Gaithersburg, Maryland – Although a carpet cleaner by trade, Vaughn Smith’s real gift is for words. He is what linguists call a hyperpolyglot – defined as a person who can speak at least 11 languages.
“It’s not something like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m the best,'” the 46-year-old told CBS News. “I was just the guy cleaning the carpets.”
But he does not just know 11 languages. As the Washington Post recently verified, he is fluent in or can carry on a conversation in 24 languages, though he estimates he’s learned more than 40 different languages.
“I speak some Hungarian. I speak Finnish pretty well. I speak some Estonian,” Smith said.
He also knows Welsh, Norwegian, Japanese, Hebrew and American Sign Language, to name a few.
Smith learns mostly with apps and books, uploading new words and phrases with almost fiberoptic speed. Although never diagnosed, Smith suspects – and his mother, Sandra, agrees – that he is probably autistic.
Growing up, Smith said he was “not able to express my feelings properly or misinterpret other people’s feelings or intentions.”
“That was the problem – he had a lack of participation, lack of communication,” his mother told CBS News.
But over the years, Smith has learned that when you make the effort to speak to someone in their native tongue, people are so grateful and friendships often follow.
“It’s about being able to connect with people,” he said.
You do not need to know any languages to appreciate the importance of that.
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