More in the podcast this week with Michael Erard about his new book, Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners. This is the second half of my conversation with Erard. Part One is here.
Erard talks about why hyperpolyglots are driven to learn so many languages. He also describes the lives and practices of several language super learners:
Alexander Arguelles, who spends nine hours a day, divided into twenty-minute chunks, on language-learning. It used to be fourteen hours a day before he got married.
Gregg Cox, dubbed the “Greatest Living Linguist” in 1999 by the Guinness Book of World Records. Guinness credits him with speaking 64 languages, though he says he doesn’t speak that many.
Helen Abadzi, who drills the sounds of languages into her brain with the help of a device called a digital language repeater. The repeater plays digitally recorded audio snippets over and over at various speeds.
Erard conducted an online survey of hyperpolyglots. In the podcast, he talks about the results. He also talks about how writing the book influenced his own thinking—like when can you say that you know a language? As far as the US government is concerned, it’s if you speak it at home. But in Canada, the government is more likely to credit you for having learned a language, even if you don’t speak it at home or work or school. So, Erard now believes that the US government underreports the number of US residents who speak more than one language.
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