The Gemara tells us that some members of the סנהדרין knew all seventy languages – or at least the languages that were commonly spoken in that area of the world. And it says that רבי עקיבא and רבי אליעזר and רבי יהושע בן חנניה also knew these languages. How did they learn these languages? Was it some sort of נס?
How did they learn it? They had contact with the Phoenicians. Tzur was right next to Eretz Yisroel. And the Phoenicians travelled on the seas. They were traders who travelled everywhere and they became familiar with the languages. The more intelligent of the Phoenicians were able to pick up the languages in full. They were in daily contact with the other nations and they learned their languages.
So, if you were interested, you could learn it. If you weren’t interested you wouldn’t learn it. There were Jews who were interested in learning it, so they made sure to learn it from the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians did business with all the nations and they were able to speak the languages. The אנשי צור, the Phoenicians, it’s well-known, were travelers in business. And so, if you wanted to learn the languages, you consulted the Phoenicians next door and you learned it from them.
TAPE # E-219