A "fascinating" (The Economist) dive into the world of linguistics that is "part travelogue, part science lesson, part intellectual investigation...an entertaining, informative survey of some of the most fascinating polyglots of our time" (The New York Times Book Review).
We all learn at least one language as children. But what does it take to learn six languages...or seventy? In Babel No More, Michael Erard, "a monolingual with benefits," sets out on a quest to meet language superlearners and make sense of their mental powers. On the way he uncovers the secrets of historical figures like Italian cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, who was said to speak seventy-two languages; Emil Krebs, a pugnacious German diplomat, who spoke sixty-eight languages; and Lomb Kat, a Hungarian who taught herself Russian by reading Russian romance novels.
On his way to tracking down the man who could be called the most linguistically talented person in the world, Erard meets modern language-superlearners. Among them is Alexander, who shows Erard the tricks of the trade and gives him a dark glimpse into the life of obsessive language acquisition. "Others do yoga," writes Erard. "Alexander does grammatical exercises."
With his ambitious examination of what language is, where it lives in the brain, and the cultural implications of polyglots’ pursuits, Erard explores the upper limits of our ability to learn and to use languages, illuminating the intellectual potential in everyone. How do some people escape the curse of Babel - and what might the gods have demanded of them in return?
©2012 Michael Erard (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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This book inspired me to start learning a third language. Michael Erard take you in an amusing journey to the history of language learning processes and the most famous polyglots.
"really good. some useful tips on language learning"
well worth a listen. sort of veers of subject here and there but is always entertaining and fluid.
"Heavy on anecdote, light on science"
Most is that it was approachable and looked at the polyglots discussed as people and not freaks. Least is that it did not present the science in a wholly coherent and digestible way.
This book was not quite what I was expecting. A little more travelogue and observation than incisive look at the science of learning language. The anecdotes are thick on the ground and the author meanders a bit more than he needs to, with a lot of detail that feels more memoir-ish than scientific exploration. You definitely learn some of what is known about language and the brain, plasticity and what it means for language acquisition, and some theories about what makes a polyglot. But these bits are haphazard and pop up unexpectedly, sandwiched between personality descriptions and debates of what it means to know a language. All of this is interesting, but could definitely be better organized to make the science clearer and the reader come away with more than a vague sense of what kind of, sort of, might make a polyglot.
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