What in the World is a Polyglot?


Some of you may have heard the world “polyglot” in school, in the news, or while browsing the internet. It is a very intriguing word. So, what in the world is a polyglot? A polyglot is a person who is able to speak and/or write several different languages; in other words, multilingual. The word polyglot comes from the Greek polýglōttos, meaning “many-tongued.”

Let’s learn a little bit more about these talented linguists!

Famous Polyglots

Dikembe Mutombo: Mutombo, a retired Congolese NBA player who played for teams such as the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets, can speak nine languages: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Tshiluba, Swahili, Lingala, and two other central African languages. Mutombo has channeled his NBA fame and linguistic prowess into charitable endeavors.

Zdeno Chara: Chara, the 6’9” ice hockey player currently serving as captain of the Boston Bruins, does more than just skate and score: He also speaks seven languages: English, Slovak, Czech, Polish, Swedish, Russian, and German.

Cleopatra VII: Cleopatra VII was the last pharaoh to rule Ancient Egypt and left quite a legacy. A cunning and powerful leader, Cleopatra could speak nine languages, including Egyptian and her native Greek.

Nikola Tesla: Nowadays, “Tesla” conjures an image of electric cars; but what about the man who leant his name to the product? Tesla, a now-deceased Serbian-American inventor, patented the AC induction motor and was involved in an infamous feud with Thomas Edison. Tesla spoke eight languages: English, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.


Sometimes, polyglots can become real overachievers and transcend into hyperpolyglot territory.  There’s no hard number of languages associated with hyperpolyglotism, but the term is usually used to describe someone who speaks 12 languages or more. Ziad Fazah, a Lebanese polyglot, claims to speak at least 59 different languages!

How Does This Relate to Translation and Localization?

The existence of multilingual people, or polyglots, makes possible the entire translation/localization industry. Without individuals fluent in more than one language, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to translate documents, apps, websites, etc. Many polyglots and hyperoplyglots choose to make a career in translation or translate for fun in their spare time.

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