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Read the text and match the expressions with their definitions.


According to legend, Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofranti (1774-1894), who spoke seventy-two languages, once learned a language overnight in order to hear the confession of two condemned prisoners the following morning. While this story sounds too amazing to be true, there are polyglots who have achieved quite staggering feats of language learning.
Arguably the greatest of all was Francis Sommer. Brought up in Germany, Sommer was still a schoolboy, when he succeeded in learning Swedish, Sanskrit and Persian. On a trip to Russia, he mingled with the international community and, so the story goes, learned a dozen European languages. He later moved to the US, where he worked as a research librarian, and by the1920s, had mastered ninety-four languages.
Another great linguist is Stephen Wurm, Professor of Linguistics at the Australian National University at Canberra. Wurm benefited from the fact that he came from a multilingual family. His father, also a linguist, asked everyone in the family to speak to the child in their own language. This meant that his mother addressed him in Hungarian, his father in English, his grandfather in Norwegian and his grandmother in Mongolian. Because of Wurm's father's work, the family also lived for periods in Germany, Russia, China, Argentina and Turkey. As a result, Wurm spoke ten languages by the time he was six.
To most of us, the achievements of polyglots seem superhuman, but the polyglots themselves don't see it ithat way. Kenneth Hale, a linguistics professor, who speaks around 50 languages, believes his talent bears similarity to that of a musician's. And while talent is one factor, a love of languages is essential. Hale recalls the time when he was learning Navajo:" I used to go out every day and sit on a rock and talk Navajo to myself." Languages became an obsession. " I let everything else slide," he says.
David Perlmutter, Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, likens the process of language learning to a puzzle. Mastery, he believes, stems from the joy of solving the puzzle. "If you know English and German, it's easy to learn Dutch. If you know Spanish and another Romance language, you can pick up Portuguese quickly."
But is there any chance that these super-polyglots might get confused? Do they ever get nervous about garbling their languages? According to Kenneth Hale, it does happen. Occasionally, he begins speaking in one language and, without knowing it, finds that he has drifted into another. It happens especially when it's difficult to distinguish between related languages. "Unless I'm attentive, I can mix up languages like Miskitu and Sumu, both of which are spoken in Central America and are very similar." Francis Sommer felt the same. Fearing information overload, he gave up learning new languages in later life.
The greatest of today's polyglots is Ziad Fazah. Fazah, a Lebaneze in his forties, who has been living in Brazil for over twenty years, is fluent in over fifty-six languages. Apart from Arabic, his mother tongue, and French and English which he learned at school, Fazah taught himself all the languages. He began with German and moved on to Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese and Japanese. Fazah's abilities have had some unexpected uses. When police in Rio picked up an illegal alien babble unintelligibly, they turned to Fazah. "I soon realised he was from Afganistan and spoke a dialect called Hazaras," Fazah said.
The US consulate was less impressed. Because of his ability to speak Chinese and Russian, they feared he was a spy, and asked the Brazilian police to bring him in for questioning. "After two hours I was let go," he says. TV fame also arrived unexpectedly. He appeared on TV programmes in Spain and Greece, where his linguistic abilities were tested by people from Thailand, Hungary, Korea, Japan, China and other countries. He passed with flying colours.
While this earned him a reputation as a phenomenon, he is still a few languages behind the legendary cardinal Mezzofanti. Unlike Mezzofanti, Fazah can't claim to learn languages overnight, but he can apparently learn a thousand words in a month - a gift that language students around the world would envy and admire!
let (sth) slide
pick up
information overload