In polyglot heaven, the language-to-person ratio isn’t necessarily a symmetrical one.
Ok, no idea what that means, but the truth is while there are so many languages spoken in the world, research shows that only half of the world is bilingual. So if you’re wondering how to be someone who speaks the most languages, you’ll be ahead of half the world if you learn just 2.
There’s only a select few individuals that actually speak a lot of them. By “a lot”, I mean 10, 20 or even 30 (and more) languages spoken by one person. Wow!
Naturally, the question arises: who speaks the most languages in the world? Who are the world’s most inspiring polyglots today? Let’s dive right in!
42 languages; Guinness World Record holder
Powell Janulus is one of the names that almost immediately pops up on the topic of polyglots. At age 18, he could already speak 13 languages fluently. Some say it’s in his genes, as Powell’s father, who was Lithuanian, spoke 4 languages while his mother, who was Polish, spoke 6.
Be that as it may, Powell still holds the Guinness World Record for most languages spoken, which he set all the way back in 1985, and nobody’s touched it since. The record: fluency in 42 languages! What’s even more impressive is how he got this record…
For each of the 42 languages, he had to pass a two-hour conversation exam with native speakers, who judged and confirmed his fluency. What a grueling process! Impressive!
34 languages; The Unexpected Polyglot
Okay, so… Emanuele Marini is one of those people who you’ve either heard a lot about in recent years or he’s someone you know absolutely nothing about. As to why, Emanuele was only recently discovered as one of the world’s biggest polyglots when he appeared at the Polyglot Conference – by chance! While attending the conference, he claimed to speak a plethora of global languages, and he actually got tested live. Everyone was shocked to find out about him.
Emanuele says that his methods for learning new languages involve reading books he finds interesting in a target language, and then using a dictionary to decipher the meanings of words. He then compliments that with language exchanges and actually traveling to the countries where these languages are spoken to get a better grasp of each new language he learns.
So, what has this interesting strategy yielded for Emanuel over the years? A whopping 34 languages! Wow… just wow!
22 languages; The World’s Youngest Hyperpolyglot
You might know Timothy Doner from the famous five-week Teen Polyglot Challenge in 2014. Teens were challenged to begin learning a new language and record themselves for others to see. Well, what you might not know about Timothy is that his polyglot journey actually started by listening to music… by accident!
At age 13, Timothy had memorized around 20 songs in Hebrew but only later realized that he had already learned a few hundred words without even trying! How cool is that?!
Timothy is a Harvard student who currently speaks 22 world languages. He’s spoken at many conferences and events, including speeches at Apple, TedxTeen, and Sapphire. He also runs a pretty engaging YouTube channel called Polyglot Pal, where he helps others learn more languages on their polyglot journey.
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This young person perhaps unknown to most people, although the news from BBC to New York Times mentioned about him as "hyperpolyglot" "a teenager who speaks 20 languages" "if the standard of speaking a language is to know every word — to feel equally at home debating nuclear fission and classical music — then hardly anyone is fluent in their own native tongues" Timothy Doner His name is Timothy doner, the very first language that he learnt was Hebrew at the age of thirteen, and then move to Arabic and other languages, such as: Chinese, Hindi, Turkish, French, German, Indonesian, Swahili, Xhosa and other languages. He often mentioned as a "hyper polyglot" which means someone who is able to speak multiple-languages. "But while I’ve come to realize I’ll never be fluent in 20 languages, I’ve also understood that language is about being able to converse with people, to see beyond cultural boundaries and find a shared humanity. And that’s a lesson well worth learning" – Timothy Doner So, how many languages have we learned?
16 languages; LingQ Co-Founder & Internet Polyglot
If you’re into language learning apps, chances are you’ve heard of Steve Kaufmann. According to Steve, everyone is capable of becoming fluent in a second or third (or ninth) language – and he has proof! Until the age of seventeen, Steve could only speak English. Today, he speaks 16 languages and is on pace to learn his 17th one soon.
His strategy for learning new languages relies heavily on vocabulary building and word mastery. Steve encourages everyone to follow his methods. In fact, he used these same strategies to build LingQ, a language learning app helping learners around the world learn 21 languages.
He also runs a language learning blog called The Linguist and is a very active YouTuber.
16 languages; Esperanto Lover; IPA-Certified Expert
Cesco Reale is an Italian phonetics and pronunciation expert certified by the IPA. He is also an avid Esperanto speaker and researcher, and is the UN representative of the World Esperanto Association. His total for languages spoken? 16!
Cesco is one of the proud organizers of many language-related events, including the Polyglot Gathering. You can follow his work and work with him online via his YouTube channel.
13 languages; Learner of Two, Master of All
Luca Lampariello’s polyglot story is an interesting one. His unique approach to learning new languages actually involves two languages at a time! Basically, what Luca does is he learns new vocabulary and grammar by reading bilingual texts and constantly comparing the original text to the translated one. This is called bidirectional translation.
Luca currently speaks 13 world languages. What is also interesting is that he can imitate the native accent in all those languages very closely – so much that not even a native speaker could catch his Italian roots. Amazing command of accent!
Luca also passionately teaches others about learning new languages on his popular online blog and YouTube channel. Check him out!
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I spent 2 incredible weeks in Poland. Even when travelling, i stuck to learning my beloved Greek every day, skipping only 2 days. I had my first real long conversation in Greek 10 days ago and i could not believe my ears because I was really speaking it! Smart, daily work pays off. Always. #languagelearning #languagecoach #languages #polyglot #lucalampariello
13 languages; Master Multilingual Teacher
Elisa Polese can speak and teach 13 languages, but even more so, she can speak a lot more at a lower level, making her total of languages spoken at more than 20! How amazing is that?!
Elisa is a very well-known speaker at international conferences and has traveled the world teaching foreign languages. She also runs a super-cool online blog called Speak From Day One with Elisa and posts regularly on her YouTube channel.
11 languages; Founder of Omniglot
Simon Ager is one of those people who just loves languages! He speaks 11 world languages and has a basic knowledge of at least another 13. So, make that a whopping 24 languages!
What has really helped to expand his polyglot portfolio is the fact that he has lived in 6 countries so far. In fact, he could speak only one language fluently at age 14. Note: it’s never too late for you to start learning new languages!
Today, Simon runs the Omniglot website, which serves as an encyclopedia of sorts for dozens of world languages, as well as the Omniglot blog, where he writes about learning new languages and different language rules and systems.
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My name badge for the Polyglot Conference in Ljubljana. The flags represent languages I know : C = fluent, B = intermediate level, and A = basic level. I got a bit carried away 🙂 Fy bathodyn ar gyfer y Gynghadledd Amlieithog yn Ljubljana. Mae'r banerau yn cynrychioli yr ieithoedd dw i'n gwybod: C = rhugl, B = lefel canolog, ac A = lefel sylfaenol. Mi gollais i arnaf i fy hun tipyn bach 🙂 #polyglotconference #cynghadleddamlieithog #ljubljana #slovenia #slofenia #PolyConf18
And how many languages do you speak?
Make sure to let us know in the comments below. Also, leave your thoughts on what other stories related to language learning you would like to hear about next.
Hope you enjoyed this post! We have plenty more inspiring posts for language learners!
Writer: Jasmin Alić
Writer Bio: Jasmin Alić is an award-winning EFL/ESL teacher and writing aficionado from Bosnia and Herzegovina with years of experience in multicultural learning environments.