“Hyperpolyglots”, people who speak six or more languages, are increasingly in demand in the international business market according to Michael Erard who writes for Aljazeera America. He found three men that have put their extraordinary language skills to good use.
#1: Patrick Chew – Persian, Tibetan and Uzbek, oh and Toisanese!
When his grandmother died 27 year ago, Patrick Chew regretted that he never learned her native language, the southern Chinese Toisanese-dialect. In the years that passed, Chew definitely made up for this! As he now is the international-community manager for Change.org for which he uses two to ten different languages each day.
Chew’s job consists of overseeing translations of the Change.org website. He also aids people in determining the tone and style of the website in a dozen different languages.
If Chew is asked to describe his job, he says he is the advocate for non-English speaking visitors. Chew, a San Francisco-based American, has studied an innumerable amount of languages such as Persian, Tibetan and Uzbek. After his grandmother’s death, he also took on the challenge of learning Toisanese, which he now masters like a native.
Chew is a so-called hyperpolyglot, i.e. someone who can speak six or more languages.
People like Chew are often able to pick up a new language in a very short period of time, sometimes even in as little as a couple of weeks. You would think these people are no longer needed in today’s world where translations to and from almost every language you can think of can be carried out by translation apps and Google translate. However, this is not the case.
In fact, the demand for hyperpolyglots is even increasing. In the past, companies were on the lookout for multilinguals who had a great deal of expertise about one or two languages, but with the ever-growing international business market, interaction is needed with people from many different countries. Hence, hyperpolyglot staff is very wanted.
#2: Nick Farmer – Learning Languages in his Blood
Nick Farmer is another hyperpolyglot who benefited from this trend. Farmer, who grew up in California and France, was hired for a Wall Street job because of his language skills. When he read a Facebook post stating that there was an opening for a Swedish, Danish or Norwegian speaker at a consulting firm, he was quick to respond. Farmer had no knowledge about any of the languages, but figured a few weeks would be enough to learn them.
This might sound as if Farmer was a tad too optimistic about his skills, but with a linguist mother, a father who is a French professor and Kenneth Hale, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist known for his abilities in 50 languages, as his godfather, Farmer had the right to be.
In a number of weeks, Farmer learned a sufficient amount of Swedish. However, during the interview, Farmer was told that the firm was actually looking for an Italian speaker. No worries; Farmer had been studying that language too! It is thus no surprise that he was hired after completing a language test.
Nowadays, Farmer reviews Bulgarian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Lithuanian, Greek, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Swedish documents of which he then writes reports in English. Farmer: “I would feel silly if my job had nothing to do with foreign languages. I spent four to six hours a day studying languages, and I don’t want it to be just for a hobby. I want to use it in my life.”
Andrew Grebelin, his manager, says polyglots who can pick up a language in a few weeks are more beneficial for his company than employers with very detailed knowledge about one language: “If I were choosing between two candidates — one who was semiproficient in three languages and one who was fluent in one other language only — I would definitely gravitate toward the one with three.”
#3: Richard Simcott – The Next James Bond?
Another man who has found a great way to use his language skills is Richard Simcott. Simcott is a manager at eModeration, a company that helps companies across the globe to manage their social media connections.
Simcott has lived in nine different European countries and has studied 30 different languages. According to eModeration’s CEO Tamara Littleton, Simcott makes the business more competitive and even helps them save money as he can do the job of multiple people. “We are so international,” Littleton said. “We have 300 people, and everyone works remotely. Richard is quite an important part of the company’s culture because having someone who can talk to so many different people who have so many different cultures and so many languages — he’s like a social glue.”
Contrary to what you might think, hyperpolyglots do not parade their knowledge. Chew: “As I get older, the adage of ‘the more I know, the more I know how little I know’ becomes more apparent.” However, this does not mean he can’t have a laugh about the confusion his skills can bring on. When Chew was at a street festival in Berkeley, California, where he had in conversation with a friend in both Persian and Uzbek, somebody came up to him to ask him where he was from.
“I’m American,” he answered.
“No, where are you from?”
“No, you’re Afghan, right?”
“No, I’m American!”
“No, I’m American!”
“Are you a spy?”
Thankfully, there are other, less dangerous ways in which Chew can employ his skills.
The original article can be viewed here.
The article was penned by Michael Erard. He is the author of the brilliant book Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners.
Follow his news via his Twitter handle – @michaelerard.
Have a read of his article Where it all started, which covers why and how he started looking at the whole topic of hyperpolyglots.