Kim Chae-young crams five evenings a week, toiling deep into the night. But unlike most young South Koreans who spend hours at special schools to polish their English and math, she studies slide steps and bubbly lyrics.
Others say that exceptional brains play a more significant role. In the 1980s, neurolinguist Loraine Obler of the City University of New York found a talented language learner she called 'CJ', who could speak five languages.
Asked if there was any reason someone couldn't learn dozens of languages, Pinker replied: "No theoretical reason I can think of, except, eventually, interference; Similar kinds of knowledge can interfere with one another."
Assuming that each language has 20,000 words and that Mezzofanti could remember a word after encountering it once, he would have to learn one word a minute, twelve hours a day for five and a half years!
In the discussion that followed Hudson's publication of N's claims, a reader disputed the Mezzofanti story, saying he found it absolutely preposterous, and pointing out how long it would take to learn 72 languages.
The writer, 'N', described how his grandfather, who was Sicilian and had never gone to school, could learn languages with such remarkable ease that by the end of his life he could speak 70, and read and write 56.
Throughout the 19th century, commoners in England were becoming educated through normal schools, church schools, and mutual instruction classes, and by the 1830s, approximately 75% of the working class had learned to read.