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!