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This Man Speaks More Languages Than Most People Can Name

Translator Ioannis Ikonomou knows 32 languages and isn't done yet
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2015 7:29 AM CDT
This Man Speaks More Languages Than Most People Can Name
   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – In English, it's polyglot. In Greek, or Hindi, or Hebrew, the word for someone who knows several languages is, well, ask Ioannis Ikonomou. The New Statesman profiles the 50-year-old translator for the European Commission in Brussels: He knows 32 languages, and that's just the living ones. After learning his second language, English, as a 5-year-old growing up in Greece, he followed that up with German, Italian, Russian, and East African Swahili—by age 14, reports WorldCrunch. Then came the likes of Arabic and Bengali, plus a couple of dead languages (like Old Church Slavic), and he's toying with the idea of Korean or Japanese next. He describes himself to the New Statesman as the "opposite of Odysseus," in that he wants to open himself up to the world.

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Even among the polyglots that make up the community of more than 2,000 European Commission linguists, Ikonomou is unique. He speaks 21 of the 24 official EU languages (all but Estonian, Maltese, and Irish, per the New Statesman), while most top out at eight or fewer. Ikonomou describes himself as a nerd who considers Mandarin the "Everest of languages" (yes, he's fluent) and says reading Egyptian hieroglyphics in Cairo is close to a "mental orgasm." He says he doesn't know how long it typically takes him to learn a new language: "I don't look at my watch. It's like when you have sex: You enjoy it rather than looking at the time." But he does offer a three-step plan for those wanting to pick up a second tongue. That, and the rest of the fascinating article, is here. (Read more language stories.)

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