A bilingual speaks two languages. To what extent the speaker knows both languages may vary. One of the languages is going to be a native language. The proficiency level of the second language can range from knowing very little all the way up to having a second native language. Although technically all these speakers would be bilingual, very often the term “bilingual” is used for speakers that have a native or native-like level of language proficiency in both languages. The term multilingual is used to refer to people who speak two or more languages, being generally reserved for speakers of more than three languages.
How do you become a master of multiple languages? That is the question central to Michael Erard’s new book, “Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Langauge Learners.” The New York Times describes it as “part travelogue, part science lesson, part intellectual investigation” and “an entertaining, informative survey of some of the most fascinating polyglots of our time.”
Here’s more information from the book’s website:
If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you know how much time, energy, and brain power is required. Imagine a person who can pick up languages very easily. Someone who can navigate our world’s multilingual hullaballoo. Who can leap language barriers with a single bound. Who can learn without effort and remember indelibly. Such people aren’t parrots. They’re not computers. They’re language superlearners.
Michael Erard searched for these people, and when he found them — in history books and living among us — he tried to make sense of their linguistic feats and their mental powers. His book answers the age-old question, What are the upper limits of the human ability to learn, remember, and use languages?
Timothy Doner, a 16 year old sophomore from New York has become part of the small community of persons who are multilingual (hyperpolyglots). He currently knows over a dozen languages and has astonishingly learned them in less than five years. His quest at becoming multilingual began at 13 after learning some Hebrew for his bar mitzvah. He does not think of language entirely as a form of communication but more of as a science. Timothy Doner, among other hyperpolyglots defy the critical period hypothesis.
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