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Someone who speaks two languages is often referred to as bilingual and someone who speaks three is trilingual, but what do we call people who speak four or more?

Geniuses? Well the correct term is polyglot, and believe it or not, a word has even been invented for those few people who speak six or more. These people are referred to as hyperpolyglots!

After all of the recent press about British children giving up language after the last government made language learning optional from the age of 14, it’s hard to imagine there being many hyperpolyglots in the UK.

Ray Gillon is a British hyperpolyglot who speaks an astounding 18 languages! Eight of these he speaks fluently and the other 10 he speaks conversationally, and they’re not even from the same language family. Among his 18 languages are Thai, Turkish, Russian, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Bulgarian and Mandarin.

Although Ray Gillon first started learning French and Latin at school, and later German at university, he is a self-taught linguist who developed his language skills by travelling around the world.

It wasn’t until he started working in the south of France that he had any enthusiasm for languages. His next job took him around the world, and as he travelled he picked up the languages of the countries he was visiting.

Ray Gillon now supervises foreign language versions of Hollywood films, meaning that he has to keep up to date with his languages. He does this by revising grammar, reading newspapers, watching television, and speaking to his Swedish wife who speaks six languages!

Among other polyglots are Alex Rawlings, an Oxford University student who speaks 11 languages, and Matt Withers, who speaks six languages. Unlike Ray Gillon who travelled around the world, Matt Withers signed up to a series of courses to learn languages. He believes that in order to learn other languages you need to know the grammar of your own language.

So why is it that some people have the ability to learn so many languages? or do we all have the hidden ability?

Ray Gillon says that by the third or fourth language it becomes easier to assimilate grammar and vocabulary, but other than that, he can’t explain his ability to speak so many languages.

Do you think that polyglots are able to learn so many languages for biological reasons or because of their persistence to keep learning?

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