Today’s post by Jennifer Jenkins, writer and researcher for, an online resource focusing on online universities and courses, investigates the increased importance of knowing more than one language. Jennifer notes that while not everyone can be a hyperpolyglot, or master of several languages, the proliferation of online learning makes it easier than ever before to learn at least one other language. And, as Reading Horizons has previously examined, students who receive some of their education online often score higher than students in traditional programs, suggesting that online learning is both effective and efficient.

In a world that is increasingly interconnected, communication across the globe has become commonplace, creating increased opportunities for those who have mastered multiple languages. Yet, despite approximately 6900 languages in the modern world, only about 1 in 4 Americans can speak a language other than English well enough to hold a conversation. Fortunately, while the need for those speaking multiple languages increases, so too do opportunities for learning languages through online courses and university programs.

Hyperpolyglots receive a great deal of attention for their seemingly supernatural abilities. While a polyglot is an individual who speaks more than one language, a hyperpolyglot, of course, is one who speaks many languages, in some cases more than the average person might even think possible. Hyperpolyglot Ray Gillon received attention for an interview he granted to BBC News. After teaching himself French and Latin at age of eleven, Gillon later studied German and Italian after spending a weekend in Italy while working on a cruise ship. Since then, Gillon has learned eleven languages fluently and eighteen conversationally.

In his book, Babel No More, Michael Erard explores the minds and lives of hyperpolyglots, and according to Erard, those like Gillon are exceedingly rare. However, Gillon predicts that with online resources, an increase in polyglotism is to be expected. “Just looking at my Twitter feed, I see Greek and Chinese and Spanish and Korean,” says Erard. “All of these languages are in front of us in a way that they didn't used to be. That, along with globalization in general, is creating environments that are giving people who have those brains an opportunity to pursue those languages.”

For enterprising language learners who want to use online resources, the number of programs can be intimidating, yet, there are a few that stand out as particularly strong options. MIT offers undergraduate and graduate studies in French, German, Spanish and Chinese through their pioneering OpenCourseWare, or OCW, program. OCW offers over 100 free foreign language courses as PDF files, sometimes supplemented with audio, video and slide presentations. While college credit is not available for these courses yet, the materials are identical to those paying full tuition for MIT language courses.

“One thing hyperpolyglots do that the rest of us could do is [utilize their resources],” says Erard. While Erard concedes that not everyone can become a hyperpolyglot, the increasing availability of online resources is a definite advantage to learning more than one language. Learning resources like Babbel and Busuu have become popular for their simple, user friendly interface, the availability of many popular and some esoteric languages, and customizability depending on the learner's proficiency. Many of their resources are free, while more advanced learning tools on Busuu require nominal fees.

As the proliferation of online learning increases, one can expect to find more polyglots and even hyperpolyglots vying for international job prospects or even utilizing their abilities for recreational travel. The next several years will be an interesting time for language learners, and as the technology advances, those with access to online resources will likely have a significant advantage in mastering their foreign languages.