In these days if you speak one language, you’re an average functioning human being. Some people push themselves and study to learn two and even three languages. But some others go above and beyond being bilingual or even trilingual and become hyper-polyglots.
In terms of living people, a candidate for the record holder is Ziad Fazah, who reportedly claims to speak around 60 languages, the exact number isn’t clear. However, in one television appearance, Ziad was stumped by basic questions in several languages he’d previously claimed to be fluent in.
His record, however, pales in comparison to some from the past. Cardinal Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti, born in 1774, spoke 38 languages and 40 dialects. The 10th-century Muslim polymath Al-Farabi was reputed to know 70 languages. The German Hans Conon von der Gabelentz, born in 1807, researched and published grammars of 80 languages. The record, though, probably belongs to Sir John Bowring, Governor of Hong Kong from 1854 to 1859, who was said to know 200 languages, and capable of speaking 100.