Ziad Fazah – Secret Files part 01
The man who speaks 59 languages
Ziad Y. Fazah was one of my first inspirations to become a polyglot, as he lives in Brazil, every now and then he was on television as being the greatest polyglot in the world, my dream obviously was to be like him. He became a celebrity during the 90’s, he wrote a collection of books, that I quickly saved money to buy and learn languages using the method of the man who inspired me to get into this nice world. Who would not like to learn from a man who has been able to learn 59 languages?
He publicly claimed to be able to speak in 59 languages at a very advanced level, his claim probably encourages other people to learn languages, including me. The problem is that there is not much evidence that he is particularly good at this large amount of languages, in Brazil, one of the hugest monolingual countries of the world, people only tested him in Portuguese, English, German, French, Spanish and Italian.
Since then I have being only admiring him and his work by far, after a while he was not more on TV or on news papers. But by chance, some years ago Fazah has appeared on television and I have seen a clip on where he failed on really simple phrases in the television show Viva el lunes on the Chilean station Canal 13.
During this program he failed to answer “easy questions” like the finish one “Koko maailmassa on noin viisi miljoonaa ihmistä, jotka puhuvat suomen kieltä. Varmaan myös tiedätte, että Suomessa puhutaan virallisesti suomea, ruotsia ja saamen kieltä.” That roughly means: “There are about 5 million people in the whole world that speak Finnish. You probably also know, that Finnish, Swedish and Sami are the official languages of Finland.” As you can notice there is nothing really hard on this question, but Ziad replied : “She asked me how I am able to learn Finnish, which is a language of foreign origins, and what does it feel like to learn this language, which is from another culture?” take your own conclusions.
The funniest question came from a Russian man who in a very clear voice asked “Какой сегодня день недели?” which simply means “What day of the week is it?” Fazah’s answer was “Какой…?” (“what…?) and then nothing…
Then came a Chinese man, who had a more elaborate question: “你懂得五十八种语言。真可谓是语言大师。中国普通话是较困难。那么(我)向你题一个简单的问题。在地球上…在月球上能够看到唯一的地球上的 人造工程是什么？” (Nǐ dǒng de wǔ shí bā zhǒng yǔyán. Zhēn kě wèi shì yǔ yán dà shī. Zhōngguó pǔtōnghuà shì jiào kùnnán. Nàmė (wǒ) xiàng nǐ tí yī gè jiǎndān de wèntí. Zài dìqíu shàng… Zài yuèqíu shàng néng gòu kàn dào wéi yī de dìqíu shàng de rén zào gōng chéng. Shì shénmė?) “You understand fifty eight languages. One can say that you are a great linguist. Mandarin is quite difficult. So I will ask you a simple question. From the Earth … from the moon, one can see only one man made object on earth. What is it?”
The expected answer was “the Great Wall of China”. However, Fazah’s translation was: “Where did you learn Chinese? And where did you learn it so easily?” The last person on the video was a Greek lady who asked “Πόσες μέρες θα μείνετε εδώ στη Χιλί;”, which means “How many days do you intend to stay in Chile?” In the video Fazah does not give any answer to this question as well. Further there was one man speaking Farsi without Fazah understanding the question. In some of these cases, he clearly had no idea what the people asked him, and yet, he desperately tried to come up with some answers that in the end made no sense at all.
Other important thing to notice is that Ziad does not speak Farsi, it’s not on his list, but in that moment instead of saying this he tried, and failed.
There is evidence that he may fail to understand anything at all of simple phrases in Finnish, Russian, Chinese, Farsi and Greek at least – languages he lists among the 58/59 he claims to speak.
Even after this terrible presentation I decided to try to investigate Ziad, as he was my first inspiration. I knew many people have already tried to contact him without success, I tried other times with no success, but I decided to give a last try, and guess what? Yes, he answered me and gave me his mobile number, and asked me to call him next day between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm obviously I phoned him, I presented myself as being a polyglot, teacher, therapist and my whole background, I said I was studying Polish with my own method and book (co-authored with a native Polish speaker), but I’d like to improve what I was having, I complete believe on my method, but Ziad claimed to be able to speak a language in three weeks, so I decided to give him a try. We matched to start studying twice a week with his “method”.
Ziad was a great and wise man, showing a great knowledge about Portuguese language even using erudite words that besides knowing, I have never used in my life. So, I can assure his Portuguese is beyond expectations, native level with no accent.
Despite being a wise man, unfortunately as other polyglots, he is not really a good teacher, he mispronounced several words during our lesson, and he used a book that he has never reveled the name, but later I discovered being Basic Polish Grammar. The question is “does he speak polish? Well, he knows some grammar points, he can simply them, but I’m not sure if he has the speaking skills beyond B1, but grammar maybe C1. You will be able to watch some videos of our lessons, and will notice that he used some wrong words, and just the next lesson of even on the same day he called me to inform his mistake, I appreciate this action, but for a tutor inexpert. I speak some languages, but I don’t consider myself able to teach them, specially it’s grammar, I can maintain a conversation in German and a better one in Catalan, but definitively I cannot teach them.
I sent him my books of Polish and Dutch, both co-authored by native speakers, and he emphasized that the book seemed good, but only focused on conversation and almost no grammar, and they were focused on basic students, the funny part is that they were really 100% focused on conversation and the ones I sent him were the first out of 4 and 3 books. But I like to emphasize that as a linguist and author, my books are co-authored by natives, and tested in our real classrooms to guarantee our promises.
Ziad is a wise man, unfortunately living in his ostracism and decadent life after so many problems due to the famous video of Viva el Lunes, he teaches Arabic in a local school, and some online lessons. So, he proposed me to start a partnership with him, as I run a language school and …. (Continue next episode)