Ioannis Ikonomou, a Greek translator, is not your average polyglot who might speak four or five major languages, which is impressive in itself, he speaks thirty-two — sixteen of them fluently — and he can translate sixteen more.
Born in Heraklion, Crete, Ikonomou is considered to be the most multilingual person in all of Europe.
The Greek polygot studied linguistics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, and then completed postgraduate studies in Middle Eastern languages and cultures at Columbia University in New York.
Ikonomou then returned to Europe after his studies to work as a translator for the European Commission, where he stood out even among the very skilled translators already working there for his amazing linguistic abilities.
Ikonomou speaks languages from all over the world
Uniquely, Ikonomou speaks a very wide range of languages, and many of them have no linguistic relationship to each other.
Apart from his native language, the Greek polygot speaks English, German, Spanish, French, Swedish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Bulgarian, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Portuguese, Chinese, Kurdish, Armenian, Persian, Serbo-Croatian, Danish, Hindi, Urdu, Romanian, Czech, Finnish, and Sanskrit.
He also speaks some ancient languages such as Ancient Greek, Latin, Ancient Iranian, Ancient Persian, Classical Armenian, Gothic, Ancient Bulgarian, Hittite, and Lubik, which is an ancient Asian language.
The impressive Greek started off his path to multilingualism as a very young child. Ikonomou began listening to foreign languages from tourists who were visiting Crete at the age of five.
He was consumed with curiosity about what those people were saying, and became dedicated to learning as many languages as possible.
The Greek polyglot spoke eight languages before leaving school
Two years later, at just seven years old, the Greek polygot started learning German from a teacher while he was on vacation in Rethymno, a town on Crete.
From then on, he remembers going to the beach and reading his language book instead of playing with other children.
His passion was so great that by the time the talented young Greek finished school he had already learned eight foreign languages.
Ikonomou admits that it is difficult to remember all these languages, saying characteristically:
“It’s a struggle, I’m not a machine. I’m flesh and bones, I forget languages, I get confused. When I speak Spanish I can use a Portuguese expression but it’s a fight and it’s worth giving it,” he said.
However, the young polyglot said that he has no favorite language. “When I learn a language, I do everything related to the culture and history of the respective country,” he said.
In fact, that’s the way Ikonomou tends to learn the tongue. Rather than studying countless language books and using flashcards to learn new vocabulary, the Greek polygot learns a new language by consuming media from the country where it’s spoken, including TV and music, and speaking to locals.