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Could a human-sized brain be able to learn all the spoken languages in the world? Is our brain size capable of that not only learning them, but fluently being able to speak them? Also, if one is fluent in a language, if they don't speak it for a while, can the lose it and end up being not fluent any longer?

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    $\begingroup$ All languages and dialects? What about accents? I speak English but have a hard time understanding the Scots. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Nov 23 '15 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ There are several thousand languages on Earth. Some dialect might be considered as languages because the distinction between the two is not really clear but there are a lot of languages anyway. Many are only spoken by a handful of people. Maybe you can set a specific amount : 10,50,100? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 23 '15 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ The brain's capacity is not enough to hold thousands of languages. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 23 '15 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ Of course anyone with the will can try to pickup any existing language and vocab in the current world, however will power alone cannot guarantee you can become proficient enough also too many different words and pronounciations just for an object alone is going to shut off our brain reward system unless you are replacing "rain man". $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 23 '15 at 7:00
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This question requires us to handwave a few things. For one, we have to define what a language is, as opposed to a dialect or otherwise. Usually this isn't an issue, but when you start throwing around the phrase "all the spoken languages," details like that start to be important. For sake of argument, we'll say there's 6,500 languages in the world.

Fluency is another tricky one. Non-linguists often use the word as a level of expertise: one is not fluent until they finally achieve fluency. In reality, there is no bar. One never finishes learning a language, not even their native tongue. One simply becomes more and more fluent as they practice.

However, we can work around this one with some division. Let's give our language learner a lot of luck: let's let them live to be 100 years old. To learn 6,500 languages in 100 years, you must learn 65 languages per year, every year, from birth to death. That's one language every 5.6 days, more than one language every week!

So, no, a human brain cannot learn all the spoken languages in the world, because it is strapped to a body which will give out before it can finish.

The closest we have is Daniel Temment, who managed to learn "conversational" Icelandic in a week, and German in a similar amount of time. He's also an autistic savant with synesthesia who can recite pi to 22,514 digits.

A lower bar might be to just be able to communicate with every person in the world, but that's an answer for another question!

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with that last sentence, a person who knows Spanish could possible speak with most people in the Latin sphere of the language, a person with Swedish could manage Danish and Norwegian also, and i assume most there is similarities in most other languages. A person who speaks C also manage PHP, C++, Java and C# with some good willl. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Nov 23 '15 at 11:47
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Could a human-sized brain be able to learn all the spoken languages in the world?

If by all languages, you mean all languages with all dialects to an expert level (or become fluent), then I don't think the human brain can be able to do it.

Why? Because, as the answer by Cort Ammon put the total number of languages to be 6500+, as a data scientist I can vouch for the fact that knowing all the dialects of all the languages fluently would definitely exceed 100 TB, which is the approximate estimate of the brain's memory storage.

Also, if one is fluent in a language, if they don't speak it for a while, can the lose it and end up being not fluent any longer?

Yes, as fluency and expertise is built up through practise which involves strengthening the connections of the neurons in the brain, it is a fact that lack of usage would weaken the connections.

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