Bilingual, trilingual & polyglot – what’s the difference?

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Did you know that the world’s population has more multilingual people than speakers of just one language? 

What does being bilingual or trilingual mean?

If you can speak two languages, you’re bilingual; three and you’re trilingual.

How many languages do you have to speak to be a polyglot?

If you speak even more than three, you might be known as a polyglot. And if you’re any of the above, you can also describe yourself as multilingual.

A few polyglots, past & present

So what of those who long surpassed being merely bilingual or trilingual? There have always been people who can talk or write in several tongues. 

For example, German polyglot Emil Krebs could communicate in 68 languages. 

Kató Lomb, a Hungarian interpreter and translator, worked in 16 languages.

A modern-day polyglot who can speak more languages than we can imagine doing is American professor Alexander Arguelles, who fluently speaks about 36 languages.

Another example is teenager Timothy Doner. He became well known via his YouTube videos, in which he speaks more than 20 languages.

How did they learn so many languages?

  • They stayed focused on learning.
  • They used clever study methods and good materials.
  • They studied regularly over a long period of time.
  • They took active control of their learning.
  • They made the most of resources like books and recordings.

Become a polyglot with Busuu

Learn 13 languages with Busuu

You can learn up to 13 different languages on Busuu – the app home to a community of 120 language learners. Whether you want to become trilingual or a polyglot, or simply learn one new language, we’ve got the tools to help you.

Kirsten is the Chief Learning Officer at Busuu, where she runs the team of learning designers who create Busuu’s courses, and the teacher operations team who look after our faculty of over 10,000 language teachers worldwide. Kirsten has spent over 20 years working in the field of digital language learning, creating websites, apps, video games and VR experiences for companies like Pearson, EF and Macmillan. She has an MSc in applied linguistics from the University of Oxford and is passionate about bringing research-informed pedagogy into the digital language learning experience.