A polyglot is somebody who speaks several languages (from the Greek poly = many, glotta = tongue). However, a new breed of hyper-polyglots has risen: people who were not happy with just a few languages, and have spent their lives learning to speak as many languages as possible.
The hyper-polyglot in the BBC News article, Ray Gillion, speaks 18 (!) languages, and his wife speaks 6. We’re not talking about him just dipping into that many langauges, he can speak all of those languages at a fluent or near fluent level. Yes, it’s OK to feel jealous at his achievements, because they have been matched by very few other people.
The key to Gillion’s success has been his love of languages, and the fact that no matter how many he studies, he still finds the process of learning just as fascinating as he always has. For his work he has travelled around Europe and the world, picking up languages as he goes.
Further explanation of how hyper-polyglots are able to do what they do can be found in the article:
So what enables hyperpolyglots to seemingly pick up a new language at the push of a button?
Erard says it is hard to explain, but whatever an individual’s biographical reasons are, he believes there is something that distinguishes hyperpolyglots neurologically.
“They have a neurological hardware that responds to the world, that’s fed by the world, that is suited to a pattern that is recognition-heavy, sound-heavy and memory-heavy – that is very structured, and also very sociable.
“They have an ability to switch between languages very easily, and that involves cognitive skills which are often heritable,” he adds.
But Gillon says he has no idea what the secret to his success is.
He says some “blocks” – Germanic, Slavic, Latin – make it “easier to go with the flow, and language becomes intuitive”. He agrees that by the third or fourth language, it also gets easier to assimilate vocabulary and grammar much more quickly.
“Etymology is a sport for me. I enjoy looking up the origin of words and seeing which particular invasion was responsible for bringing that word into our vocabulary. I am immersed in it for my work and it will continue to intrigue me for every day of my life.”
But he concludes: “I can’t explain it – if I could, I would bottle and sell it.”