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elchoopanebre's avatar

Who speaks the most languages in the world?

Asked by elchoopanebre (3069 points ) June 30th, 2008

With the recent questions and constant Fluther discussion about languages, I began to wonder something;

Who knows the most languages in the world and how many does that person speak?

I’ve scoured the internet but I’m a pretty terrible internet researcher.

Any help would be vastly appreciated.

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15 Answers

elchoopanebre's avatar

Yeah, that’s insane…

srmorgan's avatar

I remember reading something by Mario Pei while I was in college, probably an assignment from an elective course in Linguistics that I took as a senior.
It was said that he spoke more of the world’s languages than anyone else.

He was a graduate of my alma mater, CCNY, but he was a professor just down the street at Columbia.

Here is the wikipedia citation for anyone who is interested

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario_Pei

SRM

demogear's avatar

My guess would be the Pope.

elchoopanebre's avatar

@srmorgan

I read about Mario Pei and then I clicked on “Polyglot” which brought me to “Multilingualism.”

According to Wikipedia, “Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world’s population.”

Very interesting…makes me want to get on the ball.

srmorgan's avatar

@eichoopanebre

I work for a company based in Germany and almost all of my colleagues speak English with some degree of competency and fluency. In our US and Canadian affiliates, combined, we have only a few people who can speak more than just English, In Canada one speaks German and other languages but she was born in Europe. Another speaks German because of German parentage and a few speak French due to being raised in Quebec.

In the US, only one speaks fluent German, two speak fluent Spanish as they are of Mexican heritage and I can stumble along in Spanish, French, German and Yiddish.

In Germany the children now start English classes at third or fourth grade and if they want Russian or French or Italian or Spanish, that is available later on in their schools.

My children had NO opportunity to start a foreign language in school until 9th grade. My daughter speaks German well enough that she was able to work for my employer in “Germany for a year and she was able to converse and correspond with German customers, not just English speakers. One of the other two is also terrific in German. The middle child just has no ear for foreigh language, at least not in an academic setting.

A shame. I started Spanish in 6th grade in New York City 45 years ago and continued with it for 7 years, I took French in college and German as an adult when I began working for my current employer. As I said, I stumble around in German and French but I still have the ability to understand some of what I hear and I don’t have to guess at what I might be ordering from a menu. It is a real advantage just to have some exposure.

If I were younger than 25 years of age, I would be learning Mandarin or Japanese or Spanish or Korean or Tagalog or maybe Arabic.

SRM

elchoopanebre's avatar

@srmorgan

Thank you for your detailed answer.

I took Latin in Middle school (I probably remember less than 20 words) and Spanish in high school (It was way too easy and consequently I learned nothing).

I wasn’t serious about either of them so they were basically no help to me.

Now that I’m in college, however, I see the importance of foreign languages and have motivation. I just started Italian and really want to get serious about learning it. I’m hoping Italian will make a nice segue into other Romance languages- mainly Spanish and Portuguese…who knows- we’ll see. :-)

Trance24's avatar

God isn’t present on Earth. He is supposedly a universal being not a person. =] Therefore he is irrelevant to the question.

elchoopanebre's avatar

@Trance24

How the hell does that relate to “Who speaks the most languages in the world?”

JackAdams's avatar

I notice that PIG LATIN and “Ubbi dubbi” are missing from the list of languages of which Ziad Fazah claims fluency.

August 28, 2008, 6:38 AM EDT

swampturtle's avatar

I arrived at this site by asking ask.com.the same question.I am a nurse and once worked with a MD that that was fluent in 5 languages,

Sogeking's avatar

I don’t know about other people, but I speak English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit. I am also currently studying Russian, Portugese, and Japanese. (20 y/o by the way)

SoCerebral's avatar

At my peak, I could communicate 16 languages, but it’s almost impossible to maintain fluency without regular writing, reading and conversation. Since I moved to the US, it’s been all but impossible to find people with whom to communicate in all my languages. My Spanish has improved though! For background, I moved from Europe to Africa as a child and then basically commuted back and forth between continents. I was exposed to foreign langauges at a very early age. By age of 8, I was studying English, French, Greek and Latin. By the time I graduated the equivalent of American high school, I had studied the aforementioned, and also Spanish, Russian, Shona, Ndebele, Afrikaans. By college, I had added Italian, Dutch… and so on. I just kept adding as I went along, Japanese, Tagalog, Portuguese etc. I have remained fluent in four languages and conversationally competent in another four or five. If I dedicated my entire life to the cause, I am certain I could achieve fluency in 16 simultaneously, but family, the need for a paying job, personal responsibilities, they all preclude such dreams!

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