Matthew Youlden is a hyperpolyglot, linguist and Language Ambassador at Babbel. You may know him from being literally all over the internet. But who is he, really? Sam Taylor has the answers.
You might recognize this grin. That’s because, since 2014, Matthew Youlden has been very much the face of Babbel (yes, his beard is naturally that shade of orange). Over the past couple of years, he’s appeared in newspapers, on television and on the radio all around the world, and — of course — he’s all over the internet too.
But why Matthew? Well, apart from that winning smile, he’s what we call a hyperpolyglot. By his own estimations, Matthew speaks somewhere in the region of 20 languages, 9-10 of them fluently. And by my own estimations, he’s being modest: Working in the same room as Mr. Youlden, I regularly hear him switching between languages as if it was nothing. He’ll be chatting away in Catalan while typing out an email in German, answering questions in Italian and fending off my interruptions in English.
Alongside his own passion for languages, Matthew possesses an extraordinary gift for inspiring others. So infectious is his enthusiasm, he’s been appointed Babbel’s very first Language Ambassador.
Well, never having met anyone quite like Matthew before, we had to invent an entirely new job just for him. And much like a diplomatic ambassador represents and promotes a country to the outside world, Matthew promotes languages and language learning to the outside world. Of course, he’s been doing that for quite a while now, but it’s only recently that he made it a full-time gig.
So what was he doing before that? Putting his talents to work on our courses, of course. Considering that Matthew had already managed to crack the language-learning code on his own, it only made sense that we’d ask him to share his know-how and help our users learn some new languages for themselves. And it was a natural fit:
“Creating a language course, believe it or not, is a huge amount of fun” he says. “From coming up with ideas for content, to writing it, shaping it, translating it and then doing the voiceover — it involves a lot more than you might expect.”
A day in the life
Like many of the Babbel team, Matthew lives in Berlin. He’s swapped the steak pies of his native Manchester for the local currywurst, and shares an apartment with his twin brother Michael, who — did we mention? — just so happens to be a hyperpolyglot himself.
Depending on what day of the week it is, Matthew leaves in the morning and heads for either Babbel HQ or to university, where he’s currently teaching classes and completing his PhD in Applied Linguistics. Assuming it’s a Babbel day, we’ll see him here bright and early. He takes his seat in the corner by the window and sets about the day’s work — writing articles, preparing speeches, making time for all the meetings he’s requested in (and, I like to imagine, answering stacks of fan mail).
“The best bit is getting an email from someone who’s decided to learn a new language or pick up from where they left off with one they’d already started,” according to the man himself. “It’s great to hear them say that they’ve read an article or watched a video that motivated them to get going. If I can encourage others to go out there and do it, then I think my job’s done for the day!”
“A pint of cider and a packet of cheese and onion crisps for the way home,” he says.
You can take the boy out of Manchester…
Making a polyglot
Why, oh why — you might ask — would anyone want to speak so many languages?
“My interest really came about from wanting to see something outside of my small town,” he tells me. “And I guess probably as well, just being very inquisitive about other places, other people, other cultures — wanting to see how things are in a different language community. I guess that’s what really spurred me on.
“There are so many advantages of learning a language — it really does open up your horizons. Sure, you can go practically anywhere and get by with hand signals, but you’ll never really feel at ease like that. At least not in the way you can if you’re able to fully interact in every situation you come across.”
And it’s not just about ordering coffees or buying train tickets: “The possibilities are practically limitless. Languages have a great deal of practical and logistical value when traveling, of course, but job-wise, for mental fitness, general self-improvement, or for finding a different perspective, they’re equally useful. You might even meet the person of your dreams in a place you wouldn’t expect.”
Matthew’s job is never done — so it’s a good thing he loves it. There will always be more people to tell about the joys of languages, even if he needs to learn their own language first in order to properly explain.
Currently, Matthew’s planning several high-profile public speaking appointments, interviews and newspaper articles from Babbel HQ. With the rest of his time he’s working hard on completing that PhD, so we’ll be referring to him as Dr. Youlden soon enough.
So which language is next? Welsh, because it’s closely related to his native Irish, and Inuktitut — because, well… Matthew.
Here’s the bit you really wanted to read. The following is a list of all the languages Matthew speaks fluently:
Matthew also speaks these languages, but wouldn’t claim to be fluent just yet:
- Croatian / Serbian
- Low Saxon (Plattdeutsch)
He can get by in these languages:
And he’s now preparing to add Welsh and Inuktitut too, of course. Because, it seems, 21 just isn’t enough.
Follow Matthew on Twitter @matthewyoulden