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Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  990 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews
In the tradition of the bestsellers Word Freak and The Language Instinct comes a fascinating exploration of linguistic superlearners whose abilities shed light on the intellectual potential in us all.

What do an Italian cardinal, a Connecticut blacksmith, and a German diplomat have in common with an MIT linguist, a Hungarian translator, and a Scottish church organist? They
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published January 10th 2012 by Free Press
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Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
The main reason I picked this book up was that it featured the hyperpolyglot Alexander Arguelles who I follow on his youtube videos, his website and on the website

I am no polyglot myself but I have studied a fair few languages and have a fascination with them, and have done John McWorter's three linguistics courses on The Great Courses. Currently apart from my native English, I have a B2 level in Spanish, have Japanese "on ice" (to borrow a phrase from the author.
Learning foreign languages is a topic that interests me greatly -- since retiring from my career in statistics I've made a concerted effort to achieve mastery of Spanish and French, and hope eventually to add Italian and Portuguese to that list. Over the last few years I've given a fair amount of thought to efficient strategies for language acquisition, as well as to the challenges of switching among languages. I don't have any simple answers.
Neither does Michael Erard, which is probably a point
Ruchira Datta
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Erard writes on pp. 49-50:
One question that polyglots don't get asked is, "When you go crazy, what language do you go crazy in?" Which is too bad, because it's been demonstrated that psychotic polyglots, it turns out, aren't equally disordered in each of their languages. In one case recorded by British psychiatrist Felicity de Zulueta, her psychotic patient, a native English speaker, switched into Spanish because he knew that Zulueta also spoke the language. Both were then surprised that his
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: lauguage learners and lovers.
This book quickly began at 5 stars for me, but dropped to three by the end. I did enjoy it, and I do recommend it, however.

The author sets the book essentially as an epic quest to find, as the title suggests, the most extraordinary language learners. Really, we're speaking less of people who learn well, so much as people who learn many languages, followed by argument about how well these "Hyperpolyglots" learn, how deeply they learn, and to what end. As a person who enjoys language and the learn
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: language-studies
The author has notes, interviews, research, studies and contacts to help him study the fascinating group of people he calls hyperpolyglots - those who have mastered 7 languages or more. If you are looking for definitive information, you won't find it here.

While there is information interspersed throughout the rambling text not much of it is useful or enlightening. The book is a hodge-podge. For the few hyperpolyglots he meets, the portraits are sketchy, showing the time commitment that learning
Ahmed Almawali
كتابٌ ورحلةٌ ممتعة ولكن أقل من المتوقع، ولا أرغب أن أكون ظالما في تقييمي له فهنالك عوامل أعتقدُ أنها ساهمت في التقليل من استمتاعي بالكتاب، فالطقس القرائي لم يكن مناسبا خصوصا في النصف الأول من الكتاب حيث كنتُ متعثرا، أقرأ صفحات منه وأتركه، وهذا التجزءُ إن كان مفيدا في أحيان فللأسف هو ضار في أحيان أخرى، وهذا ما حصل لي في الكتاب تزامن هذا مع الترجمة الحرفية التي تفاءلت فيها خيرا أولا ثم سرعان ما لم ترق لي. المزاجُ القرائي تحسن في النصف الآخر من الكتاب لذا استمتعت به.
مايكل إيرارد لديه هدف وهو أن يفه
Daniel Clausen
Jun 11, 2015 rated it really liked it

What does it mean to “know a language”? Is there a magic method for language acquisition? Is the ability to learn a language more hereditary or is it driven by motivation? These are the questions wrapped up in the quest to find the secret of the world’s polyglots -- those individual who know (or at least claim to know) many languages.

In his book, Babel No More, Michael Erard takes us on a fascinating journey -- one that is both personal and intellectual -- to discover the secrets of polyglots.
Tarek Wisdom
وداعاً بابل ... نعم وداعاً .... لكن لماذا ؟
بابل تلك المدينة التي جذبتك حتماً في يوم من الأيام لجمال عمارتها في تلك الأيام الغابرة، ببرجها اللولبي المطبوع في خيال كل واحد منا... ذلك البرج الذي تقول الأسطورة أن الناس اتفقوا وتساعدوا في بناءه ليصلوا إلى السماء علهم يطلعوا ماوراءها ... نعم اتفقوا ! ... حيث كانت لغتهم واحدة ... ثم شاء الإله أن تختلف ألسنتهم لتختلف لغاتهم ويتفرقوا فيما أجمعوا عليه !


* بدايةً الكتاب عبارة عن "بحث" بمعنى الكلمة وليس قصة
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
Diminishing returns on this book. I started out being very interested, but as the book wore on, the sloppy editing started to get to me (multiple instances of what would strictly be called bad grammar or broadly be called "extremely casual writing style"; occasionally something was referenced that must have been taken out during the editing process, without removing the reference as well); the author seemed to lose focus; and it got increasingly repetitious. A better editor (or more thorough edi ...more
Ahmad Alahmadi
هو بحث عن سر متعددي اللغات المفرطين، الكاتب وهو متخصص في العلوم اللغوية بدأ بحثه ليرى إن كان هناك سر أو خلطة خفيّة لكون بعض الناس قادرين على تعلّم مجموعة كبيرة من اللغات الأجنبية في حين أن الأغلبية العظمى تجد أن مجرد تعلّم لغة واحدة أجنبية يعد تحدي صعب وكثير لا ينجحون به.. أثناء قراءة الكتاب شعرت وكأنه برنامج وثائقي أكثر من كونه كتاب، وأعتقد أن الكاتب عندما بدأ بحثه كان يأمل بأنه سيجد سر أو مجموعة أسرار وسيضعها في كتاب عندما ينتهي ولكن لخيبة أمله بأنه لم يجد شيء يُذكر فقرر أن يكتب بهذه الطريقة ا ...more
Jun 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Babel No More takes a look at whether people really can learn a vast amount of languages and how they are able to do so. He starts off with almost mythological historical figures, then moves on to modern days ones and winds up studying the brain science behind it all. The short answer is that there is no clear, easy answer as to how these people (whom he calls hyperpolyglots) are able to learn more than six languages.

The book started off a bit hard to read, as Erard at first seemed more interest
Christian Allen
Feb 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: linguists,
The author was way too verbose and essentially asked, then repeated, all the questions the reader had in his or her mind anyway. In the end he comes to no definitive conclusion as to why some people acquire languages faster than others, stating simply that it's partially genetics, partially personal characteristics like determination and focus and partially the language environment of your locality.

The author also poorly attempts to describe the human brain as a projection on a world map with s
May 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Babel No More" will make every reader want to learn a new language just to enter into the world of language lovers. The book takes you on an exploration of languages and the people who have mastered them. Erard travels from Italy to India in search of hyperpolyglots and the answer to the question: How many languages can one person learn? This book is full of interesting interviews with academics and ordinary individuals who have studied dozens of languages. And yet, these individuals have remai ...more
Jan 30, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: not-classified

كنت متوقعه غير شي
لم يجذبني الكتاب كنت اريد ان اندهش وانتهيت بمسلمات استطيع ان اصل اليها بالمنطق

زرت موقع اللغات المدرج في الكتاب اخترت اللغه العربيه

وجدت عدة اسباب لتتعلمها كلغه ثانيه وعدد المتكلمين بها بكل دوله شعرت باحساس الغبطه

قررت ان ابدا بتعلم الفرنسيه
وهنا اعترف ان الكتاب ملهم بقدر عدم اعجابي به
انتهيت للتو من قراءة كتاب #وداعا_بابل
منحته ٣/٥ لأنني أصبت بالملل في النصف الآخر من الكتاب .. ربما لتفاصيل علمية تتعلق بالعقل البشري والتي لا أفقه فيها شيئا :-)
الكتاب ثروة معرفية وأنصح بقراءته بشدة، وقبل أن تشرع بقراءته تأكد من أنك تحمل معك خريطة للعالم
Nov 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
More time than necessary spent on introducing the subject and quibbling about what it means to 'know' a language. Case studies are interesting, patterns of hyperpolyglot personality and methods emerge, and eventually research is reviewed.
Apr 02, 2017 rated it liked it
El autor de este ensayo quiere comprobar que todos aquellos que se dicen políglotas realmente lo sean. Para ello inicia una búsqueda en los documentos del políglota más famoso del siglo XIX, Giuseppe Mezzofanti, quien se preciaba de hablar más de 70 idiomas. El autor visita Bologna, Italia. Va a la biblioteca pública llamada Archiginnasio en donde se guardan todos los documentos dejados por el cardenal Mezzofanti. La idea de esta revisión de documentos es la de comprobar ese conocimientos de los ...more
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
This guy is definitely a positivist. With a flare for the dramatic. Though the book did feel a little long and cloyingly chummy at times, it was interesting on a superficial level. Oh man, and the brain as a globe was just annoying, as is the analogy of hyperpolyglots as Peter Pan or near-extinct African animals.

"As many as 70 percent of all interactions in English around the world occur between non-native speakers."

"In my case, I resonate culturally to three. Even though I had Russian, Greek L
May 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
I have mixed feelings about this book. The theme is very interesting for me, being an avid language learner, but the structure was too loosy goosy for my taste. I found some of the real life cases of polyglots very enlightening (mostly those of people whose work pushes them to learn languages, or who live in multilanguage communities), but some others were just isolated cases of geeks who could have taken up any other hobby and who did nothing interesting with their "knowledge". The final conclu ...more
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was not really expecting to like this book. However, it was far more interesting than I expected. At first thinking that the polyglot was part of cryptozoology lore like Bigfoot and Nessie, the author tracks down people who claim to know several languages. The results are interesting and not quite what I expected.
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Probably 2.5 stars...would have been 3, but extremely redundant. Extremely.
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I could not put this book down. I wonder if I can incorporate it into the list of readings for my Issues in Multiple Language Acquisition class this semester.
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
It was very interesting and informative, although it is in need of a bit of editing. The part about India bored me quite a bit, I think it lacked focus. The genetics and brain topics were addressed interestingly but I would have liked more information on them. The biographies of (hyper)polyglots were very good, although it suprised me that there was no mention of Heinrich Schliemann or Timothy Doner!

It was a good & enjoyable book and I recommend it to anyone interested in languages.
Linda Hamonou
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book takes you in a quest for the modern (or not so modern) hyperpolyglot. Through study, space and time, Michael Erard takes you to meet hyperpolygots dead or alive.
There are a lot of truth in this book even if I'm not too sure about some of the geo-politic effect on languages as they sound very american at some point.

There was always a question of what it means to "know" a language and the difference between "all or nothing" and "something and something" and in the end it's really up to
Melanie Ho
My review published in the Asian Review of Books:

25 April 2012 — For anyone who has struggled through high school French or so-called “executive” Mandarin, foreign languages often seem obscure or mysterious. People that manage to speak several languages can seem like magicians.

In a quest to find the secrets behind the world’s polygots—those who speak several, or more than several, languages—Michael Erard travels across the globe and through time. Erard, who calls himself a monolingual “with bene
Oct 06, 2016 rated it liked it
+ very motivational and inspiring for language learners
+ interesting neurological insights in the second half of the book
+ debunking myths surrounding language-learning

- rather tedious anecdotal passages, almost diary-like, when the title would rather have you hope for a more sober and scientific approach
- the book seems much too long for the message it conveys, it could be condensed considerably
- the "hard facts" most readers will be looking for are only reached in the last chapter o
Jan 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, language, 2012
In my 20s I was seriously obsessed with language learning (Korean, Spanish, and Italian). After much effort (for especially Korean and to a slightly lesser extent Spanish) I eventually reached near-proficiency in Korean (where proficiency is defined as being able to use the language in a business setting) and was comfortable conversing in Spanish. That was then; now I'd say (and I admit I set a high bar on the following) I'm only conversational in Korean and can barely converse in Spanish. Boy d ...more
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013
This book was a bit of a disappointment to me. It's a subject I have a lot of interest in, so I was very excited about it at first. It's presented as a combination scientific studies as well as the the author's personal journey to meet real-life polyglots & discover what is behind language superlearners. Awesome, right?

Unfortunately for me the book fell quite short on making connections between the author's own journey and the science behind what he is exploring. I thought the research cited
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Quick disclaimer: I kind of know the author. However, major news sources (NY Times, The Economist, etc.) liked this book as well.

Take the subtitle, "The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners," to heart, as a lot of the book is about Erard's search and interactions with people rather than a scientific study of people who know a lot of languages. The former is more interesting for the general audience, as the best parts of the book describe the people whom Erard meets. It wa
Giuseppe D
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you’re passionate about languages and would like to be fluent in many of them and you just like being engaged in their studies, this is the book for you and you should definitely read it. It starts from the famous cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti going all the way to modern and living hyperpolyglots.
What is it that makes them more successful at learning languages? Are their brains different from those of others? Are they just more driven? Is it that they have secret methods or they know how to do
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“One difference is that individuals living in multilingual communities seem to settle on an optimal cognitive load. The hyperpolyglot possesses a similar patchwork of linguistic proficiencies. Yet he or she exceeds this optimum with a conspicuous consumption of brain power (...) For multilinguals, learning languages is an act of joining society. There's no motive, no separable 'will to plasticity' that's distinct from what it means to be a part of that society. Being a hyperpolyglot means exactly the opposite. The hyperpolyglot's pursuit of many languages may be a bridge to the rest of the world, but it walls him off from his immediate language community.” 1 likes
“What you see and hear is a situation in which languages are less like apples — neat and discrete — and more like oatmeal. It's always been oatmeal in India, and all the varieties of oatmeal continue to merge, despite political pressures to name them as if they were marbles.” 1 likes
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