While Tim Donner has learned 20 languages, his quest is to use that gift to explore his own humanity and that of the world around him, (which describes not just a linguistic creativity, but an interpersonal intelligence as well). He is impassioned. Watch and listen closely; don’t miss how he describes learning, through auditory, visual and spatial modalities.
Tim writes in his article in Ted.Ideas.com: “Reducing someone to the number of languages he or she speaks trivializes the immense power that language imparts. After all, language is the living testament to a culture’s history and world view, not a shiny trophy to be dusted off for someone’s self-aggrandizement.” He explains, he has been called, “The World’s Youngest Hyperpolyglot — a word that sounds like a rare illness. In a way it is: it describes someone who speaks a particularly large number of foreign languages, someone whose all-consuming passion for words and systems can lead them to spend many long hours alone with a grammar book.” Tim has used the combination of his two gifts, linguistic and interpersonal, to go out and learn about the people and cultures of the world.
The signs of his passion did not erupt until high school, but he can trace his journey back to his early childhood where he began as an actor, learning to pick up sounds. In third grade he was introduced to French in school, but really couldn’t hold a conversation. In the 7th grade he started Latin: the dead language held some interest for him, but was not really engaging.
What changed his direction was his call of his interpersonal intelligence, driving him to learn more about the people of the world. So, at thirteen, Tim became interested in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. To understand the people better, he started studying Hebrew through listening to the Israeli funk group Hadag Nachash. He listened to the same album every day until he had memorized the lyrics to about twenty of the songs. He began teaching himself, impelled by the igniting of the interest and passion he had always had within. Then he went out into the world, walking around his New York City neighborhood, visiting Israeli cafes to eavesdrop on people’s conversations.
In the summer before the 9th grade, he took a course on Arabic. After just a month, he could read and write in Arabic and was able to converse by the end of the summer. He continued teaching himself languages by using grammar books and watching TV shows. The following year, he uploaded a few videos of himself speaking different languages and “the world became interactive.” His passion increased exponentially as, in his words, “he became hooked.” He was prepared, ready and had taken his passion out into the world where his brilliance blossomed.
Tim can be reached through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/polyglotpal/