (I’m an attention addict) I know that the truth is simple. I don’t believe it’s a special neurological ability because I am a female and right-handed I just think it’s this nack for languages. We, polyglots, are just people who get languages and we like it. We’re passionate about it so we pursue it. When we learn the language, we don’t think that grammatical exceptions are a catastrophe but rather an amazing specimen of a potential for novel expressions. This makes us smile and fill our hearts with joy while it makes others scratch their head out of annoyance. I just wanted to make that clear for non-poly glots out there. You can be like us, but the problem is that you don’t want to. You are dumb enough to be convinced with stupid ads like “How To Be Fluent in A Day”! You just killed the joy of language learning.
    The 10 year olds who speak multiple languages, that’s what I call talent or super-ability. Becuase I started my language learning journey at 16. It was only then that I discovered that I’m inot it and capable.
    And also I want to clear one little misconception about Linguists and Polyglots. Being a polyglot does not make you a linguist. They’re two different things! If you study linguistics and happen to know a few languages, that’s a plus for you. But a mono-lingual linguist can be a better linguist than a poly-glot linguist. It all depends on the effort and passioned poured out.

    Reply
    • Ishma Rotheinstein -  May 8, 2014 - 3:19 am

      lol, as intelligent as you are,
      I hope you dont plan on having kids and getting married to one of these poor excuses for a man the world has to offer.

      Reply
  7. Esra Aydan -  July 23, 2013 - 4:09 pm

    Well I can speak:Turkish (my native),english,persian,lazish,spanish,greek and german.(I just love to learn new languages and cultures.That is why I always chose languages that not similar to each other that much.) But I only have 118 IQ,I am female and right-handed. So I don’t match up with the qualifications.Does that mean I am not going to be hyperpolyglot ever??

    Reply
  8. Adan Cruz -  July 13, 2013 - 9:02 pm

    I like to speak diferent lenguages, im speak ; spanish, English,Korean, Purtuguese

    Reply
  9. Silvia -  June 15, 2013 - 1:25 am

    Hey! I am fluent in Italian, English, Spanish, German, Finnish, and speak basic French. Is there anybody else reading this with my same language skills? I am really curious to find another person like me!

    Reply
  10. Kadeen -  January 27, 2013 - 3:48 pm

    *be it to communicate

    Reply
  11. Kadeen -  January 27, 2013 - 3:41 pm

    I think that to confine the ability to be a polyglot to the traits mentioned in the article, wasn’t the actual intent. As stated, the researcher did suggest that the type of persons who actually chose to respond to the survey played a major part in his conclusions. Personally, I adore language, history and culture. I speak English fluently, and have an excellent grasp of the grammar involved. This may sound silly, but not all persons who speak their native language have a decent grasp on it. Once you understand your own language, it does aid in learning other languages. For me, I currently speak, understand, read and write Hindi, Spanish, French, and English with odd words from other languages in my vocabulary as well. It’s not about formal education, but rather the need to communicate. An increase in that need, whether be it communicate with friends, colleagues, business associates, or simply the desire to increase your knowledge plays a greater roll than the suggested characteristics in the article. :-D So my friends, if you intend to become a polyglot, don’t be disheartened. Get to it!

    Reply
  12. Sandra Karakas -  November 7, 2012 - 11:08 am

    My younger sister is 11 and she speak 6 languages

    English
    Polish
    Turkish
    German
    French
    Latin

    Not as good as Sonia but way more than what normal grow adults do

    Way to go sis

    Reply
  13. Adriana -  September 24, 2012 - 2:24 pm

    it is really amazing! i speak more than 12 lang,its soooo easy,i go all over the World,i can understand what are people speaking about,it is fantastic! i like to call myself child of the World,everywhere i am like at home !

    Reply
  14. Aivaz -  July 20, 2012 - 3:52 pm

    So what if you know over 10 languages? What does this provide in terms of practicality? Knowing over 5 languages just seems to be in search of masturbating one’s ego, nothing else. Knowing some foreign languages is, of course, a good thing, but to me it’s enough to know at most 3 foreign languages. Anyway google translate makes u have no need for knowing that much languages, and it’s said that translation by interpreters are going to be history in 10-20 years, being replaced by computer interpreter programs. You just DON’T NEED know dozens of languages, but as a hobby it’s normal to study several of them.

    Reply
  15. hah.... -  June 22, 2012 - 8:27 am

    i dont even belive half of the comments here,,,,people say they are fluent in 10 languages by the age of 15!!!! thats just hilarious, there is an old saying that goes (something]) like this : It doesnt matter how many languages you learn , but you have to have intimate knowledge on the community and understand HOW they use the language….

    thats what im saying half of the comments here are BULLSHIT =)

    peace!

    Reply
  16. Kegan -  June 16, 2012 - 10:39 pm

    Man I am so happy to know there are other teenagers like me! Grammar nazis/language connaisseurs are people whom I’ve always wanted to get to know, but have not yet had the chance of doing so. You guys are awesome! :D If you want to talk with me (I really would love to discuss grammar with someone for fun) my skype is patrick.linguistics Seriously, feel free! Also, I enjoy psychology and philosophy and would love to discuss these topics among others (even non academic ones ;) ) with people like me!

    Reply
  17. Kegan -  June 16, 2012 - 10:33 pm

    Hi! I am a hyperpolyglot of 6 languages fluently: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and German. I’m also conversational in Japanese, Chinese, Tagalog, Russian, Arabic, and Dutch. Furthermore I’ve begun to learn Latin, Thai, Korean, and Greek. Next, I’ll learn Swahili, Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian, Tibetan, Indonesian, Farsi, Polish, Croation, Romanian, and Provençal to name some, but I’ll learn as many as I can. I want to be the greatest linguist up until my time so that I may set the bar higher and improve the linguistic society. My goal is 50 languages at a conversational level. and at least some knowledge of 100 I hope. I know I may sound arrogant, for which I apologize, but I have this ambition burning inside me, and I would like to become the best I can be. I know that I can do it so long as I work hard and remain idealistic. :)

    Reply
  18. Jade Carol -  June 3, 2012 - 6:16 pm

    I would love to be able to speak dozens of languages, learning languages is natural for me. I get the structure and grammar of languages pretty quick. I speak Spanish, English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese. Currently learning German, Korean and ASL

    Reply
  19. fahad danaca -  May 7, 2012 - 7:59 am

    hi friends i only know one language but am not satisfied i want to know more what can i do…………?

    Reply
  20. Medwatt -  April 13, 2012 - 7:12 am

    Hi. I know 3 languages from childhood, Krio, English and Arabic. Later I learned Ukrainian. Also I can understand French but not conversant with it. So that means I can speak 4.5 languages.

    Reply
  21. Etienne -  April 4, 2012 - 4:35 am

    Hi,

    I speak the languages: Portuguese,English,Russian,Spanish,Italian,Dutch,French,and German with Basics Japanese and Arabic-Do am I an hyperpolyglot? I want to reach 15 language before I reach 55..It is possible?

    Kind regards
    Etienne

    Reply
  22. Cody -  April 1, 2012 - 6:35 pm

    In the third paragraph, it should say “attributed to WHOM responded” instead of who….

    Reply
  23. Sourabh -  March 30, 2012 - 1:19 am

    I am not left handed. I do not have a immunity disorder. About the high IQ I can only hope, but I know that I am not above average intelligence.

    I learned to speak four different languages long before I was 3 years old. Since then my capacity to learn new languages have lessened. I can however… wait let me count… speak seven languages (some not very fluently) and understand a few more.

    My point is, it is easier for a child than an adult to learn new languages.

    Reply
  24. lazycamper48x -  March 29, 2012 - 2:14 pm

    @Shannon Block, I agree

    Reply
  25. monky -  March 28, 2012 - 6:13 pm

    sorry work*

    Reply
  26. monky -  March 28, 2012 - 6:12 pm

    “proudmom” your son should probably wirk for the UN

    Reply
  27. monky -  March 28, 2012 - 6:09 pm

    The pope probably is one

    Reply
  28. Valery -  March 28, 2012 - 5:49 pm

    @Nshera 1\9\12 5:58 pm : Estas lenguas son faciles para mi.
    I can speak Spanish, and now I know why did this say if you know Spanish fluently, then you will be “un ace” like my mom says. I guess I’ll keep on talking at home … Because the law here is to talk in Spanish ONLY. That is the law.

    Oh well, guess I’ll take up Portuguese if such class existed in my school … Eh.

    Well, guess I’ll keep writing about my made up hyperpolyglot.

    Reply
  29. proudmom -  March 28, 2012 - 1:55 pm

    My son can speak 15 languages fluently. Everybody admires his abilities, but I really don’t know how he could utilize his great skill. Any advice? We live in Canda but can relocate to Europe.

    Reply
  30. Shannon Block -  March 28, 2012 - 1:28 pm

    Chinese isn’t a language- it’s Mandarin or Cantonese…..

    Reply
  31. Michalis -  March 28, 2012 - 3:46 am

    it’s not so much about different languages, but about memorising words and their variations. So, if one speaks languages of the Latin branch, i.e. Italian, French, Spanish, Portugese and Romanian, they actually speak one “language concept” with its variatons, so it’s mostly how memory can handle this ‘mess’ of similar words and the structures in the syntax variations and tiny changes with their head. The same I’d say for the Teutonic languages, i.e. German, English, Dutch, Danish, Icelandic or for the Altaic ones (Turkish, Mongol, -stan/-jan states). So, a polyglot who speaks 10-12 languages, actually needs to memorise a good vocabulary of all of them, but needs only the concept of the family tree, that the languages belong to. I am a native Greek speaker and have learnt very well English, German, Turkish, medium Latin and a little bit of Arabic and Hebrew. It’s actually 3 different “concepts” of thought, whereas the rest is only vocabulary. The real challenge is to maintain a good knowledge of all of them for some time.

    Reply
  32. Jessica S -  March 28, 2012 - 1:53 am

    I can speak and read fluently English, French, Latin, Japanese, Mandarin and Korean. I am learning Finnish, Russian, Italian, Spanish and German. I wish my parents weren’t both English so I could speak two more- but I suppose that’ll have to do. I don’t want to learn 12 though, I’m only 14- any more and my head will explode!

    Reply
  33. Hyper Polly -  March 27, 2012 - 7:38 pm

    Left-handed men? Tell that to Sigourney Weaver.

    Reply
  34. The Canadian -  March 27, 2012 - 7:35 pm

    Give me a break Tom, most Americans speak at least two languages! Where did you grow up?

    Reply
  35. Hyper Polly -  March 27, 2012 - 7:16 pm

    I heard Sigourney Weaver could speak over 20 languages. Is that true?

    Reply
  36. Kayla Burke -  March 27, 2012 - 7:04 pm

    My goal: to be a hyperpolyglot. I already speak English and Spanish and I just started learning Korean. I plan on learning French, then maybe Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese… but I have time, I’m only in 9th grade.

    Reply
  37. Polyglotims is illusion -  March 23, 2012 - 8:49 am

    Polyglotism to me has always been a myth or a scamI. ‘Cause I strongly doubt a possibility of a true proficiency at more than 2-3 languages. Or it just depends on an aproach. If one suppose that speaking means being able to name a couple of prases or use a language at a survival level, then off course one can take time to memorize a number of phrase books. But if it means to be fluent at a myriad of languages, then it’s an illusion. Have you ever check one of those polyglots? Can you yourself exemine one’s ability to truly speak 12 more languages? I guess yourself you can’t speak so many. But certainly you want to, so you’re to be an easy victim. I guess they just immitate languages, which for those who doesn’t speak the languages sounds very convincing.

    Reply
  38. What do you cal… « Clearing Customs -  March 18, 2012 - 8:03 pm

    [...] who prepared for the qualifying rounds of the competition by picking up Kazakh and Portuguese. (“How Do You Learn to Speak More Than 12 Languages,” The Hot Word, January 9, 2012; Paul Byrne, “10-Year-Old Schoolgirl Can Speak 10 [...]

    Reply
  39. Max -  March 1, 2012 - 10:38 am

    @Agkcrbs

    Malaysian is not a language. That’s the nationality of the citizens of Malaysia. Malay is the language.

    Reply
  40. Carlo -  February 27, 2012 - 7:13 pm

    Jeebus, that explains it. I’m male, a lefty, and am confident that I have an IQ that’s quite above the average. I’m not an ultraüberhyperpolyglot though, I only speak English, French, Tagalog and learning German. Hopefully, I’ll learn Spanish once my German is good enough.

    Reply
  41. cris -  January 30, 2012 - 5:43 pm

    i invented a laguage called kyuvic. it has its own separate aplhabet, and im trying to form it better.

    Reply
  42. Jean-Louis NORTIER -  January 24, 2012 - 2:21 am

    When they mention “fluency” in a language, what degree/level do they benchmark?
    I am a French citizen & live in France. I speak English FLUENTLY as I have in Anglo-Saxon countries for 43 years.

    What bothers me is that every second Frenchie that studied English at University say they are “fluent” in that language !!! Believe me they are not.

    So, my question again, at what level is a person fluent in a language? Spoken as a mother tongue? Being able to dream in two or more languages???

    Can someone answer?

    Thanks.

    Reply
  43. Tom -  January 23, 2012 - 4:21 am

    Please laugh, y’all!
    What do you call a person who speaks many languages? MULTILINGUAL.
    What do you call a person who speaks two languages? BILINGUAL.
    What do you call a person who speaks one language? AMERICAN.

    Reply
  44. Tom -  January 23, 2012 - 4:13 am

    I think that exposure and opportunity (along with study) are very important. I studied Spanish and some Latin in junior high school. I did fairly well with Spanish. But when, as an adult, I lived in Puerto Rico for a few years, my Spanish was all but forgotten because everyone I knew and associated with spoke English. I studied French in high school for 4 years and got straight A’s all the way through. But, when I got to Haïti and Montreal years later, I sounded like Porky Pig.
    Most of the Africans that I’ve met here in Europe speak several languages. The national (official) language of their native country, the various languages of their home and surrounding villages, plus English and whatever the language of the country that they currently live in (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc.)
    I agree with L.R. on the point that necessity is a great factor. I toured Germany for eight months a few years ago and had to keep my dictionary and phrase book with me because I couldn’t get a handle on speaking the language. Everyone in our company (including the local techies) spoke English. I returned a couple of years later for a period of about 3 weeks and surprised myself with how much I could understand and speak. The pressure was on.
    Now I’m forced to speak French. I’m a far cry from being “fluent”, but I can cuss and even speak the latest argot (slang).
    Multilinguism is a great (if not necessary) skill to have. Let’s not forget about “Ebonics”. You must be able to communicate with those around you. If you go on the streets speaking like you’ve just stepped from the Ivy halls, you might be asking for trouble.
    Music is the Universal Language. It has helped (saved) me on more than one occasion.

    Reply
  45. yayRayShell -  January 20, 2012 - 3:46 pm

    That would be cool but I wouldn’t want to have a disorder to do that because if I’m sick all the time it would be hard rot use that skill. And to me it would be more special and well-deserved if I learned it myself instead of the trait being given to me.

    Reply
  46. Stefan -  January 20, 2012 - 7:11 am

    Hi,
    It is a very interesting blog. I can improve my skills in English. I have a problem with speaking. If somebody will want to connect with me, and help me improve my skills in English, I will be happy. My address e-mail is: slaszyn@aol.com
    I speak four languages: Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and English.
    I will be waiting for your e-mail.
    Good bye. Stefan

    Reply
  47. Ahmed Gharib Nawaz Khan -  January 17, 2012 - 7:23 pm

    I started learning German at the Lahore Goethy Institute. But could not continue due to other engagements. Adiou to you and you. Good By!

    Reply
  48. Ahmed Gharib Nawaz Khan -  January 17, 2012 - 7:21 pm

    I can speak English, Urdu, Punjabi and of course Seraiki, which is my mother tongue. If someone can speak Seraiki, he/she can learn any tough language. Once I was speaking Urdu with a railway guard at Lahore Railway Station. He asked me weather I belonged to some Indian Urdu speaking state.

    Reply
  49. Jeanna -  January 17, 2012 - 11:26 am

    @looking at Ya- certainly, Spanish may be the nationality of the people of Spain, though I’ve always referred to and heard of them as Hispanics. Spanish is the language of the people of Spain, Mexico, and other Latin American countries; what else would we call it?

    Reply
  50. Chloe Carter -  January 16, 2012 - 4:17 pm

    I’m in high school and have been taking Spanish since i was five. This is nuts! my goal in life is to be a Cultural Anthropologist. I may need to talk to that little girl:)

    Reply
  51. Jonathan -  January 15, 2012 - 12:17 pm

    Just learn Spanish, and then the rest of the romantic languages. Right there you have a handful of languages that are closely related and easy to learn. (Or at least easier than most) Also, if anyone could teach me Japanese, I could teach them English or a little bit of Spanish. My email: jliberman13@gmail.com

    Reply
  52. myuuzik -  January 13, 2012 - 8:35 am

    Lebanese Armenians for example start with both Arabic and Armenian in kindergarten (which is 3-4 years, as they start at the age of 3 or 4). With first elementary, the French oriented schools add French and by intermediary (sixth grade and onward) they add English. English oriented schools the reverse, they start English with first elementary and add French by sixth elementary. At home they may have turcophone grandparents having come from Ottoman Turkey. So most of the children from very young age converse in Turkish with their grandparents. That’s automatically five languages for you – Armenian, Arabic, French, English and Turkish.

    When they immigrate they will start with their sixth language actually like learning Swedish or Danish or German etc….

    Reply
  53. Ed -  January 12, 2012 - 5:29 pm

    I don’t think any of these people had their glots pierced.

    Reply
  54. Socrates -  January 11, 2012 - 10:38 pm

    In Swizzerland, a country about twice the size of New Jersey, people have easy access (and learn in school) 4 languages: german, french, italian, and ladino (raetoromanic). Other countries of mixed ethnic origins (India, Malaysia, Singapore et al.) offer similary intense language exposure from early childhood. Early exposure, therefore, more than genius probably determine polyglotism and also help you understand the (often greatly) different cultures behind those languages.

    Growing up in Germany, I studied classic greek and latin including the related literature, philosophies and histories. Learning italian, french and english thence wasn’t a great leap. Russian was different, yet the basic grammatical constructions still are rather similar to the afore mentioned tongues. Had the internet been around already, I would have greatly enjoyed to get at least an understanding of hindi and mandarin.

    People, languages, and communication/understanding is what this world is all about. How many wars could have been avoided, if people spoke each others’ languages?!

    Reply
  55. Arthur -  January 11, 2012 - 2:26 pm

    …languages, however.

    Reply
  56. Arthur -  January 11, 2012 - 2:23 pm

    That’s truly impressive! I wish to be a hyperpolyglot too. I have to master the lingua franca, English and Latin before going to learn other languages. PS I currently know four languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay, and English. I’m a Malaysian.

    Reply
  57. Jeanna -  January 11, 2012 - 11:54 am

    I have a few questions and comments…
    @English- those are not different languages, they are dialects.
    @Nshera- do you mean you can speak the dialects of English based in the US as well as the UK?
    @J Wolfe- based off of that logic, I am not fluent in any language, because the one I normally would say I am fluent in (the American dialect of English) has so many little nuances, exceptions to rules, and other dialects within the country- there is no possible way anyone can be fluent in English!

    Reply
  58. Glendan -  January 11, 2012 - 11:42 am

    I just realized that professorkaizen already posted about my first topic. I don’t know why, but when I posted, for some reason my browser stopped at six comments before that. In any case, after reading his post, I feel that I should clarify that in my comment I use the linguistic definitions of “language” and “dialect,” which are distinguished by degree of mutual intelligibility.

    Reply
  59. Glendan -  January 11, 2012 - 11:26 am

    There is an error in this article: Taiwanese is a variety of Chinese, so one cannot say a person speaks “Taiwanese and Chinese.” I would assume they intend to say that she speaks Taiwanese and Mandarin. To remain generic, one might say that she speaks two forms/varieties/dialects of Chinese. “Chinese” is in fact a group of seven or eight language families, each with its own languages and dialects. For sociopolitical reasons, all the Chinese languages are generally termed “dialects.”

    Also, the bring up a good point in discussing different perceptions of what it is to “know” a language, but limited themselves to looking at literary ability against colloquial ability. It is, however, as important if not more so to distinguish degrees of fluency. This is perhaps what Sylvie is experiencing when she notes errors in commentors’ grammar. I have known many people who claim to be “know” a language, but would not be able to write a high-school level paper, read a newspaper, or discuss aspects of religion, philosophy, or politics over dinner in that language. Some people claim to “know” a language because they posses a rudimentary ability to understand and be understood by others, but cannot construct proper basic sentences. Depending on the level of fluency associated with “knowing” or “speaking” a language, the number of languages one knows or speaks may change.

    Reply
  60. Taylor -  January 11, 2012 - 10:58 am

    I am male, left-handed, with an IQ of something like 115. So, I guess I should be good at learning languages. I know English, music, and a smattering of Spanish. That’s about it. And after six years of Spanish, I’m still a failure.

    Reply
  61. janey -  January 11, 2012 - 6:42 am

    Nshera – when you say you speak ‘English’ as well as ‘British’ – what do you mean by that? As a Brit, I think I can safely say they are one and the same.

    Reply
  62. Creeky -  January 11, 2012 - 5:44 am

    Exposure and need are the keys to language acquisition. That’s why people who come from areas where many languages are spoken in close physical proximity easily become hyperglots. Informal learning of language is supple and relatively quick, while formal learning is turgid and slow.

    Reply
  63. Drr -  January 11, 2012 - 5:41 am

    As a translator I’ve often heard about such cases: people describing themselves as speakers of 8-15 languages. Communicating and creating a message, though, is a complex act, it is not merely matching the vaguely corresponding word. Neither is it knowing a bunch of sentences, learnt by heart, which by means of a good sense of language structure can be slightly modified and used for different purposes. Learning a language requires time on the literature, time spent with the natives, cultural references. Speaking a language is thinking like a native, or try to do so. How many lives must a man live to get to think like 15 peoples?

    Reply
  64. English -  January 11, 2012 - 4:33 am

    I can speak 5 different languages: American English, British English, Australian English, Canadian English and New Zealand English.

    Reply
  65. Blackjezuss -  January 11, 2012 - 3:37 am

    Well am Polyglot, I know English, French, Spanish & Arabic… Still not Hyper yet, but I can Easily Learn Italian and Portuguese.. then Still I’ll have to learn 5 more to be hyper.. :) and that could be .. Dutch, German, Russian, Hebrew, Farsi, …etc… or maybe move to far eastern languages, like Chinese; mandarin or Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai .. I think they all have the same roots.. like French, Spanish Italian, Portuguese are derived from Latin… but the thing is … would you be able to get use of all your knowledge.. and if u used it will u use it for the good or the bad … to develop or to destroy … …

    Reply
  66. callmesuli -  January 11, 2012 - 2:16 am

    Please correct the spelling of “Portugese”.

    Reply
  67. Yigitsb -  January 11, 2012 - 1:50 am

    Does it Count,
    I speak
    Turkish, Greek and Lazic (Caucasian Language) from home
    I’ve learned English and German at School (at level of mother tongue today)
    In due course, I’ve learned Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Arabic, Finnish and Spanish,
    and could say some quite fluently some not so perfect!..

    But I am right hander, have no Immune system problem, hardly get sick, and I do not feel really that I am so smart, often feel like dumb!..
    So, am I the exception or the theory sucks !..
    :D

    Reply
  68. jay -  January 11, 2012 - 12:28 am

    Sure i am going to purchase this book as i am intrested in learning new languages……

    Reply
  69. Ernest -  January 10, 2012 - 11:33 pm

    Wow! I hope that someday I’ll learn 12 languages! I didn’t think it was possible. The only languages I can speak are English and Afrikaans. I am trying to learn Arabic. After mastering Arabic, I wan to learn Universal Sign Language. Can anyone tell me if it is recommended to learn 2 languages at the same time?

    Reply
  70. Book Worm :) -  January 10, 2012 - 9:19 pm

    Awesome! Does ASL count? :)

    Reply
  71. Anonymous -  January 10, 2012 - 7:24 pm

    Also, I am a right-handed female with an excellent immune system. I just kinda knocked off that stereotype right there!

    Reply
  72. Anonymous -  January 10, 2012 - 7:23 pm

    So. . . if I can speak English, French, and a little bit of German, Swedish, and Spanish, does that mean I am 1.5/4 of a hyperpolygot? Si? Non? No clue?

    Reply
  73. Sup -  January 10, 2012 - 7:18 pm

    nshera, (without looking it up) i guessed you said “these languages are easy for me” i only partially speak spanish, but i saw that it was similar to how you would say that in spanish. that’s probably a big key to learning many languages- finding the connections and similarities between them. but i feel happy i got that :)

    Reply
  74. Mitt Romney -  January 10, 2012 - 6:43 pm

    Hey guys i actually speak 5 languages i was looking at the article and I thought i’d leave a comment. And i’m pretty fluent in all of them. It took me 8 years to learn 5 of them. Keep coming here kids I’ts really educational.

    Reply
  75. anonymous -  January 10, 2012 - 5:42 pm

    Darn it!! ‘:-(

    Reply
  76. anonymous -  January 10, 2012 - 5:39 pm

    Dang it! The only characteristic i have that usually hyperpolyglots have is that I am a male. Everything else I have the opposite of.

    Reply
  77. Jonathan -  January 10, 2012 - 5:33 pm

    This explains a lot. I am a lefty, and a male. I’m currently learning Spanish (though I already speak it at home), French, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Creole.

    Reply
  78. Selendrile -  January 10, 2012 - 5:16 pm

    sweet

    Reply
  79. whydoyoucarewhatmynameis? -  January 10, 2012 - 4:38 pm

    i can speak english and spanish, is that good enough lol?

    Reply
  80. Dungaloo -  January 10, 2012 - 3:53 pm

    I can only speak english

    Reply
  81. Franny -  January 10, 2012 - 3:50 pm

    Hola

    Reply
  82. kewlkiwi -  January 10, 2012 - 3:31 pm

    Nshera said “I can speak:… English, …, British,…

    There is no such thing as a ‘British’ language. Most Britons speak English, while some can also speak Irish, Welsh, etc.

    Reply
  83. Sy -  January 10, 2012 - 2:43 pm

    Interesting article!!! I would love to get that book! I speak 4 languages now myself…and there are at least 3 more I’d love to learn…

    Reply
  84. Martin -  January 10, 2012 - 2:17 pm

    There are other languages – perhaps some might refer to them as dialects – made up of English words, or acronyms, which are spoken routinely by professional people and soldiers. There is engineering, aeronautics, medicine, and so on. Do those count too?

    Reply
  85. Sasha -  January 10, 2012 - 1:45 pm

    Cool article! It’s very well researched. It must be quite easy for these people to get jobs as translators.

    I’m 12 and left-handed, my immune system is terrible, and I have an IQ of 145. However, I’m a girl. I sure do wonder…

    I can speak, read and write Russian very fluently, and I know a little French, Belarussian and German…and, of course, English.

    Reply
  86. looking at Ya -  January 10, 2012 - 1:45 pm

    actually Spanish is not a language either.. its a nationality!!!!!

    Reply
  87. Emoxziita Rodriguez -  January 10, 2012 - 1:40 pm

    i want an apple

    Reply
  88. Jeanna -  January 10, 2012 - 1:34 pm

    I speak English, but have to use some Spanish when speaking to my abuelita or bisabuela (little granma or great granma). The school I currently attend will only teach English and Spanish, which I find disappointing… but at the school I went to last year, I started learning Latin, which certainly helped with the Spanish… But what I really want to learn, and have been trying to, are French and Japanese. I saw an offer up there, by tomsboat, to learn Chinese in exchange for teaching English. Anyone want to help me learn either language? Not sure if I could be any good at teaching English, but maybe?
    My email is fairyeprinsess@gmail.com

    Reply
  89. professorkaizen -  January 10, 2012 - 12:18 pm

    I am a Malaysian of Han descent. I speak, read and write fluently English, Chinese, Malay and Japanese, with a smattering of Thai and Russian, and I am particularly concerned about many having different views pertaining to the language of the Han people and the official language of P.R. of China. From the anthropological point of view, the so-called “Chinese” is classified as the “Han” people who had settled and started their civilization along the Yellow River [Huanghe]. As their original language was captured as pictograms without any representations of their original pronunciations of each word, it was near to impossible to reproduce their original pronunciations. Nevertheless, the language continued to evolve discarding many incongruities along the way. Similar to all languages in this world, dialectic forms evolved along with the main language, sharing the same grammatical structure and syntax with the main language. In fact Classical Chinese was written as “one ubiquitous form and structure” but could be read in many dialectic renditions and each word could be rendered in a diversity of pronunciations in accordance to each dialect’s system. Meanwhile, the Northern Chinese dialect [North of the Yangzi river] evolved in uniformity in its spoken form, while those Southern Chinese dialects, notably the Cantonese and Fujian dialects [includes Taiwanese] were left behind [due to the terrain] maintaining a large portion of the Classical Chinese language. The Northern Chinese dialect [basically the Beijing dialect due to the location of the central government and palace in Beijing] became the lingua franca of the Mancurian officials [in fact, "Mandarin" was a corruption of the word "Man Da Ren" [Manchu Lord] which denoted both the officials and the language they spoke] The language reforms undertaken by the Chinese Communiist Party in 1970′s had made the Beijing dialect as the basis of the standard Chinese [known officially as Putonghua in China] and must be studied and used in all official communications. According to ISO standards, ISO 639, Putonghua is classified as “Chinese” with an official language code “zho” [stands for Zhongguoyu] Any other forms are considered dialects of Zhongguoyu, thus I can not add 3 more languages to my repertoire as Cantonese, Hakka and Fujian [Hokkien] are dialects, and not languages in the strictest sense. Hope this clarify any misconception on the Chinese language.

    Reply
  90. Star Nine -  January 10, 2012 - 11:19 am

    The Marines are looking for this skill set…..getty-up??

    Reply
  91. J Wolfe -  January 10, 2012 - 10:58 am

    If you don’t converse fluently, you CAN’T say you know the language. I’ve learned English for 20 years and still have difficulties to understand all the nooks and crannies of it. A language contains so many nuances and culture. If you know a part of it, of course you can communicate; but you NEVER can draw sympathetic mood or sentimental agreements.

    The very basic rule of mastering a language is to understand the culture. Hyperpolyglots? 10 languages? It’s only laughable.

    Reply
  92. Vikaari -  January 10, 2012 - 9:59 am

    Thank you, but no thank you to be a HYPERPOLYGLOTS, speaker of … that many lang or tongue, is a wonderful notion.

    In the paragraph, “One interesting feature of historical hyperpolyglots are…”. In this sentence the verb should be IS (and not are) b/c the main subject of the sentence is FEATURE, and “…of historical hyperpolyglots” is a prepositional phrase (pp). According to rule and regulation pp should have noun too, and here … hyperpolyglots (pl noun).

    Although noticed it is good platform to promote WORD DYNAMO, enjoyed the article.

    Thanks

    Reply
  93. RachelAllison -  January 10, 2012 - 9:24 am

    Wow….. how interesting! I’m definitely content to know two languages.

    Reply
  94. safetyjack -  January 10, 2012 - 9:07 am

    To Amberlee — Look at the title of the piece to answer your question.

    Reply
  95. Darya -  January 10, 2012 - 8:24 am

    Since when is Taiwanese a language?? Don’t they speak Chinese there??

    Reply
  96. diomond -  January 10, 2012 - 7:35 am

    wow.that word is so hot.i mean yo that is so decent.

    Reply
  97. Phlondar -  January 10, 2012 - 7:05 am

    Let’s all learn Summerian, the mother language on earth

    Reply
  98. Duncan -  January 10, 2012 - 6:57 am

    One of my best friends turns thirteen next month and can speak German and English fluently, knows some French and is learning Hebrew. (She’s a genius, though she hates it when I call her that.) ;) I’m learning American Sign Language, which is really interesting, and a lot more difficult than you would think. I can’t imagine knowing twelve languages! =)

    Reply
  99. Sylvie -  January 10, 2012 - 5:54 am

    It’s a wonder with such horrible grammar that some people attest to being fluent in one language, let alone multiple languages.

    Reply
  100. juni -  January 10, 2012 - 4:28 am

    i grew up speaking 4 languages, and then actively acquired 3 other later on. So i speak 7 languages.. 3 more and i can then be a hyperpolyglot then .. hehe nah.. too late now.

    Reply
  101. HYPERPOLYGLOT | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  January 10, 2012 - 3:09 am

    [...] ‘Hyperpolyglot’ wants some crackers so as not to say a word — Polyglotulism from too many Apples borders on the absurd. — No matter, sounds like a mouth full for any prefix hyper — with every task and trade and performance art with different terms and forms and subtle languages combining until bitten by some viper — With the sniper of the thought police or those that rule the airwaves giving news-peak means to fit a particular addenda, all mortally mixed together, seeking propriety and some specific agenda.– Though simple talent it might be; It’s quite impressive we can see. –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]

    Reply
  102. joshua rodriguez -  January 10, 2012 - 2:24 am

    what do you call someone who can speak three languages? or four?
    and also, did guillermo just say make love?…
    because i can.

    speak in four languages that is. o.O

    Reply
  103. Hamachisn't -  January 10, 2012 - 1:59 am

    In some psychology class in college we learned that if a young child learns more than one language at a young age, they grow some pathways in the brain that will make it easier for them to learn more languages.

    I’m not sure whether I have that or not (probably not) but I studied Spanish in high school and have been learning Indonesian for the past 20 or 25 years… Strangely, I find that I can only hold one foreign language at a time in my brain. I can chat (online) in Indonesian, but then if I want to chat in Spanish with neighbors, my brain keeps trying to get me to throw in Indonesian words into the conversation. I kind of need to store away the Indonesian file somewhere and “load” the Spanish vocabulary before I can speak it, then “load” Indonesian again to speak that.

    Reply
  104. Angela -  January 10, 2012 - 1:56 am

    dictionary.com doesn’t have “hyperpolyglots” nor “hyperpolyglotism” on its list. Kindly update. Love the topic though! ^_^

    Reply
  105. Hyperpolyglot -  January 10, 2012 - 1:16 am

    Just tell everybody to learn English and the world will be fine.

    Reply
  106. Bob Rabinoff -  January 10, 2012 - 12:42 am

    One of the troubles with the US educational system is the lack of study of languages other than English (and a poor enough study of English too). The result, as someone once pointed out, is that people confuse English with thinking. Speaking more than one language greatly broadens the mind. I suspect one could correlate bigotry with monoglotty (?).

    Reply
  107. ALucas -  January 10, 2012 - 12:07 am

    I didn’t know Chinese was a language?

    Reply
  108. Regina -  January 9, 2012 - 11:50 pm

    COOL!!! I also want to lear another language. Hehe :D

    Reply
  109. tomsboat -  January 9, 2012 - 10:42 pm

    I’ve been learning English for 10+ years, any native English speakers want to learn Chinese? We could learn from each other, my email: lxz1883@gmail.com

    Reply
  110. Unknown -  January 9, 2012 - 10:23 pm

    Chinese is not a language. It’s a person. People either speak Mandarin or Cantonese.

    Reply
  111. Raye -  January 9, 2012 - 9:33 pm

    Amazing!

    Reply
  112. Amit -  January 9, 2012 - 9:12 pm

    I read, write and speak Bengali, Hindi, English and German, and I am 46 years old already. If I try hard and get time and chance, I may add a couple of languages more to my repertoire, but speaking 30 odd languages is really awesome. Since languages do not mean languages only, they mean different cultures and histories also.
    But this little Sonia is inspiring. Sometimes situational and occupational advantages also come handy.
    Anyway, it’s great undoubtedly!

    Reply
  113. antman -  January 9, 2012 - 8:29 pm

    Im male, left handed, have IQ of 135….and Damn! I can only blame my good immune system for getting me a B in High school French. =|

    Reply
  114. sprode -  January 9, 2012 - 8:27 pm

    Yeah, right. I have a hard time remembering two. As it is I’ve got fragments of two outside of English floating around in my brain. Before that I’ve taken French and don’t remember any of it.

    It would be nice to be young and to be able to start such projects again.

    Reply
  115. Chrisf -  January 9, 2012 - 8:00 pm

    Cyberquill on January 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm said:
    I’m a biglot, and that’s enough.

    I know what you mean, I’m sure. But I can’t help thinking, “I like to shop at Big Lots!”

    Reply
  116. Pendragon -  January 9, 2012 - 7:21 pm

    I only know English fluently.I take Latin in school and I know some Spanish, German, and French and I want to learn those languages fully and others too and be able to speak, read and write at least one of them fluently. I think it would be fantastic to be a hyperpolyglot! I wish my school offered more languages, I am offered only Spanish, Latin, and French.

    Reply
  117. South Korea!!!!!!!! -  January 9, 2012 - 6:51 pm

    I bet if South Koreans (such as myself) would devote even a little bit of time out of their studies to study languages, they learn 20 languages in a year. yeah, we are that smart(in exemption for a few thousand people in the population of Korea)! If you think that few thousand people that cant are a lot, think about it this way, my cousin was last place schoolwide, but when he came here, he was first. no offense!!!!

    Reply
    • Ishma Rotheinstein -  May 8, 2014 - 2:50 am

      To bad you Koreans are to far controlled by your government.
      To know any real knowledge such as languages.
      Who are you comparing your cousin against,
      American idiots, lol, try comparing with other Asians and see how good you Koreans really are.

      Reply
  118. Nshera -  January 9, 2012 - 5:58 pm

    Plus Portugese! 18! Essas línguas são fáceis para mim! Look it up!

    Reply
  119. Nshera -  January 9, 2012 - 5:56 pm

    I am also a hyperpolygot! :) :) :) :)

    Reply
  120. Nshera -  January 9, 2012 - 5:55 pm

    I can speak: French, Italian, Spanish, Krio, Creole, Mandarin Chinese, Twi, English, Patois, British, Albanian, Afrikaans, Swahili, Brible, Croatian, Yiddish, German, and Pig Latin if it counts as a language. What is that? I can speak 17 languages! WHAT!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  121. L.R. -  January 9, 2012 - 5:49 pm

    My parents and grandparents, all from India, speak a minimum of 11 languages each. My maternal grandmother speaks 14, and my paternal grandmother spoke 13…and neither of them had any formal education beyond 3rd grade. Despite the shortcomings of old-fashioned village life, both women were fluent in numerous languages – not because they came from some sort of “genius” or special stock, but because of necessity. In a country where each state has a different language (*not* a different dialect…but a proper language of its own), I think the mind adapts to learning languages far more quickly and easily than in a nation where everyone speaks the same tongue. Perhaps hyperpolyglotism isn’t necessarily a trait reserved to those who are “…male and left handed,…have immune disorders and high IQs…”; perhaps it is a trait that is developed for the same reason many other traits are developed – due to necessity and exposure to the opportunity to learn.

    Reply
  122. Vanessa -  January 9, 2012 - 5:20 pm

    Interesting article, but could you please remove that long and distracting link from the sixth paragraph?

    Reply
  123. Alexandra -  January 9, 2012 - 5:04 pm

    English, French, Spanish and Japanese… it’s enough for me, since I’m just 13. I’ll be learning Chinese next year.

    Reply
  124. douglas -  January 9, 2012 - 4:23 pm

    i am making up a language called strings

    Reply
  125. Alvin Gongora -  January 9, 2012 - 3:16 pm

    On top of Michael Erard’s considerations it must be emphasized that a thorough knowledge of one’s own first language is paramount. Our own native linguistic skills provides the foundation for us to build on as we open ourselves to the diversity out there in the www (wild wide world). In many cases such a foundation is of a bi or multicultural nature. If so, let those two or three native languages grow deep roots first before venturing out to more plurilinguist adventures.

    Reply
  126. hyperpolyglots -  January 9, 2012 - 3:16 pm

    FOR THE PERSON WHO SAID AM I A BLAH BLAH BLAH TRUST YOUR NOT SO FORGET IS

    Reply
  127. Agkcrbs -  January 9, 2012 - 2:53 pm

    Learning languages is great. It should be remembered that languages in closely related families (or borrowing and lending language) are more similar than unrelated languages. Hence, other members of the Chinese and Latin macrofamilies mentioned above are substantially easier to acquire (at least in some respects) once one of the sister languages is learned. Not that there’s any rule against numbering one’s similar languages — even modest fluency beyond one’s mother tongue is a great accomplishment, and accessing any new speaking community is worthwhile regardless of how dissimilar or difficult the language may be — but there is still a difference between learning Portuguese and Spanish, and learning Portuguese and Kazakh. My own rule of thumb is to fractionalise a language count based on similarity: I would count Indonesian, Mongolian, Cantonese, and Sinhalese as tetraglossia, but Indonesian, Malaysian, Cantonese and Hokkien as only triglossia.

    Reply
  128. Tal of Israel -  January 9, 2012 - 2:06 pm

    I’ve got 3 out of 4 of the hyperpolyglot characteristics (unless an indestructible immune system counts as an immune disorder…) and I am fluent in 2 languages, know 1 on a roughly conversational level and have at least some understanding of several others.
    As soon as I am able to I shall hightail my arse off to Europe to learn me some linguistic skills!

    Multilingualism rules!

    Reply
  129. Lefty -  January 9, 2012 - 1:44 pm

    Wow!! I wonder if Rosetta Stone even has an ad or promotes this?

    Reply
  130. Guillermo Soelter -  January 9, 2012 - 1:40 pm

    I met an Arab sailor that speak eight exotic languages: Turk, Russian, etc.
    It is very important to speak several strategical languages to do International business.
    I preffer speaking in their own languages than using the English or French. Clients like it more.
    Many people in the world speak at least five languages.
    I think is the greatest thing to do it.
    In my town, speaking English as a second language is a miracle. Mexicans see those who speak both English and Spanish as gurus!
    Whatever you might want to know, I am open to give forth answers.
    Let’s make love not war, Guillermo Soelter Mora.

    Reply
  131. Cyberquill -  January 9, 2012 - 1:38 pm

    I’m a biglot, and that’s enough.

    Reply
  132. Clare -  January 9, 2012 - 1:22 pm

    It is crazy how some people can do that! Go Sonia!

    Reply
  133. isaiah ramirez -  January 9, 2012 - 12:39 pm

    crazy that’s all i can say but i’m sure that cardinal guy could say that in 30 different ways

    Reply
  134. Amberlee -  January 9, 2012 - 12:33 pm

    Am I a hyperpolyglot, how do you know?

    Reply
  135. Beenish -  January 9, 2012 - 12:09 pm

    Wow! Will definitely be checking this book. Always wanted to learn languages but for now I am good with my two languages :)

    Reply

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