The Many Languages of Ziad Fazah

About a year ago I began to become acquainted with the online language community. Since that time I have found no hyperpolyglot more inspiring or controversial than Ziad Youssef Fazah. Over the past twenty years, he has been featured many times showcasing his talents on television programs in several European and South American countries including Greece, Argentina, Spain and Brazil. In the early 1990’s, Ziad was approached by the Guinness Book of World Records and asked if it would be all right for him to appear in the 1993 UK edition as the “world’s greatest linguist.” Mr. Fazah’s abilities have inspired, awed and educated, however, they have also been criticized, understandably doubted and unfairly defamed.

Getting to Know Ziad Fazah

Although Ziad does not seek the spotlight he doesn’t hide from it either and, looking here and there, I was able to find his email address. After corresponding briefly through emails he and I started talking on the phone. I too was skeptical and spoke to him in English, Spanish, Portuguese and even a little in Mandarin Chinese. Ziad responded confidently in every one of these languages. When my wife and I visited Brazil last year, he graciously entertained us at his home in Rio de Janeiro and showed us his scrapbook of magazine and newspaper articles that have been written about him. Since there have been so many things said about him, for good and bad, I decided that it might be good for me write what I know from personal experience. To that end, I called him on the telephone today to make sure I had my facts straight and, with his permission, have decided to write this post.

What Kind of a Name is Ziad Fazah?

Ziad’s parents were Lebanese, though his father was born in Colombia. In 1953 Ziad’s father had moved his family to Liberia, for work reasons, when Ziad made the newest addition to their family. A few months later the Fazahs moved to Lebanon where Ziad was raised. Arabic was the language at home but in school he was also taught French and English. Many Armenian families were living in Lebanon at the time and Ziad became curious enough to learn their language. At age fourteen he decided to learn “all of the world’s languages” and started buying cassette courses and books to first learn German and then every other major language of the world. Lebanon was a fairly peaceful and cosmopolitan place back then so he was able to practice speaking the vast majority of the languages that he was studying. Although you will find written that he speaks 56, 57 or 58 languages, he himself gave me the list below which includes 59 languages/dialects:

Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azeri, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Czech, Cypriot, Danish, Dutch, Dzongkha, English, Fijian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kyrgyz, Lao, Malagasy, Malay, Maltese, Mandarin, Mongolian, Nepali, Norwegian, Papiamento, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Singapore Colloquial English, Sinhalese, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tajik, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese and Wu Chinese.

Fleeing to Brazil from Lebanon

He studied philology for four years at the American University at Beirut and had plans to become an interpreter for the UN. Fate had other plans. Lebanon became a scary place so, like thousands of other Lebanese people, the entire Fazah family immigrated to Brazil. Ironically, Portuguese wasn’t one of the languages that Ziad had studied at that time. This is somewhat surprising since Ziad’s Portuguese now sounds absolutely native. Soon after settling in Brazil, Ziad started offering his services as a tutor and has taught many languages to many people. His students are usually young people trying to learn English in preparation for studying in the USA, Australia or Great Britain but he also finds himself teaching languages like Arabic, Farsi, French, German and Mandarin Chinese.

Ziad Fazah’s Methodology

Ziad says that everyone should build up his or her own methodology but that there are three basic steps to follow that he has used and finds very effective.

  1. Listen to the target language for at least half an hour a day. In a week you should be very familiar with the sound system of the language.
  2. Study the language (written form) for another half an hour a day. In two weeks you should have a good grasp on it.
  3. Ziad wanted me to emphasize this step. Shadow or recite the language out loud for at least fifteen minutes a day. What you recite isn’t nearly as important as doing it out loud for at least fifteen minutes a day.

According to Ziad, if you follow these steps, you will be speaking the language well in three to six months, depending on the language and the capabilities of the learner. These steps seem remarkably similar to Dr. Alexander Arguelles’ who is also an accomplished self taught language learner. The remarkable thing is that Dr. Arguelles and Mr. Fazah came to similar conclusions independently through personal study.

Does He Really Speak 59 Languages?

Ziad is a very talented human being, however, he is still a human being. For the past two and a half decades he has only had the chance to speak Portuguese and Arabic on a regular basis. Besides these two, he also feels quite comfortable speaking French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, German, Danish, Papiamento, English and Russian. His grasp on the other languages varies but after a few days of study and review he says that he feels confident going on television and speaking any one of his 59 languages with native speakers of those languages.

Studying with Ziad Fazah

Are you curious about Ziad Fazah? Would you like to talk to him? Would you like to learn from him? Ziad said that he would be open to teaching people on the phone, via Skype or in person, if you live in the Rio de Janeiro area. His email is ziadyfazah(at)yahoo.com.br. The two of you can make your own arrangements. I think you’ll find Ziad personable and open to whatever your language goals are.

How Would You Like Your Worst Day at Work Broadcasted on Youtube?

There are no good videos of Ziad showing his language abilities. He has contacted the different television stations that he’s been on but none have sent him a copy of programs that featured him. A little while ago there was a deceitful video on youtube that made Ziad look very bad. Before he went on that Chilean program the producers had told him that he would simply be interviewed and not tested. He went to the studio finding that they had brought diplomats from many different countries that were going to test him in their native languages. A lack of preparation, nerves and jetlag got the better of Ziad and he responded incorrectly to a few of their questions. To this day he wishes he would have walked off the set instead of going on live TV but that’s life. The video on youtube was edited to only show the incorrect responses and not the many correct responses that he gave.

Providing Proof of Ziad’s Language Abilities

As soon as Ziad and I can coordinate our schedules and find a half decent way to record it, I am planning on giving him a language test that I will post on youtube and on this blog. It will most likely be similar to the test administered to Stuart Jay Raj when he went on Thai television. I will tell Ziad in advance what languages that he will be tested on but not what he will be asked to say in those languages.

29 Responses

  1. Ziad is an inspiration!
    Stuart Jay Raj.

  2. Interesting stuff. I would say that the fact that his method is also recommended by another genius is more proof that it won’t work for the rest of us though…

  3. Alex: The beauty of this method is that it’s simple! It’s easy to criticize but I think that you can’t really say that the method won’t work unless you try it out for yourself. Spend half an hour a day listening to the target language, half an hour studying the grammar or simply reading it and another fifteen minutes shadowing. Do that five days a week for three months and see if you don’t become proficient in your language. I don’t think that you need to be a genius for this method to work for you.

  4. […] I say that with all due respect!). Their “king,” so to speak, is probably the great Ziad Youssef Fazah. There are many up-and-comers, like this Peruvian youth (hattip to the linguist blogger). But for […]

  5. Does he have a website?

  6. No, Ziad doesn’t have a website.

  7. Did Ziad differentiate between “recite” and “shadow”? I know that Dr. Arguelles recommends that you listen to the target language and copy the speaker (“shadowing”); “recite”, on the other hand, gives the impression that simply reading some target language text out loud for 15 minutes, without accompanying audio, would be fine as well. I’m not sure that’s what was meant, though.

  8. Ziad uses the word “recite” but when you look at his books and instructions you’ll notice that he is referring to what Dr. Arguelles would call shadowing which is why I put both words together.

  9. Thanks for the clarification, Ryan.🙂

  10. What’s the telephon number of Ziad?

  11. Everton: I’ve sent an email to Ziad, and included you in the cc. If Ziad wants to talk to you, which is likely, he’ll send you an email with his phone number. You’ll see that the email I used to contact him is the same one that I put in this post. Why don’t you email him and tell him a little about yourself? That’s what I did about a year ago and Ziad was very nice, sent me his phone number and invited me to call him. Be sure to send me an email after to two of you have talked and tell me how things went.

  12. What happened to you testing him? Still sounds like a great idea if you both have time

    TEFLtastic blog- http://www.tefl.net/alexcase

  13. Alex: Ziad and I have had trouble getting our schedules in sync to do this and I need to buy the right equipment. I thought that my microphone would be enough, but it’s not. The reason I haven’t posted anymore language videos in “My Languages” is because I can’t record them with my microphone. I haven’t forgotten about the test and hope to be able to do it before the year is up.

  14. I was good friends with Ziad and a student of his while I was living in Brazil. Feel free to drop me a line at dmaswary(at)hotmail.com

    Ziad is overwhelmingly talented and he has certainly been at the heart of a lot of controversy. Frankly, I think the controversy is somewhat unnecessary. A lot of people want to hold his feet to the fire and get a strict report card on his “statistics” on how many languages he speaks etc…. I’m not saying this as a criticism, I’m just saying it because I know the man very well and that’s the conclusion I came to.

    I recommend that everyone just listens to what he has to say and adopt it into their own personal learning system.

    I can personally vouch for many of his languages as being top-notch. I learned a lot about my own learning process with him, and at the end of the day we are all individuals and we are best served developing our own methods reflected in the experiences of other like-minded people.

    I’ll be happy to answer any questions. Ziad is a phenomenal polyglot and we all have a lot to learn from him. I would like to see the polyglot community take a step forward and unite towards creating even better methods of learning languages and creating opportunities that may not even exist yet. Hope this message hasn’t offended anyone, that wasn’t my intention. Hope to hear from y’all
    Dave Maswary

  15. Hi there!

    It’s incredible to be able to speak so many languages.. felicitations!!
    I just wanted to know: “what about you Ryan? I mean how many languages are you capable to speak?”

    Best regards

    Silvio

  16. Silvio: I can speak Spanish, Portuguese and English. I’ve dabbled in several other languages as well but those are the ones I know best.

  17. crap i can only speak 4 languages, albanian, french, italian, english. greetings to everyone. youclash.com

  18. When’s that video you planned to make coming up? I’m very interested…

  19. […] Posts Dr. Arguelles' Six Most Important LanguagesThe Many Languages of Ziad FazahThe Wisdom of a Man Who Knows 115 LanguagesLoose EndsHow Many Languages Is It Possible to […]

  20. […] Posts Dr. Arguelles' Six Most Important LanguagesPolyglots on YoutubeThe Many Languages of Ziad FazahThe Amazing Wendy […]

  21. I would really like to see a video with Ziad speaking these languages. I don’t understand this video is posted just partially showing only the parts where Ziad failed to understand.

  22. Excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me! I saw the full video and Ziad was absolutely incapable of answering in any of the languages he was spoken to in, except Arabic. The full video is right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fUSuXHX5Kc

    Even on my “worst day” I would have done better than that. And it would have been better if Ziad had honestly said he did not understand rather than invent what people were telling him.

    In fact, netizens claim that Ziad may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a disorder where people would do anything to get attention. Others claim that Ziad may have had paranoid schizophrenia, because he also claims that he was “followed” by the PLO, the Mossad and the CIA because of his incredible linguistic talents.

    Truth is Ziad only realistically speaks native Arabic, fluent English, Portuguese and Spanish and Perhaps French and German. Verifications have been made and he does not speak Finnish, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Greek, Russian (which he mistook for being Serbo-Crotian) Persian, etc. all languages that he claims to speak.

    • That version of the video was not out when I wrote this post. I agree, it looks horrible. I wish Ziad would come forward and defend himself in a meaningful way. Until he does, I can only shrug and say the only thing that any of you can really say: He’s obviously not as good as he would like everyone to believe. That’s all anyone can say with certainty. Unless you are his personal psychologist, I doubt your diagnosis is based on anything real.

      I am amazed at how vicious people are toward Ziad. I can see how people can be critical and even disbelieving. Where does the venom come from? Honestly, does this guy owe you money? Did he wrong you personally in another life? These are rhetorical questions. Please feel free to keep your grumbling and your venom to yourself from now on.

      • Ryan,

        I think the venom comes from seeing the man behind the curtain. We wanted to believe that there was a wizard, but now we know the truth and don’t and still don’t have a way to get back home.

      • I really believe that Ziad has studied all of those languages. I just don’t think he speaks them all fluently. The lesson I have learned is to quality my languages abilities. I really think that if Ziad had done that, instead of saying implying that he was fluent in all of those languages, that he would have a better reputation.

        In any case, there are plenty of other hyperpolyglots out there who are very impressive and can “show us the way home.”

  23. learning english is quite easy, there arem any tutorials on the internet and some audiobooks too ,–

  24. […] Top Posts How Many Languages Is It Possible to Learn?Dr. Arguelles' Six Most Important LanguagesThe Wisdom of a Man Who Knows 115 LanguagesPolyglots of the PresentThe Many Languages of Ziad Fazah […]

  25. Hi!

    I would someday love to speak many languages- I think they are the most beautiful thing in the world, how each one is so unique. I am a native English speaker, advanced Spanish speaker, and I am in the intermediate levels of Hungarian.

  26. Hey Hi, GUys,…!!

    According to Wikipedia online encyclopedia website there are few person in the world who can speak few language i would recommend three wonderful people who can write and understand the languages very well.

    Jose Rizal – Spoke 22 Languages of the World (Died)
    Harold Williams – Spoke over 58 Languages of the World (Died)
    Faizan Ali Varya – Spoke 26 Languages of the World (22 Years Old Youngest in the world – Still Alive)
    Ziad Fazah – Spoke 58 Languages of the World (22 Years – living 57 Years Old Still Alive)

    Regards,
    Lina

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: