My Favorite Language Learners Series: Tim Doner
You know that teenage guy who got over 4 million views on YouTube just for speaking in 20 languages in one video? That’s this guy. Tim Doner is known through the media as “the world’s youngest hyperpolyglot”.
Like the previous polyglots I spoke of, I randomly found him on YouTube when I saw several videos of him speaking in languages like Arabic (both Modern Standard and Egyptian varieties), Hebrew, Indonesian, Swahili, Farsi/Persian, Pashto, Hindi, and even the Native American language Ojibwe.
I later came across videos on YouTube where he was interviewed by several major media outlets such as the New York Times, THINKR, and BBC, and I even saw him interviewed by Katie Couric! Wow! In addition I got to watch his TED talk on “Breaking the Language Barrier” back in 2014.
Besides all the press on Doner being labeled as “the world’s youngest hyperpolyglot”, who is he exactly? And why is Doner such an inspiration for me?
At the moment he’s a linguistics student at Harvard focusing on the Middle East and the Islamic world (which from many of the kinds of languages he’s studying is very fitting — Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian are three of his most fluent languages). In his THINKR video, despite the press stating he’s fluent in 20 languages, he states that he is extremely fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and French, he’s a little less fluent but advanced in Mandarin, German, and Russian, he’s comfortable in Hindi/Urdu, Indonesian, conversational in Turkish and Italian, and has many rusty and dormant languages such as Ojibwe, Yiddish, Wolof, and Hausa, and has a basic level in languages such as Japanese and Dutch.
One thing that inspires me about Doner is how young he was when he started learning languages. In his TED talk he says that he started learning languages with French at the age of 10 and just kept going. I really love how he just applies himself in the languages he’s learning and I enjoyed hearing about his use of the method of loci (the mind palace, memory palace, or memory journey technique originally used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans). I’ll have to try it out at some point! I also like how he had a campaign back in 2014 called the Teen Polyglot Challenge which had a huge turnout of many teenage language learners who learned foreign languages of all different kinds. I also find the topics and articles and photos Doner shares on his Facebook page very interesting. I recently came across an article of his on Fluent Worlds about his experience travel writing in Denmark, which gives me inspiration in wanting to travel write myself.
Doner gives me a lot of motivation in my own language learning journey, even though I have lived four years longer than him. It makes me wish that I started learning languages at age 10 instead of age 15, but oh well, the past is the past! Although many friends and family members of mine are often impressed by the amount of languages that I know, I find myself impressed by the amount of languages Doner knows, since he knows about twice as many languages as I do at the moment. In conclusion, I really admire Doner’s work and would like to meet him and work with him in some capacity in the future.
During the past few years, I've been referred to in the media as "The World's Youngest Hyperpolyglot" - a word that…ideas.ted.com
His website (including all his media appearances) is http://polyglotpal.blogspot.com
His Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/polyglotpal/?fref=ts
I also will be checking out his LinkedIn page as I am very interested in contacting him in the near future https://www.linkedin.com/in/timdoner