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Can some people really speak 10 or 30 languages?

Have you ever wondered how some people can learn several languages? It is fascinating to speak with people who know 2, 3 or 5 languages. They are usually reach in experiences as they have contact with several countries and multiple cultures. But what about people who can fluently speak 30?!

The Guardian published a great article about hyperpolyglots (link). These are people who speak many languages, sometimes in 12 or even 30. It is fascinating to hear how their thinking is affected by this knowledge.

In the article, Susanna Zaraysky mentions that she constantly switches between languages in her head. She’s starting a thought in one language and when she feels that a particular word from a different language is most suited, she simply switches over and continues in that language until the next change is needed.

This changing of the language must give her several perspectives on any subject!

Being able to speak multiple language might sometimes resemble an addiction. Susanna says that after longer periods of speaking in one language, she yearns for conversation in other languages – ideally with other polyglots so she can use more than one language in a conversation. Strange addiction, isn’t it?

On top of that, Susanna says that she prefers different languages depending on her mood and situation. For instance, she sees Russian, her mother tongue, as a melancholy language and Brazilian Portuguese as flirtatious. That is just amazing. We probably don’t realise how much our lives are affected by the languages we speak.

The article mentions few other hyperpolyglots and how they learned so many languages. Some of them started learning new languages as adults with poor language school results – so it’s never too late to be multilingual!

However, statistically speaking, only a tiny part of the world’s population are multilingual. According to ilangauge.org 40% of the world population is monolingual. They also claim that around 43% of the population is bilingual, and not surprisingly only less than 1% of the population speaks 5 or more languages fluently. Hyperpolyglots speaking more than 5 are even harder to find.

Here’s to the human brain! We are all capable of speaking foreign languages, we just need to put a bit of effort into it. So, go on, pick up that holiday Spanish phrase book!…

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