Polyglot speaks 32 languages

Article of him: http://www.athensnews.gr/issue/13383/21545

Mehrsprachigkeit und Integration "Mehrsprachigkeit und Integration": Auftakt der telc Kommunikationsoffensive am 28. Januar 2010 - YouTube (fast forward to 3:44 to hear him speak German)

If he speaks all languages as well as he spoke German in that short passage, then he is truly amazing. He sounded very convincing to me, but I’d love to see and hear more from him.

P.S. I just read the article you linked to. He really seems to have an impressive linguistic background supporting his claim.

Wow, so amazing!
I have trouble with learning one only language. :slight_smile:

Ioannis Ikonomou: El traductor griego que habla 32 lenguas

p.s. Ο Έλληνας μεταφραστής που μιλάει 32 γλώσσες (greek)

Meanwhile here I am, struggling to learn English and Spanish… haha

I have read a newspaper article about him a few years back. As a seasoned language learner I usually take claims like these with more than a grain of salt. Having said that I am sure he is a very accomplished linguist and language learner and I am sure he is very fluent and proficient in many of the languages on his scorecard, but certainly not all of them.

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What is your language ‘scorecard’, Friedemann?

Let’s assume it looks something like this:

English C2+ (near native)
Norwegian C2
Spanish C1 (?)
French C1 (?)
Mandarin C1 (?)

Now let’s devise a polyglot rating system:

A1 (1 point) A2 (2 points) B1 (4 points) B2 (6 points) C1 (9 points) C2 (12 points) C2+ (15 points). 3 bonus points for each exotic language.

That would give you 57 polyglot points - pretty impressive.

But if this guy speaks 32 languages even at only level A2, he is still going to have more points than you! :smiley:

ad Friedemann: I read a Spanish article about him today. Unless the journalist writing the article made that up, he actually has 14 “working languages”. If he works in these 14 languages for the European Commission as a translator and/or interpreter (I’m not really sure what he does since they kept mixing up “interpreter” and “translator” in the article) then he must have a very high level of proficiency in all of them (at least passively). The recruitment procedure for EU institutions is strict and tests are very demanding.

As for the other languages, he is said to be able to converse in them to different degrees. He is not actually claiming to be fluent in all of them and I’m sure that even amongst his working languages he has some he feels more comfortable using than others.

I do agree with you, however, that it is always wise to treat such claims with a grain of salt (sometimes it seems an entire bag of salt would be more appropriate ;-)).

I am always amazed at how relatively poor the translation feed is on CNN or other programs (various languages into English). These people translating an interview with heads of state or celebrities should be better, I think, than they are in most cases. All these examples I have in mind are translations into English which should be a strong language for most interpreters working in it. I don’t mind an accent but ideally a translation should have a natural flow and fluid phrasing but in many cases I have seen on TV the quality of the translation actually reduces the joy of listening to that particular person.

The other day I was watching a press conference with the new Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang and the official interpreter (or translator?) sitting next to him sounded stiff and not very natural to me. And that is in China, with a a huge pool of talent and certainly a tradition for hard work. The way it worked during the press conference was that Li would say a couple of sentences and then the translator would translate into English after he had finished, the same for questions in Cinese from the audience.

I remember when I was a teen or so they had one interpreter on German TV, I never saw his face but I recognised his voice and he was really great. From his voice he was a native German. The translation audible to the viewer was always his German voice when he translated back to German and never the other languages so I cannot judge his abilities in these languages but his German translation was always flawless in terms of flow and phrasing, even though he was translating while the other person was speaking (Simultanübersetzung, wie sagt man das in Englisch?).

But in many other cases I am usually not too impressed with the quality of translation even on CNN and other leading media outlets.

A measly 57 polyglot points, Friedemann. That means you’re coming in below Steve, Luca, Robert, Richard, et al. Even Benny may have the better of you!

Maybe it’s time to start a new language? :slight_smile:

Of course I’m only kidding - but you are a competitive kind of guy, right? So maybe it would be fun to have a kind of league table for online-polyglots? (I think the rating system I devised above is pretty fair!)

ad Friedemann:

(…) I am always amazed at how relatively poor the translation feed is on CNN or other programs (various languages into English). These people translating an interview with heads of state or celebrities should be better, I think, than they are in most cases. (…)

Some may be not as good as others but most work under quite difficult circumstances. Of course, professional interpreters should be used to working under pressure and I guess most of us are. I agree with you that speaking with an accent is not that big an issue. A natural flow would be great but it may not always be that easy to achieve. After all, there are many speakers whose “flow of the language” leaves a lot to be desired too. The quality of the technical equipment may also be an issue. And finally, interpreters have good and bad days.

Lots of people are put off by the fact that sometimes you can still hear the original while listening to the interpretation (especially in TV shows). I, too, think this is really unpleasant for the listener, especially if the original is too loud. The interpreter has no say whatsoever in these things even though they may have a major influence on how his work is perceived.

By the way, interpreting always refers to the spoken “transfer from one language to another”, while the work of a translator only involves written texts. So, strictly speaking there is no “Simultanübersetzung” in German, it should always be “Simultandolmetschung” which in English is “simultaneous interpreting/interpretation” (I know lots of TV stations use the term “simultaneous translation” or “Simultanübersetzung” but as a technical term this is incorrect).

An interpreter will hardly ever sound as relaxed as the original speaker unless both know each other really well and are on good terms.

In many cases the interpreter is not given enough background information before the interview. This may seem of little importance if you as a speaker have dealt with a specific topic for weeks, months or even years, but an interpreter will have to work for Mr. X today and for Mr. Y tomorrow or maybe on the same day in the afternoon, covering a totally different topic.

When you have to interpret between people who have known each other for a long time but you have not been given any detailed info about what they are going to talk about, they might actually resort to a lot of personalized abbreviations or they may simply use “half sentences” and a lot of insinuations which are completely obvious to them but make your life as an interpreter really difficult.

Personally, I find simultaneous interpreting a lot easier than consecutive interpreting (where you have to remember entire sentences, sometimes filled with names and figures and you are not always given the opportunity to take notes either). It is a lot easier to sound natural too if you speak more or less at the same time as the original speaker, at least that is the way I see things.

The worst are press conferences. Even if you are given a certain “topic” you will never know if there won’t be somebody in the audience trying to “crack a joke” or referring to a completely different topic simply because he knows the person you are interpreting for from somewhere else.

I remember having interpreted at the inauguration of a synagogue. The organizer refused to provide us with any information as to what the speech will actually be about, supposedly because it was a “delicate matter” (they always say stuff like that when they were too lazy to prepare a proper abstract ;-)). So, I just tried to read as much about Judaism and synagogues as possible.

I was on safe ground for the first 10 minutes and then a guy from the audience started talking about how a piece of a mosaic reminded him of the paintings of an artist from his childhood days and all of a sudden those guys started a discussion on modern painting! This is when things get really tough and this is also when you may stop sounding “natural and relaxed” as an interpreter. I was lucky because one of my best friends has an art gallery so I was doing fine - well, at least that’s what I like to think and my clients seemed to be happy too. But I can assure you, as much as I tried to look relaxed and professional my guts probably felt like they were put through a mincer :wink: You are out there on your own, no dictionary, no colleague to assist you and worst of all, little to prepare you with for such an incident.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that there certainly are some interpreters out there who are less qualified than others and some might actually be really bad, but I think to be fair we also need to take into account the circumstances under which most interpreters have to work.

Interpreting is not an art, it is a craft. You are not left out there for hours to leisurely think about how you could phrase things, people expect you to come up with perfectly formulated sentences right off the bat. Consequently what you get at the end of the day is not a piece of art to marvel at, but hopefully a tool you can work with. And if the “raw material” (i. e. the quality of the original speech, comment etc.) is of poor quality, you are even expected to “refine” the speech (not change its content, of course, but if we always phrased our sentences the way some speakers do, the audience would start throwing tomatoes at us;-)).

There are days when I think my interpretation sounds really nice and pleasant to listen to and then there are times when I am happy I “survived”, meaning that I got the message across. I know you are very good at Mandarin and you can therefore definitely judge whether somebody managed to render the contents of a speech correctly or not, but believe me, understanding what someone says and interpreting that within fractions of a second while looking relaxed and sounding calm, are two totally different things.

Having said that, I have listened to interpreters who I’d hire any time while I probably wouldn’t ask others to get me a glass of water in a foreign language :wink: Just as with many other professions, you’ll find both extremes.

ad Jay: You are not going to the polyglot conference in Budapest, are you? I would have loved to meet you in person and have a chat with you in German :slight_smile:

ad Robert

Nee, ich denke mal, bei so einem ‘Polyglot-Conference’ käm ich mich eher wie ein Einschleicher vor, denn außer Deutsch kann ich ja keine fremden Sprachen! Okay, a bissle(!) Italienisch kann ich auch - aber wirklich nur ein kleines Bisschen…

Wahre Polyglots (also Leute wie du, Friedemann, Richard Simcott, usw) beherrschen dagegen mindestens 4 oder 5 Sprachen - und zwar richtig gut beherrschen. Unter so einer Gesellschaft wäre ich sozusagen der ganz normale Kerl, der versucht, an einem ‘Mr-Universe-Wettbewerb’ teilzunehmen! :-0

Maybe we might get together on Skype somewhen or other - if I ever get into that kind of thing? (At the moment I keep a pretty low profile online - but that might change one day.)


I was actually thinking about participating. What is the deal? Do they have a venue? I could not find a lot of information on the conference website.

“A measly 57 polyglot points, Friedemann. That means you’re coming in below Steve, Luca, Robert, Richard, et al. Even Benny may have the better of you!”

I am pretty sure that I’ll score much lower than our heroes, no ambition to compete for the throne…

Friedemann, I was only kidding :wink:

Still, there is an interesting little debate around how you weigh up the value of a large number of languages at (let’s say) B1 level against a smaller number at C1 or C2 level. And there is also the issue about easy languages vs. difficult languages. There are some folks who may feel clever because they speak French, Spanish and Italian at B1 or B2 level. But in actual fact it could be argued they have achieved considerably less than someone who has reached level C2 in Japanese or Arabic…

Don’t worry: the fact that you are able to hold a conversation in Mandarin means that you will always be one of the biggest guys in the polyglot locker-room! :smiley:

Appreciate the comments, and keep them going! :slight_smile: Although you know what’s funny, there are only like two actual videos of this guy. It would be great if we can hear more from him and his languages. So far we heard him speak only German and Greek. I am most curious about his Spanish and English.

ad Friedemann: (…) I was actually thinking about participating. What is the deal? Do they have a venue? I could not find a lot of information on the conference website. (…)

I would love to meet you in person :slight_smile:

Yes, they now have a venue (I talked to Richard). They will send out an updated newsletter within the next few days. The best would be to register on the website, then you’ll be included in the mailing list for any upcoming newsletter.

They most likely will have to restrict the number of participants to about one hundred people and I have been told that they have almost reached that number. Participants are asked to contribute with about 20 pounds (for the two days) to cover costs (they have also done some fundraising which should cover most of the expenses in relation to the venue and the catering for the two days) - this is not an official requirement, however, as far as I know.

The speakers have been asked to send in some abstracts so that they can finalize the programme. There will be lots of time for people to mingle and talk to each other. There might be some workshops as well. I think the exact programme will be out over the next few weeks.

I will be going there with two friends from Singapore and a young friend from Austria. I am sure it is going to be a very exciting event.

If you need any more detailed information you may try to contact Richard through one of his websites.

The official conference days are 18 (Saturday) and 19 May (Sunday) but many of the people I talked to will be arriving on Friday and leaving on Monday.

It would be fantastic to meet you there.

In a way it almost seems surprising that Richard has tracked down so many people who have these really outstanding polyglot abilities! I suppose there are more folks like Richard, Luca, etc out there than one might think? Of course, the internet is a great means whereby people can find each other, so to speak.

I recently watched a video from the 2012 polyglot conference on Richard Simcott’s youtube channel where he is talking to an undergraduate student (I think the guy’s name is Alex Rawlings) in German, Russian and Dutch. It turns out this Rawlings guy is pretty amazing in about 11 languages - he has videos where he is speaking Greek, Russian, Hebrew, Afrikaans…the list goes on!

For sure there are some really amazing polyglots out there! :slight_smile:

ad Jay: Yes, Richard and Luca have been doing a great job in organizing this conference. But, despite its name, this is an event for anybody interested in learning languages. And I think this is what is going to make it a success: passion and not (perceived) perfection :slight_smile:

P.S. Alex Rawlings will be one of the speakers at the conference. And, yes, his linguistic abilities are truly impressive.