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Carpet Cleaner With Autism Has Learned 40 Languages

A carpet cleaner in Maryland has a secret. There’s nothing else to call it but a superpower, but you would never know it unless you took him to the UN headquarters.

Vaughn Smith of Gaithersburg, Maryland is a “hyperpolyglot,” a person who speaks 11 languages or more. In a basic sense, it means learning languages comes easy.

How easy? Smith has got 40 under his belt.

While it’s not uncommon to meet someone from, say, Belgium or Switzerland who can speak 4 or 5 European languages, the Washington Post recently confirmed that Smith is fluent or can carry a conversation in essentially all the languages of Europe, including Welsh, Irish Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic.

But he hasn’t stopped at the Old World, the reserved and kindly man knows several tribal languages including Lakota, Salish, Navajo, and Nahuatl, while from the far East he knows Japanese, Mandarin, Sinhalese, and Indonesian, and Amharic (Ethiopian) Hebrew, and Arabic, from the middle of the map.

The draw, he says, is to connect with people—people are happier and kinder when you can speak their language. He and his mother both suspect that he is autistic to a degree, as he had a difficult time participating in school and interpreting people’s feelings. But much like his ability to speak 40 languages, the passerby probably wouldn’t suspect that he was on the spectrum.

Autistic savantism is well-documented, and it’s poetic—almost a paradox that his disorder may have given him a special ability that seems tailor-made to helping him connect with other people.