How speaking 16 Languages changed this Cambodian boy's life
From living in a shack to to becoming a YouTube star
Lingo Ninja Research Team
3 min read · published April 23, 2021 · last update April 29, 2021

The Viral Fame of Salik Thuch

Thuch Salik was a normal 14-year old boy in Angkor Wat, Cambodia until a Malaysian tourist recorded him speaking 11 languages while trying to sell her some souvenirs in November 2018. The video recorded by the tourist went viral in 2018 and was picked up by multiple media outlets. See it here:

Within a few days, Tuch and his family were interviewed by news stations, received donations that cleared all their debt, and a China-based media company invited them to Beijing, on a fully sponsored trip. 

In later videos, Salik was counting from 0 to 10 in a total of 16 languages:

Which languages were these? Let's see:
  • 6 European/western languages:
    German, Italian, French, Spanish, English, Russian
  • 3 Chinese languages:
    Mandarin, Cantonese, Hainanese
  • 7 other Asian languages: 
    Khmer (Cambodia, his native language), Filipino/Tagalog (Philippines), Malay/Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysia), Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese) 

Multilingual, Polyglot, or even Hyperpolyglot

Salik said he learned all languages by speaking to tourists. People like Salik are called multilingual, polyglot, or even hyperpolyglot. Let's see how common that is: According to many sources on the net, we get the following statistics:
  • there are 7.9 billion people in the world (April 2021)
  • 40% are monolingual - roughly 3.2 billion people
  • 43% are bilingual - roughly 3.4 billion people
  • 13% are trilingual - about 1 billion people
  • 3% are quadrilingual (speak 4 languages) - around 240 million people
  • less than 0,1% are pentaglot (speak 5 languages) - less than 8 million people
 After this, the data stops. 

How many people worldwide can speak 16 languages?

But let me make an estimation here, just for fun.  Let's try to figure out how many people speak 16 languages worldwide and how rare Salik's talent is. If I calculate the step between bilingual and trilingual, that's 13% / 43% = 0.3. Trilingual to quadrilingual is 3% / 13% = 0.23. And qudri- to pentiglingual is 0.1% / 3% = 0.03. So we get a series of 0.3, 0.23, 0.03. If we continue using a step of 0.3 we get:
  • 0.00024% speak 10 languages (about 20.000 people worldwide)
  • 0.0000006% speak 15 languages (47 people worldwide)
  • 0.0000002% speak 16 languages (14 people)
And that was using the HIGHEST step.  If we use a lower step of 0.1, we would get:
  • 0.000032% speak 10 languages (about 2500 people)
  • 0.00000001% speak 15 languages (1 person)
  • 0 people speak 16 languages

Do take these numbers with a grain of salt.  They are nothing but very rough estimations. But it shows us there are extremely few people speaking 16 languages, probably less than 20 in the whole world.

There's a list of polyglots on Wikipedia, listing 53 people.  This list is of course incomplete as, for example, it does not include 14-year-old Salik. Everyone on this list speaks at least 6 languages and up to  40+ languages. One point becomes clear: Salik seems to be a member of a very small club. An ability like this in a 14-year-old child is definitely extraordinary. 

The impact on Salik's life

All the media attention changed Salik's life.

In Sept 2019 he started to study in Hailiang Educational Institute, an elite private school in China. The school wants to fully sponsor him all the way to a PhD. At the school, Salik is the only Cambodian student. His previous education was lacking as his family did not have enough money for Salik to attend school regularly. So he needed 1 year to catch up with other students of his age.

In July 2020, Salik signed up with FUN Entertainment,  a talent company in Cambodia, to become a social media star. He now has his own youtube channel, here is a video of him:

And what happened to his family?  Their debt was paid off, and they found the support to move from Angkor Wat to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, where they run a clothing shop.

Here is an article and a video by Channel News Asia of Salik's incredible story: 
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Lingo Ninja Research Team
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