Revealing the secret of hyperpolyglottism


Living in multilingual and multicultural societies, many people meet the demand of knowing several languages with high enthusiasm. However, still many of them tend to stop with two or four excusing themselves that it is enough, or they do not have time, or they do not possess propensity to learning languages, or even that they are too old to learn. Looking at the next two persons, one can confidently argue that everything people find for their apology is no more than a bedtime story.



This is Ziad Fazah, a hyperpolyglot – which is the term for those who can speak 12 or more languages (Smallwood, 2013) –  from Lebanon. Currently he is a holder of the Guinness World Record for knowing the largest number of languages, and, as he claims, he is proficient in almost 60 (Williams, 2012).




Even more striking example is Sir John Bowring, the 4th leader of Hong Kong, who is considered the speaker of the greatest number of languages ever known by history. Fairly, he was able to understand 200 languages and could speak 100 of them (Smallwood, 2013).


Ziad Farah and Sir John look like quite ordinary people who probably went through the whole process of acquiring foreign language as every language learner does. Some begin with studying grammar, vocabulary, and struggling how to keep in mind all those rules and words and not to sound like a robot when using them in speech. Others, in contrast, are luckier, and have a chance to learn the language through exposure to the target language speaking environment. Furthermore, it is widely agreed that once you acquired one foreign language it becomes easier and easier to assimilate all subsequent ones. If so, why do so few people exploit this opportunity? Is it, perhaps, the truth that mastering many languages is a gift that is not for an average person?

Definitely, no. Though some theories espouse an idea that hyperpolyglottism can be the hallmark of people with high IQ scores (Erard, 2005), can be the result of mental diseases such as autism, and even can be inherent to left-handed people or musicians (Constantine, 2012), the counterarguments seem to be stronger and more realistic. The reason why these arguments deserve more support is that they are based on experiences of ordinary people with ordinary brains, who could take the linguistic risk and deal with it successfully while the previous cases might be just a coincidence (Smallwood, 2013).

As an illustration, William Lee Adams (2006) in his article “We’re all potential polyglots” maintains that IQ score can do nothing unless you are interested in and imbued by learning foreign languages, demonstrate enough motivation and efforts, and, of course, have access to foreign tongues. The good example of a person demonstrated strong desire and motivation, and perhaps a bit of stubbornness, is Emil Krebs. When he was told that it is impossible to know every language in the world he asked about the hardest one and achieved advanced proficiency in that language to show that human brain’s capacity is unlimited (Smallwood, 2013). David Robson (2015) adds that such factors as continuous exposure to foreign culture, especially imitating foreign style of speaking, intonation and accent can play a crucial role as well. Further, he elaborates on the example of Michael Levi Harris, an actor who could master 10 languages on the advanced level by his method of “adopting new cultural skin”. Harris also shared some tips with the author, which helped him in his job of imitation. Particularly, he suggests imitating the words without thinking about spelling (just listen and repeat) and offers to pay more attention to facial expression. Finally, he tells not to be scared of producing some strange sounds and just feel as if those sounds were natural for you. These advice can help language learner to own foreign words, and, as Harris concluded: “When you own words you can speak more confidently, which is how people will engage with you” (Robson, 2015). Michael Erard (2005) presents another interesting example of Lomb Kato who, according to her words, had no extraordinary talent to languages, but what she did to learn 16 of them was reading fiction, especially she preferred novels. In a word, all the examples show that you do not necessarily have to be gifted; you already have a genius hidden in your personal features and waiting for you to wake him up.

As shown above, hyperpolyglottism seems to be achievable for every person in the world, and this can be proved by many people who are already beating the records of knowing many languages. My final remark is that there is no secret on how to become a hyperpolyglot for anyone who is full of inspiration about learning.


PS. Could not leave without sharing this video with you- This boy speaking 20 languages within 15 minutes is just awesome!



Adams, W. L. (2006, May). Could you learn 40 languages? We’re are all potential polyglots. Psychology Today, 39(3). Retrieved from

Constantine, P. (2012, January 25). The art of speaking in many tongues [Review of the book Babel No More. The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners, by M. Erard]. International Herald Tribune, 16. Retrieved from

Erard, M. (2005). The gift of the gab. New Scientist, 185(2481), 40-43. Retrieved from

Robson, D. (2015, May 29). How to learn 30 languages. BBC. Retrieved from

Smallwood, K. (2013, July 31). The contested title of the person who speaks the most languages. Retrieved from

Williams, A. (2012, July 29). 10 most impressive polyglots in world history [Web log post]. Retrieved from




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