17. Friedrich Engels embraced foreign languages and used his polyglot skills to spread the message of socialism across Europe
As might be expected of a man whose mission was to try and educate the international working class about socialism and Marxist theory, Friedrich Engels was extremely adept at speaking different languages. In fact, the German philosopher and writer has widely been credited with being a âhyper-polyglot’, excelling in languages and able to speak and write like a native in around 10 of them. He used his abilities to share his ideas through speaking engagements as well as through countless letters to fellow believers around the world.
Since his father was a successful businessman with a factory in northern England, the young Friedrich grew up in comfort. Born in Germany in 1820, he fell out with his parents as a teen, thanks mainly to his growing atheism clashing with their strict protestant beliefs. He traveled through Belgium and then Switzerland before heading off to university in Berlin, where he met Karl Marx. Then, at the age of 22, he was sent to England to work at his parents’ factory. It was here where he started writing about the conditions of the working classes. He corresponded with Marx, sharing his thoughts and observations with the economist, and the foundations for Communism were created.
Engels remained in Manchester for several years before spending periods in Paris and then Brussels. Living in different countries, mixing with international workers and corresponding with co-conspirators and fellow believers in different countries, helped Engels hone his language skills. According to most accounts, he spoke English, French, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, as well as his native German and, interestingly, Irish Gaelic and even the Milanese dialect. Moreover, he could – and did – write fluently in all of these different languages.