In modern times, perhaps Alexander Arguelles, who speaks and reads about 40 languages, including ancient dialects, and very difficult languages, such as Icelandic and Latin, is a hyperpolyglot.
So how can a person reach such levels of language ability ? Do you have to have a born "knack" for learning language ?
It's not as hard as it seems. Author Tim Ferriss, whose books detail his experiments in achieving success in unconventional ways, learned Japanese in 1 year, Chinese in 6 months, German in 3 months and Spanish in 8 weeks.
According to him, anyone can learn a language quickly by following these basic rules:
1) Material beats method. If the material you study isn't interesting or useful, you won't remember it well. Material that uses the greatest frequency of various forms of the language works the best. This might include novels, manuals, or even comics.
2) Memorizing a few verbs in a few tenses, plus auxiliary verbs is much better than memorizing all verbs in all tenses. In addition, Ferriss recommends (for English speakers) translating only 12 senteces into the target language: The apple is red. It is John's apple. I give John the apple. We give him the apples. He gives it to John. She gives it to him. Is the apple red ? The apples are red. I must give it to him. I want to give it to her. I'm going to know tomorrow. (I have eaten the apple.)
There's more to learn, of course, but this method is a good start... (G.K)
ancient dialects 古代の方言
born "knack" 生まれながらの「才覚」
It's not as hard as it seems. 見掛けほど難しくない
in unconventional ways 自由な方法で
Material beats Method. 教材の内容が学習方法より大事
auxiliary verbs 助動詞
in addition さらに