But he says it is difficult to define hyperpolyglots and polyglots because essentially it has to be about speaking and knowing rather than reading and writing. In some cases literacy is not possible, or a language does not have an alphabet.
So what enables hyperpolyglots to seemingly pick up a new language at the push of a button?
Erard says it is hard to explain, but whatever an individual's biographical reasons are, he believes there is something that distinguishes hyperpolyglots neurologically.
"They have a neurological hardware that responds to the world, that's fed by the world, that is suited to a pattern that is recognition-heavy, sound-heavy and memory-heavy - that is very structured, and also very sociable.
Manuel probably spoke three languages - Basil Fawlty just the one
"They have an ability to switch between languages very easily, and that involves cognitive skills which are often heritable," he adds.
D - Withers thinks formal fluency in his first tongue is key.
" "Withers thinks that fluency in one language allows people to accumulate others more easily.
"Most monoglots in this country aren't really able to explain English in terms such as the perfect past tense and past tense. When you learn about cases and tenses and grammatical formations, I think the tool box is there for other languages," he says." "
D - England's botched attempt at second-language instructions resembles my own failed attempt to learn French in my youth.
"In the UK, where there has been a growing anxiety over the failure to learn additional languages, Gillon might seem to be a bit of an anomaly. More and more children have been giving up languages since the last government made learning foreign languages optional in England from the age of 14...
"Most people say it's easier to pick up languages when you're younger," says David Green, of University College London, who specialises in bilingualism.
"But people can learn languages at any point in their lives. Being immersed in a language is important. Personality is a contributing factor too - not being able to tolerate feeling foolish from making inevitable errors will make learning a new language a difficult process." "
D - two themes appear here:
1) a mother tongue that is rife with exceptions and irregulars which occupies much of primary school time to master, and
2) the related importance to learn a second language while still a child.
D - I did not encounter French until I moved in Grade 7. By then, I had entered puberty and lost much brain plasticity. That, combined with no mental aptitudes that would help with language would contribute my failure to achieve fluency. I took French from grade 7 to 13 (TWICE!). So in 14 years of sporadic teaching all I did was waste the taxpayer's coin. This is a very common story.
D - now, the aux-lang angle:
1) a good IAL learned second reduces anxiety about learning an additional natural language afterwards
2) the IAL can be bundled with good (and student-customized) language study habits - something I never had
3) there is no cultural group that will inform an IAL student that they are not saying something that is technically correct yet culturally incorrect. I mean a lack of inscrutable and unknowable idiom and jargon.
In the case of Interlingua (and to a degree, Espo), it has direct benefits to learn Romance-derived European languages afterwards. This makes it ideal for an Anglophone to pick those up.
D - one could promote my CVN as a 'gateway language' to Chinese if I tailor the grammar to be compatible.
D - contrast the England example with the Australian one.
The draft report, prepared for a national conference backed by the Federal Government later this month, highlights the difficulties confronting Mr Rudd's ambition for Australia "to be the most Asian-literate nation in the Western world".
The report attributes the drop-out rate to three factors. Students studying Chinese as a second language are "overwhelmed" in assessments by "strong numbers" of students who have Chinese as a first language.
Second, they don't develop sufficient proficiency because of the difficulty in learning Chinese and the inadequate time set aside for it.
Finally, they are trying to learn Chinese "in an often unsupportive environment at school, in their family, and in the community".
The report suggests Australia has strong reasons for improving its Chinese language skills, citing China's size, proximity, economic importance, cultural significance, and the fact it is a major source of migrants, students and tourists.
D - childhood immersion would make sense. Chinese is so different from English! But how are the Chinese doing at learning English?
Understanding The Mind-set of Chinese Students
The social pressure on Chinese children to perform well in school is overwhelming: not only their futures, but the futures of their parents entirely depend on it. In fact, and particularly in light of China's 1979 single-child policy, excellent performance in school is typically the only expectation that parents in China have of their child—and it has proven to be a formidable one...
Suicide is the leading cause of death among China's young adults aged 18 to 35, with college students representing the fastest growing segment. In 2008, a record-breaking 63 students from 38 different universities ended their lives due to academic pressure, a sense of social isolation (common among students from the countryside who are studying in major cities), peer ridicule, and fear of future unemployment...
Students who do not become overtly suicidal may, in another attempt at escape, become addicted to technology. It is currently estimated by the China Youth Association for Network Development that one out of ten Chinese aged 13- to 30-years old is addicted to the Internet, especially online gaming.
For starters, and as a rule, your students will be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Many will have difficulty even staying awake in your class, let alone attending to the material. Related, because they have such little discretionary time, they will typically attempt to use their required attendance in your oral English class as a "time-out" or break period.
Related and second, you may have noticed that foreign languages, or any other disciplines in the humanities for that matter, are not among the list of Zhou Enlai's Four Modernizations, the foundation that drives the educational system in China.
There are, of course, exceptions to this aforementioned rule. Some students are Western-bound (they plan to study or work abroad) or otherwise perceive a real need to acquire functional English language skills, and they will comprise your best and most motivated students—but they are in the minority
What all of this amounts to is that, for the most part, the majority of your students will be unmotivated to learn English and, usually, are poorly prepared to do so even if they are genuinely interested.
China has the highest English literacy rate in the world among non-English speaking countries. Chinese kids are required to have English language as a mandatory course from elementary school all the way to graduate school. That's over 10 years of English language study in a Chinese kid's life.