Language Learning Notes from a Hyper-Polyglot

I recently stumbled across this interesting video about a 17-year who speaks 20 languages.

Yup, 20. Check it out:


Here are some things which stood out:

  • The dude is obviously super-disciplined. His free time is language-learning time. His father mentions him studying 20 hours a week in a tone that suggests that is typical.
  • No doubt the video hams up how much time he spends walking around immigrant communities to find native speakers, but clearly he does make efforts to speak face-to-face. It’s always great to see how much people warm to attempts to speak their language.
  • His pronunciation is excellent – I am capable of judging his French and Mandarin, and was impressed. That said, it wasn’t perfect (he concedes early in the video that Mandarin is one of his “second-tier” languages), it’s not like he’s a cyborg. It’s inspiring, not daunting.
  • “With a little bit of practice, I feel confident again in languages like Turkish…” [2:30] This is interesting, as clearly he feels he can get to a certain level and then leave it ‘dormant’, and upon his return to that language he will be able to return to his previous level fairly rapidly.
  • I note not just the fact that he is reading the paper in a foreign language, but that he is clearly switching between them (this could be for the camera though)
  • “When I’m starting a language one of the most important things to do is have a lot of audio input” [4:30] – he talks about initially “absorbing the language as much as possible”. Makes sense – funny how that tends not to be the case in a lot of language classes.
  • “I think that by repeating to yourself over and over, it’s [sic] a really good way to train” [4.35]. Yup, again something that is frequently neglected in formal classes.
  • He watches a lot of movies/TV shows in the languages he is learning – he goes as far as to say that watching TV is his “basis of learning”.
  • “Anytime I learn a new language I try to post a video of me speaking it” – this is very interesting, and not something I think many language learners do.
  • Notice how around 6:55 he describes his realisation that he was “good at teaching [him]self languages” – he has built on top of his success.
  • Perhaps the most powerful point I took from the video was how clearly Tim understood why he was doing what he was doing. “Gaining a greater appreciation for societies values and its entire history”. He acknowledges that this may sound disingenuous, but he’s hardly faking his passion for language learning! You can see how animated he becomes when talking about the insights into history, culture and more that language learning gives him. He has found something truly within his passion threshold.

I’d not heard the Nelson Mandela quote he mentions towards the end, I think it is top-shelf:

If you talk to a man in his second language you’re talking to his brain, if you talk to him in his mother language, you’re talking to his heart.