The Wisdom of a Man Who Knows 115 Languages

Dr. Carlos do Amaral Freire is an extraordinary human being. Aside from learning one hundred and fifteen languages, Dr. Freire has made significant contributions to the field of linguistics (discovering a phonological relationship between Georgian and Aymara being just one of them). His poetry anthology, which includes poems from sixty different languages translated into his native Portuguese, has got people over at the Guinness World Book of Records talking about including him in an upcoming addition. He would be listed for being the one person who has translated poems from more languages into his native language than any other person. This morning he gave me the opportunity to conduct and record a telephone interview with him from his home in Southern Brazil.

What do you say to a man who knows more languages than you can think of? I suppose the overly simple answer is, Anything you want. I am not a professional and had some unfortunate technical difficulties, nonetheless, I truly believe that anyone who is interested in learning foreign languages can benefit from listening to this interview.

First Part

Second Part

Third Part

Fourth Part

I’ve included a list of his languages here for all of you curious people.

Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic, Aramaic, Armenian, Assyrian, Aymara, Azeri, Basque, Bengali, Belorussian, Burmese, Bislama, Breton, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Cantonese), Corsican, Czech, Haitian Creole, Danish, Dutch, English, Egyptian, Esperanto, Estonian, Faroese, Filipino, Finish, Franco-Provençal, French, Frisian, Friulian, Gallic (Irish), Gaellic (Scottish), Galician, Georgian, German (Hochdeutsch), German (Schweizerdeutsch), Greek (Classic), Greek (Modern), Guarani, Guinea Bissau Creole, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Hittite, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Javanese, Kaingang, Kazakh, Khmer (Cambodian), Korean, Kurdish, Ladino (Dalmatian), Ladino (Jewish Spanish), Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Luxemburgish, Macedonian, Mayan, Malaysian, Malagasy, Maltese, Mapuche (Mapudungun), Mongolian, Nahuatl, Nepali, Occitan, Papiamento, Papua New Guinean English Creole, Pashto, Persian (Farsi), Polish, Quechua, Romansh, Romani (Gypsy), Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Samoan, Sanskrit, Sardinian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Somali, Sorbian (Upper), Sorbian (Lower), Swahili, Swedish, Tamil, Tartar, Thai, Tibetan, Tupi, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Welsh, Wolof, Volapük, Xavante, Yidish, Yoruba, Zulu.

If you are like me these fifteen minutes with Dr. Freire will not be enough. For more information about some of these subjects I suggest you read another excellent interview conducted with him in 2003. Your can read this interview in English here and here. Portuguese speakers can read the original. He was interviewed on television in Brazil some years ago, a video of which can be seen below.

36 Responses

  1. Interesting. I’ve heard of him before, but didn’t know that much about him.

    I want to listen to the interview, but it seems that the first wav file isn’t available for download.

  2. Thanks Ramses. The problem should be fixed shortly.

  3. This guy is amazing, however, does it say that he has mastered these languages and has extensive knowledge to what how the archaic terms are used. If so then this is the epitome of a polyglot. In other words, Wow! he is amazing, he is better than the prodigious Champollian and Mezzofanti combined! These people actually exist in the modern day?! Tell me how can I train myself to be like this. learning 1 language would take 2-10 years! so 115 would take 230 years for any average person! How then, does someone like this appear. He is old but he doesn’t seem like 230, (I’m being sarcastic) He must do this for a living then, and if so he must be great in his feild and have a natural ability to learn languages quickly and easily however, I am not so sure that he has mastered all of the mathematical and scientific jargon that one would find present in a given language. How can someone nonetheless learn this quickly?

  4. Lawliet: Yes, Dr. Freire is truly amazing. However, he himself has admitted that he hasn’t “mastered” all of these languages. He says that he is functional in 30. With a few days or a week of review he can “reactivate” any of the other 85.

    Another thing that Dr. Freire and Dr. Arguelles have both told me is that language learning becomes easier with every language that you know. Learning your first foreign language is often excruciatingly difficult; learning your second foreign language is usually not nearly as hard. By the time you know seven or eight languages (especially if they are at all related) you have a lot of linguistic connections very well established in your head and learning languages becomes much easier.

    You should read my post about how many languages a person can learn. It addresses many of the questions that you’ve been asking and others that you probably have but haven’t asked.

  5. Hi Ryan,

    Just to say that I enjoy your blog a lot. I am extremely interested in languages, language learning, and a professional translator myself. Polyglots and all I can find out about them are a hobby as well, so thank you once again for a very informative and enjoyable blog.

    By the way, I seem to be unable to download parts 2 and 4 of the interview with Dr. Freire. Should I check back later or is it more of a permanent problem?
    Thanks for letting me know and all the best for now!

    Kind regards,

    Ron

  6. Ron: Your welcome! The site I use to store my recordings is very touchy. However, I can’t find anything better for free and am not very tech savvy. Check back for parts 2 and 4. If they don’t work in a couple of days, send me an email through the Contact page and let me know.

  7. Hi Ryan,

    Great post about Dr. Freire. It is amazing that he is doing something with his knowledge of all these languages. I mean the fact that he translated poems into his native Portuguese and that he is also an active linguist shows that he is making use of his abilities.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. ahhh, this man is true genius. I am currently studying languages at the University of Pittsburgh an I hope to know 1/23rd if what he knows.

    Thank you and good night

  9. Dajuan, I politely disagree. This man is no genius. I am the master of all Lingual Studies. After 12 years at Oxford, Harvard and Yale, as well as UConn, I Have become the master of this art. Dajuan, you, my friend are not near the level of me or Dr. Freire.
    Good night, And good luck

    • What I would like to know is how many ways you, Hasshem, are able to translate “pretentious prick” of which you most formidably are. Your posts are insulting and demeaning to the extreme, even those to which they are not even directed. Just because you supposedly have alumnus status at some of the better post-secondary institutions (for certain fields anyway) does not entitle you to speak to people with such unprovoked condescension. You are in dire need of some manners my friend.

    • Well, this is pleasant of you. He’s saying he wants to learn. How can you disagree with wanting to learn? And if I am to believe you know oh so many languages (for all I know, you could be lying), you may want to work a little more on English. Your passage is ill-written, with little clarity and grammatical mistakes.

  10. Dang, is it possible that you could try to find another site to host that interview? Please. :-P

  11. Jonathan, I would love to grant you a few minutes of my time for an interveiw. There is nothing I love more than a young fellow trying to work his way to the top of the Lingual food chain.

    Good Tidings to you and your kin.

  12. I wonder if english is one of his languages.

  13. I tried listening to the audio, but it said the website said the interviews aren’t available. Is this the problem that Jonathan Mahoney was talking about in May?

  14. [...] Top Posts Dr. Arguelles' Six Most Important LanguagesDifferent Kinds of Polyglots: DispersoglotsHow Many Languages Is It Possible to Learn?The Many Languages of Ziad FazahThe Wisdom of a Man Who Knows 115 Languages [...]

  15. Do you have any links on his work on the connections between Aymara and Georgian? That sounds like a very interesting (and probably controversial) connection to make.

  16. How does he not speak English? He appears to know literally every other language of even the slightest significance, but he doesn’t know what is unarguably the most important international language in today’s world?

    • He knows English. I need to find a better website to play the recording. The interview was done in English.

      • Hi Ryan,
        Could you please add English to the list of languages he can speak (above). I was about to post a similar comment but thought I should read previous posts first in case the issue has already been brought up.

  17. I am discovering this man with a great interest.
    All language and multilingual experience is important, even though you speak an isolated dialect in a tiny town or a little village.
    If you want to begin a great experience , I think it’s a good way to preserve this plasticity in learning languages.

    Pauc a chap pauc tiret sa lenga e platusset las lengas.
    Slowly he drew out his tongue and then he spoke languages.

  18. Can i please point out that the spelling Gallic is incorrect. Gallic refers to the region of gall (modern france). Gaelic is the English spelling for the native languages of Eire and Scotlland, which we refer to as Gaeilge and Gaidhlig respectively.

  19. tiešām interesanti

  20. Wow! 115 that is crazy!
    But I noticed there wasn’t English in the list.

  21. if any extra-terrestrials ever turn up, this man should be called immediately to meet them first.

  22. GOOD MORNING SIR . actually i want to learn egyptian language . then what can i do

  23. Does he speak english?! lmao! I didnt see it listed!

  24. dafuq? he doesnt know english? lol

  25. Yes he speaks English. This question was asked several times in the comments. Plus, the interview (whose links are unfortunately still dead) was done in English.

  26. Really a greatest manner!

  27. Really a great man!

  28. Wow he also speaks Aramaic? Thats awesome!!!

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