Why do people become polyglots

The Polyglot Phenomenon: What Is Your Language Secret?

They are the virtuosos of the foreign language world and not only fascinate researchers: Polyglot people who speak many different languages ​​and are constantly learning new ones exert a very special attraction on outsiders. Because it almost seems as if you can actually learn a foreign language in your sleep. So what's your secret?

When is a person considered to be polyglot?

Learning a foreign language is always a great challenge - so it's no wonder that most people stop dealing with the topic after one (usually English).

Those who are really ambitious, however, dare to approach one or maybe two other foreign languages ​​and are therefore considered to be exceptions. But from how many foreign languages ​​does a language student count as polyglot?

This question has not yet been answered using a uniform definition. When it comes to clarifying how many foreign languages ​​a polyglot must master in order to be able to carry this title, the answer is usually: “Many” or “several”.

By the way: In German, polyglots are sometimes also called multilingual people.

The fact is: The number 10 has now established itself as the “magic limit”. Anyone who crosses this is not only a polyglot, but is also allowed to act as a hyperpolyglot describe.

Also with regard to the Quality of language skills and the fact whether the foreign language is “only” passively or actively mastered, there is no uniform regulation.

Info: Anyone who has a passive command of a language is able to understand it. Active mastery is when you can use the language yourself in spoken and written form.


The basic principle is: people who Mastering an above-average number of foreign languages ​​(both active and passive) and learning new ones again and again with very little effort, can be called a polyglot. To outsiders, these people often appear to have far fewer problems with foreign language teaching than others.

Well-known polyglot

Even if polyglot people can be described as a “fringe phenomenon”, people keep appearing on the scene or in the media who draw attention to themselves through their above-average knowledge of foreign languages.

If you take a look into the past, the names come up particularly often Sir John Bowring (Writer), Heinrich Schliemann (Archaeologist) and Emil Krebs (Diplomat, translator and interpreter).

But even today, polyglots keep attracting attention with their abilities. The most famous multilingual speakers of our time are:


That there are many more polyglots in the world is proven time and again at meetings. In 2015, for example, around 350 multilingual people met in Berlin. At the time, the Tagesspiegel reported with a wink, but also accurately about “Babylonian conditions” in the city.

What is special about polyglot people?

While most people are already overwhelmed by the second foreign language, it seems the easiest thing in the world for Polyglottes to repeatedly dive into a completely new vocabulary. The Greek Ioannis Ikonomou even says that he learned some languages ​​- such as Swahili - just for fun. For many language students this is absolutely unimaginable.

But what exactly is it now Secret of the polyglot? Why do you seem to learn a foreign language casually while other people grapple with grammar rules for years and still not internalize it?

The answer is: it is a Mix of different factorswhich we would of course be happy to shed light on for you.

  • Curiosity: Curiosity is an important driver for polyglots. Many of them feel the inner urge to learn a new foreign language again and again - even if the last one has not been mastered for long. This special form of motivation is a decisive aspect for the fascinating learning success of multilingual people.

  • Intelligence: No question about it - anyone who can learn many foreign languages ​​has to be an above-average intelligent person. Of course, polyglots have long aroused the interest of brain researchers around the world. One of their results: multilingual people use the insular cortex, a small part of the brain, which is also known as the insula or islet cortex, particularly intensively. The functions of this cortex have not yet been fully explored, but it is assumed that it is important for auditory thinking - especially language-mediating - responsible. Or in other words: strange and unfamiliar sound patterns - for example those of a foreign language - are saved right here.

  • Specific goals: While the Super Polyglott Bros Michael and Matthew were learning their first foreign languages ​​for upcoming trips, Ioannis Ikonomou wanted to understand the tourists on the Greek beaches. These two examples make it particularly clear how important personal motivation is for the success of foreign language teaching. Whether polyglot or not - if you have no individual reasons for learning a foreign language, it will be difficult to celebrate success.

  • Openness to foreign cultures and people: Even if polyglots cannot of course be pigeonholed, they still have one special characteristic in common - namely openness. For people who speak other languages, foreign cultures and (in general) the unknown. Only those who have this all-encompassing openness are able to learn many different foreign languages.

  • Special learning methods: Multilingual people are true foreign language experts and as such have mostly acquired very special learning methods over the years. A technique used by many polyglots can be roughly summarized as follows: Surround yourself as best you can in a foreign language and let it become part of your everyday life. In addition - this is also confirmed by most polyglot people - it is of crucial importance to get in touch with native speakers and to intensify the skills you have learned with them.

  • Perseverance: Last but not least, polyglots always have staying power. Because even if it usually doesn't look like it, a new foreign language won't fall into their laps either.


Can I become a polyglot too?

This question can not be answered on a general basis. Because even if a person has a basic interest in foreign languages, that does not automatically mean that they are willing to learn five or more of them.

It is of course important that the above-mentioned aspects apply to you and that you are generally willing to invest a lot of time in foreign language lessons. If you can also claim that learning a new language is basically easy for you, then you are well on the way to becoming a polyglot.

Polyglot people are fascinating and provide impressive proof that it is never too late to learn a foreign language. Even if they cannot be compared to the “masses” in terms of their language skills, they are a great inspiration for anyone who wants to face the challenges of a new language. So it is definitely worthwhile to deal with the life and learning methods of different multilingual speakers.