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US Teen Speaks Over a Dozen Languages

An American teenager has managed to accomplish what those of us who struggled through Spanish or French can only dream of. According to the New York Times, at only 16 years old, Timothy Doner is able to communicate in at least 12 languages, including Hebrew, Russian, Italian, Persian, Swahili, Indonesian, Hindi, Ojibwe, Pashto, Turkish, Hausa, Kurdish, Yiddish, Dutch, Croatian, German, French, Latin and Mandarin.

Whew! Of course, he’s more proficient at some languages than others, but that’s still quite an achievement (especially considering the fact that he taught himself most them.) It’s also not a stopping point for young Mr. Doner, who plans to learn at least the basics of as many languages as he can while he’s still young.

So, how does he do it? Was he just born that way? As with most questions pertaining to the intersection of the body and the mind, the answer is far from clear.

MSN.com notes that structural differences have been found in the brains of people who excel at learning multiple languages, but nothing conclusive. Also, since becoming bilingual actually changes the way your brain works, it might be difficult to distinguish cause from effect.

Regardless of what his brain looks like on the inside, Doner’s “secret sauce” actually seems to be something far more prosaic: a combination of passion, hard work and dedication. Per the New York Times, during school holidays he sometimes spends 15 hours a day studying!

As neurolinguist Michael Paradis told MSN, “Kids do well in what they like. Kids who love math do well in math. He loves languages and is doing well in languages.”

In the New York Times, Doner calls learning languages ” a way of coping with stress” and says “I’m not a very serious school nerd. I’m not motivated in math. I found my niche. I’m not obsessive.”

It’s great to see someone find their niche so early in life. His passion for languages is almost certain to serve him well in the years to come!

8 Languages, 3 Months, 1 Guy: Discover Benny Lewis.

It’s a fact, life is short and if someone has understood this concept very well, it’s Benny Lewis. Irish polyglot, he left his native land 8 years ago and keeps traveling around the world since then. But more than your average globetrotter, Benny has made its principal mission to learn the language of each country he is visiting. Now fluent in 8 languages, Benny is sharing with you his secrets and knowledges through his blog Fluent in 3 months and his brand new Language Hacking Guide. Always convinced that you couldn’t learn a language? Forget your prejudices and check his story out!

If you could only use 3 words to describe Benny, what would they be?

Ambitious, ridiculous, optimist.

What is Benny’s story?

I studied electronic engineering and when I graduated I could only speak English. I moved to Spain and only spent time with other expats and learned very little Spanish for 6 months. Then I took the language seriously and saw that it wasn’t that bad after all, despite believing I wasn’t talented. After several years I’ve applied the same attitude to learning other languages and hope to convince as many people as possible that they can do the same thing too.

“You don’t have to be rich to travel the world”, is that true?

Absolutely. For most of my travels I had a very tight budget, but could get by on very little. In fact, when you travel and don’t have a mortgage or car insurance, or don’t get bored and waste money on TVs and fancy clothes, you realise that the travel lifestyle is cheaper than most people’s lifestyles. If people learned to spend wisely, they’d realise how far their money can take them.

Flights are not expensive nowadays. My flight home from Colombia to Ireland is €300, and most flights within Europe are next to nothing on cheap airlines. You can save money on accommodation by Couchsurfing, and you can always find a kitchen to cook in to avoid restaurants.

What sort of jobs are you doing to support yourself?

I’ve had dozens of jobs. My favourite (and worst paid) was working at the reception of an International Youth Hostel. I’ve also taught English and worked in office jobs and as an engineer. For most of the last few years I was a freelance translator. Since my work was all e-mail based, I could do this from anywhere. Now I am attempting to earn from my website.

How many countries did you visit? Any funny anecdote to share with us during your trips…

I’ve lived in about twenty countries. Other travellers have much higher numbers than that, but I have genuinely lived in all countries and spoken their language, with the exception of week-long trips to 3 or 4 countries.

There are way too many anecdotes. I nearly died seven times, I danced with a president, got recognised dozens of times by strangers who read my blog etc., but I think the best stories are simply the friendships I’ve made along the way. Read more