teenage hyperpolyglot

A Teenage Hyperpolyglot



kebab parrot (2) student council
peer keep up stand apart
council fluid (2) can not only
local based on stereotype
lust spur (2) eavesdropper
ancient obviously for the most part
fluent receptive this or that
subway incident a minute or so
tend mundane soap opera
as well respond over the course
insult awkward pretty much
beware fine tune the way we dress
log on incredibly making fun of
globe major (2) more or less
melt Hebrew melting pot (2)





Timothy Doner isn’t the captain of the basketball team. He’s not the student council president and he’s not staring in his school’s play.

But the 17 year old teenager stands apart from the peers in his school, if not the youth of America: Doner can speak 20 different languages.

Timothy Doner, Hyperpolyglot: “Some of the languages that I speak or have studied are French, Latin, Ancient Greek, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Indonesian, Dutch, Italian.”

Doner calls New York City home, and so do Italians, Muslims, Africans, Russians, Germans, Chinese, and Japanese. And if Doner wanted to, he could communicate with any of these cultures.

Timothy Doner, Hyperpolyglot: “I was learning Hebrew very seriously, because I was interested in learning about Israeli history and politics of the Middle east, and I wasn’t necessarily trying to teach myself. I just found that I was really interested in Israeli music, kind of trashy electronic and hip hop.

And I found that just by listening to song lyrics and parroting them back to people, I started to be able to form new sentences.

And after about six months of this, it became easier for me to just to start having more fluid conversations with people just based off words that I learned from songs.”

Hebrew was his first language. He then moved on to Arabic.

Doner can not only speak Farsi fluently, he keeps up with local politics by reading one of Iran’s newspapers, the Teheran Post.

After that, his lust for new languages spurred from there.

Timothy Doner, Hyperpolyglot: “Most of the time people are very receptive to it. They’re very interested to see that Americans are learning about foreign cultures or that people are speaking their language because for the most part when immigrants come to this country, they’re expected to learn English, they only operate in English, and there’s a certain stereotype that A’s don’t learn foreign languages. And so I think most of time people are very receptive to it.

And obviously you get comments like, oh, you’re going to be a spy, or you’re going to do this or that, but for the most part I’d say it’s positive.”

Doner will practice in restaurants and meet ups throughout the city, speaking Arabic in Astoria, Queens to Mandarin Chinese in New York’s Chinatown neighborhood.

He’ll even order his street kebabs in Arabic.

Timothy Doner, Hyperpolyglot: “Learning a serious number of languages helps you become a bit of an eavesdropper. I find that most of the time, that I’ve become a bit of an eavesdropper, I accidentally follow people, perhaps listening to people for longer than I should in conversations.

I also take the subway to school every morning, so over course of the 20 minutes or so, I tend to hear a fair number of conversations in foreign languages.

Most of the time it’s pretty mundane, but you do hear soap opera conversations as well.

It can also be incredible awkward. I’ve had people insult me in foreign languages as well.

And I’ve been able to respond to them and say, I speak it as well.

I had an incident a couple of years ago, it was at an Israeli restaurant, I was eating food with my dad. There were a couple of Israelis at the other table chatting in Hebrew about these A Jews eating Israeli food they were making fun of us, making fun the way we dress. So I went up to them and say, I can speak Hebrew too.”

Skype he says has been a major tool in fine tuning his fluency.

Timothy Doner, Hyperpolyglot: “I have a lot of Skype friends from Afghanistan for example, from everywhere in Europe pretty much. Or even from Japan, China, Singapore. More or less from everywhere. So I think it’s great that I can log on my computer sitting in my bedroom in New York I can contact with over a hundred people from all over the world.”

But despite the global contact that New York’s global melting pot of cultures makes the perfect place to practice. so foreigners beware, Tim Doner just might be listening.

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1. Tim Doner is a typical teenager (high schooler). True or false?

2. Has he only studied European languages like French, Spanish and German?

3. His only learning material was textbooks. Is this right or wrong? Does he only practice foreign languages in class?

4. Have Tim’s parents forced him to study foreign languages since he was in kindergarten?

5. Do Americans try very hard to master other languages?

6. Some people are suspicious of Tim. Is this correct or incorrect?
Have people insulted Tim in their language? Do they insult him in English?

7. Are there advantages to living in New York City? Could Tim become fluent in different languages without leaving his home?


A. Can you speak a foreign language? How many different languages can your friends speak?

B. Do you think Tim has “natural ability or talent”, does he just study languages very hard, is he very passionate about learning languages, or all of the above?

C. Is your city monolingual, bilingual or multilingual?

D. I have Skype and e-friends from different countries. True or false?

E. If I could master four foreign languages, I would like to know . . . . . . .

F. What will happen in the future?

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