You might know someone who can speak four or more languages, or you may be able to do so yourself. It might be helpful to know what words you can use to describe this feat, and this article will look at the best synonyms for such a situation.
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Which Terms Can Describe Someone Who Speaks Four Or More Languages?
There aren’t too many words we can use to describe someone who speaks four or more languages. However, of the ones we do have available, these are the best:
The preferred version is “polyglot” because it is the common word we use to talk about people with the ability to speak multiple languages. It often applies to someone with more language skills than that of a “multilingual” person, which is why we use it more.
So, let’s start with the preferred option and work our way down. There are plenty of “polyglots” in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s not impressive should you come across one yourself (or should you put the time in to become one).
A polyglot is anybody who can speak several languages. This often means that the person is capable of speaking four or more languages, and those languages usually come from a wide range of continents (rather than just local towns or countries around them).
The definition of “polyglot,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “speaking or using several different languages.”
For anyone who has learned a foreign language before, you know that speaking it isn’t enough. To truly understand how to use the language, we often need to visit one of the countries that speak it and immerse ourselves in their culture.
This is where most of the impressiveness of a polyglot comes out. After all, they’re able to speak several different languages, and each language is from a different country. It’s not surprising that polyglots are some of the most well-traveled people in the world.
Languages Polyglots May Know
While it isn’t strictly referred to in the word’s definition, a polyglot typically has a wide range of languages available to them. These languages all tend to come from vastly different places as well.
A polyglot is capable of speaking any languages that they know, but don’t be surprised if they have a combination similar to the following:
While there are plenty of other languages in the world, most of the ones we listed above will allow someone to talk comfortably in just about every country in the world.
You might notice from the above list that there isn’t too much geographical connection between any of the countries that speak the languages either. Many polyglots treat their languages as a collection rather than a language exercise after a while.
They keep learning more related languages to expand their understanding of the world and its vast cultures. It helps them to immerse themselves in much more places, which is the intention of many polyglots who want to know every language there is.
Here’s how we might see it in writing:
- I’m a polyglot because I’ve put a lot of time and effort into learning all of the languages of the countries in Europe.
- He is a polyglot and perhaps the smartest person I’ve ever met! There is no one who can compete with his skills.
- I saw a polyglot going around and speaking the language of everyone who passed him by. It was insanely cool.
- You’re not a polyglot until you have visited the countries of every language you speak and wowed the locals.
- I like to think of myself as a polyglot because I’ve put a lot of effort into making sure I can speak all the languages I come across.
“Polyglot” works well whenever we want to talk about someone we know who has a vast collection of languages. They will be able to change between languages at will because they have such a strong understanding of all of them.
“Multilingual” is another great word we can use. While it isn’t as strong as “polyglot,” it’s definitely more accessible and understandable for most native speakers because the meaning is implied.
A multilingual person is able to speak multiple languages. While the definition tends to refer to “more than two,” we can use the prefix “multi-” to show that many more than that are available to a person.
The definition of “multilingual,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “able to use more than two languages for communication, or written or spoken in more than two different languages.”
“Multilingual” works well because it’s a familiar word to many people. It’s similar to “bilingual” (a person who can only speak two languages). It also uses the Greek prefixes in the same way, which is why so many native speakers like “multilingual.”
“Multi-” is the Greek prefix for “many.” “Lingual” is the suffix we use to refer to languages. Therefore, a “multilingual” person literally translates to a person with “many languages.”
The familiarity of the word is what makes it such a strong contender. However, if you ask anyone who is able to speak more than four languages, they would usually refer to themselves as a polyglot because it tends to hold more weight to it.
You might be interested in seeing “multilingual” in action, and these examples will show you how it works:
- I am multilingual because I took extracurricular lessons for multiple languages while I was at school.
- My mother taught me everything I know, which is why I consider myself to be a competent multilingual student.
- I didn’t know how to respond to them, but my girlfriend is luckily multilingual and managed to sort it out.
- You should have told me you were multilingual! We could have been conversing in French this whole time!
- I am multilingual, and I’d love for you to challenge me! Try and come up with a language that I don’t know how to speak!
Finally, we’ll look at “quadrilingual.” It’s the weakest word on this list, but it still works well when we’re looking at somebody who speaks four languages.
A “quadrilingual” person can speak four different languages. It can never refer to anyone who speaks less or more than four, which is why it’s not the preferred form on this list. Still, it works well to show that someone has a strong linguistic ability.
The definition of “quadrilingual,” according to The Collins Dictionary, is “able to speak four different languages.”
Again, we can use the familiar Greek prefixes to teach us what a quadrilingual is. “Quadri-” is the common Greek prefix for anything meaning “four,” and we already know what “lingual” means from the previous section.
A quadrilingual person has four languages in their skillset. However, if they were to ever learn one more, they would become multilingual or polyglot.
While not technically possible, if they were to completely lose the ability to speak a language, they would also lose the name of a quadrilingual. This strictness of the word makes it difficult to use in most cases.
Still, here’s how we can make it work:
- I’m quadrilingual because I know German, French, English, and Spanish.
- You’re quadrilingual because of what you know, but I’m multilingual, which makes me better.
- I can’t say I’ve ever met somebody who refers to themselves as quadrilingual before!
- We’re a quadrilingual family because we speak our native tongue, plus the language from my father, my mother, and my adopted sister!
- I am quadrilingual because I’ve put a lot of time into learning new languages. I would like to learn a few more, though.
Is It Normal To Speak Four Languages?
You might be reading this article and accepting the synonyms we used above. However, you might also be wondering if it’s even normal to speak four languages. If you don’t do that yourself, don’t be disheartened.
While there isn’t anything wrong with speaking multiple languages, it is not considered “normal” to speak four languages. Instead, it is considered an expert feat, which is only attainable for those who have studied multiple languages and cultures for years.
It is much more normal to only be able to speak one or two languages.
Most natives in English-speaking countries, like the UK and the US, speak only one language (English). This is normal to them, and anything more than that from a native speaker is considered impressive or intelligent.
For countries with a different mother tongue but a high focus on English-speaking citizens, two languages are the norm. Sometimes, people may even have three languages under their belt (usually based on their parental heritage).
Generally, four languages or more is considered impressive no matter where you are in the world.
However, we should not consider it “normal” or “not normal.” Instead, we should look at where we are relatively in the world and what is expected of us. It’s always impressive to be able to speak more than one language.