|Oxford psalter, 13th century, Morgan Library (MS M.43 fol. 9v).|
We need to dispel the myth that it takes a special intelligence or aptitude to learn languages. It doesn't. Jürgen Leonhardt, in his wonderful book Latin: Story of a World Language, points out that, before the rise of the nation-state, polyglossia was the norm, and still is for many people around the world in linguistically diverse regions: ordinary people—merchants and workers and farmers—spoke (and speak) multiple languages for economic survival—not just an elite or scholarly class.
Modern America, where polyglossia is seen as an unusual attainment, is the exception, not the rule. In modern America, if you speak multiple languages, it probably means that you are either an immigrant or someone with an unusually good education, or both. The people who have learned even the most halting English on the go through economic necessity deserve the respect we accord scholars (or used to, anyway).