New Yorker Timothy Doner is just 17 years old but he has managed to teach himself 22 different languages in just a few weeks. He was able to master some widely spoken European languages like French, Spanish, Italian and German but most surprisingly decided to teach himself a number of lesser known dialects including isiXhosa (an official language in South Africa), Wolof (spoken widely in Gambia) and the Native American language of Ojibwe among others.
His story began in Autumn 2009 when after studying for his bar mitzvah, he decided he wanted to learn to speak modern Hebrew. So he practiced with his tutor by engaging in long dialogues about Israeli politics.
Then he felt that he wanted to learn how to speak Arabic. So after eighth grade (where in the U.S students are typically 13 to 14 years old) he attended a summer program for college students at Brigham Young University. It took him four days to learn the Arabic alphabet and a week to read it fluidly.
Then he dived into Russian, Italian, Persian, Swahili, Indonesian, Hindi, Ojibwe, Pashto, Turkish, Hausa, Kurdish, Yiddish, Dutch, Croatian and German, teaching himself mostly from books and flash card applications on his iPhone. Eventually he’d mastered 22 languages aside from his native tongue – English.
Doner began receiving attention from language enthusiasts across the world when he started posting videos of himself speaking in the different dialects on YouTube.
He had previously been the subject of a profile in The New York Times where language experts included him in a small and scattered pool of people who are considered ‘hyper-polyglots’ because of their uncanny ability to pick up and master languages in short periods of time.
Take a look at some of Timothy’s YouTube videos below.