Vaughn Smith lives in Maryland. He’s 46 years old. He also learns languages with the seeming ease of a run around the block — including endangered indigenous tongues like Salish. In this fascinating profile that’s part ridealong and part science dive, Jessica Contrera takes you inside the life (and brain) of a man with a very particular set of skills.

When I introduced him to Richard Simcott, who organizes an international conference for polyglots, Vaughn switched between 10 languages as they spoke, telling stories in Welsh, Bulgarian, Serbian, Norwegian and more.

Because for Vaughn, every language is really a story about the people it connected him to.