15 year old knows over 10 languages. Cambodian boy-polyglot.
Who isn't a fan of a good culture shock when you hear a foreign accent or fluent language from far away lands? Bilingualism isn't a rare thing in a world where it's either "Learn English" or "go back to where you came from", or, "Your country needs help? Here's some government assistance, some welfare, some religion and... some English".
Many Spanish and Asian-language speakers are making the efforts to immerse themselves in a second language in order to succeed in the American powered economies like Trade and Entertainment. Sure, accents can be a little hard to understand sometimes and maybe even amusing but still, you have to give credit where it's due: that accent means that person speaks an entirely different language; truly, an impressive feat that takes relentless study, application and commitment.
Sure, a good many countries speak at least two languages (like India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Nigeria, where English is also commonly spoken aside their native tongue; Canadians with English and French), but what mental capacity would it take to do this cultural expanse five times over? And for what purpose?
The best person to ask might just be Cambodian boy-wonder, Thuch Salik, who became an overnight sensation when a visitor from Malaysia posted a video on Facebook of her witnessing Salik, barely 14 at the time, speak 10 languages and count in 16. This, by far, qualifies the mini-merchant for the definition of the term, 'polyglot', meaning a person who speaks many languages.
Which languages does Salik know? Russian, Tagalog, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian, German and three dialects of Chinese, to name a few.
Barely over a dozen years old and he already knows over a dozen languages. What a poetic discovery to have arisen from the ancient Cambodian temple complex of Angkor, the country’s most revered site, whereto this Malaysian visitor pilgrimaged.
The post, of course, went viral, sweeping much of Asia and casting a spotlight on a self-taught boy "whose place in society would typically see him ignored" (-Channel News Asia).
Mann Vanna, Salik's mother, says her family has been fighting debt for years. They work up to five hours each day but sometimes go home empty handed. (Photo: Jack Board)
“I started to sell when I was 11 years old and now I have been selling for three years already. I only knew one language at the beginning,”
He opened up to Channel News Asia about his entrepreneurial approach of turning hawking to tourists into a linguistic achievement. The money he earns goes to his family, that has struggled with debt. His mother uses Salik's earnings to provide him and his siblings the education she was never afforded, along with meeting the family's daily needs. Their home is simple, a brief few hundred meters from Ta Prohm.
But their situation has already improved, thanks to Salik's efforts to entertain. Viral fame is just one benefit of knowing just about as many languages as years to your life. The future looks bright for his family as opportunities arise with the world watching.
Salik shared his dream is to be a tour guide with CNA, close to home and heart. When he finishes school, he plans to explore ruins and travel to new countries. It all seems possible now that people like you and me can hear his story and remember his name, setting him apart from the lack of opportunity that many Cambodian children still his peers, may never see.
He's currently studying at a boarding school in China and his family has moved to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, thanks to donors and charities that followed Salik's newfound fame. There, they continue to sell trinkets to tourists.
Thuch Salik poses for a photo outside his dormitory at Hailiang Foreign Language School in the eastern province of Zhejiang on May 29. (Photo: Xinhua/Han Chuanhao)
According to figures from Unicef Cambodia, around 80,000 children in the country are not in school when they should be. The world can be glad that at least this one is now.
You can read more about Salik's incredible talent here, with his and his mother's interview with CNA.