Over a year ago I came across an interesting article on the website of my favourite linguistic-themed magazine, the Hungarian ‘Nyelv és Tudomány’. This was the first ever time I read the word ‘polyglot’ and I was indeed very impressed by the existence of such an extraordinary talent. The only thing that managed to impress me even more was a video attached to the article, which showed a 20-year-old British student talking about himself in 11 languages. A few weeks later I found myself being asked to “show something inspirational” at the end of a Year 9 French lesson. I was aware that these pupils were about to make their choices regarding what subjects they wanted to carry on studying, so I was striving to promote languages as thoroughly as possible. As I was sitting near the projector with a class of not so enthusiastic 14-year-old language learners staring at me, I decided to let Alex Rawlings – the mentioned hyperpolyglot – transform the mood in the classroom into something more vivid. The video was yet to finish, but the room was already filled with whispers, each and every one of them questioning how such talent could exist, and letting their speakers reconsider their attitudes to learning foreign languages. In September, half a year after this amazing experience, I was pleased to hear Alex’s voice through the loudspeakers of the French room. Yes, showing “the boy who speaks many languages” to the youngest of the school has by now become a traditional element of French lessons.
So for those of you who have not yet had the pleasure to learn about Alex Rawlings, here’s a little introduction. Alex was born into and raised up in a multilingual environment. Beside English, he communicated in Greek and French from a very young age, mainly with his Greek-origin mother. The first milestone in his path to entering into public awareness was being identified as “the most multilingual student in the UK” by the publisher Collins in 2012. As a student of Oxford University, Alex Rawlings could proudly show off his ability to fluently discourse in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Greek, Russian, Dutch, Afrikaans and Hebrew (although nowadays I often hear about his knowledge of Arabic and Yiddish too). In his famous video, he explains some of his methods and expresses his opinion on the languages he speaks. In order to prevent this article from becoming a bit too legthy, I will now replace these remarkable quotes by the video itself.
Alex’s progress and achievements had quite a special impact on me. A reason for this may be that beside English, we share French, Greek and Hebrew – although a key difference between us is that he can fluently speak these languages! In addition to this, Alex has recently began learning Hungarian, which (for those of you who haven’t read my other posts) is my native tongue. He seems to cope reasonably well with grammar, which – as you all know – is not really part of the heritage we like to thank our ancestors for. His understanding of vocabulary and his pronunciation are undoubtedly flawless, even though the video’s comments contain quite a heavy dose of constructive criticism about the latter. But we have to accept: the years of tolerance and struggle have made Alex immune to the complexity of foreign languages.