Translator: Mohand HabchiReviewer: Son Huynh So about two years ago,
I was featured ina New York Times article called, “Adventures of a teenage polyglot,”
which featured my passionfor learning foreign languages,
this peculiar hobby that I had.
And at first I thought it was great.
I loved the fact that language learningwas getting more attention and
that it wouldn’t always seem like an isolating hobby that was
suddenly putting me into contactwith people all around the world.
And as I spent more timein the media spotlight,
the focus of my story began to shift.
So whereas I’ve always been interestedin talking about the why and the how,
why I was learning foreign languages,how I did it,
instead, it turned into a bit of a circus,
in which media shows wantedto sensationalize my story.
So it would go a little somethinglike this,
“大家好 今天我们请来了17岁的Timothy Doner
“Hello, I’m here today with17-year-old Timothy Doner
who’s fluent in 20 languages.
Oh, I’m sorry.
He actually can insult you in 25 languages
and he’s fluent in another ten.
Tim, how about you tell our audience’Good morning’
and ‘Thank you for watching’, in Muslim?”
(Laughter) “Er… Arabic.”
(Arabic) “Great Tim. Now can we get you
to introduce yourself and say, ‘I’m fluent in 23 languages’ in German.”
“It’s not really true. But…”
“No, no, just tell the audience.”
(German) “Perfect. Now how about
a tongue twister in Chinese?
(Laughter) “Well, we could talk about Chinese,
you know, a lot more Americansare learning Chinese these days,
and I think there’sa lot of value in that.”
“No, no, no.Just give us a tongue twister.”
“This guy! Tim, how about
another tongue twister in Chinese?”
“I will prefer not to, but you know we could talk about China.
There’s a lot you can gainby learning a language.
“Oh Tim, I’m sorry,That’s all the time we have.”
“Now why don’t you to tell our audience ‘Goodbye’ in Turkish
and we will be over here?”
“You know we haven’t talkabout anything substantive.”
“But Turkish please.”
“How about that kid, right,
wonder if he gets any girls…
Now stay with us because up next,
a skateboarding bulldogin a bathing suit.”
So, as funny as that was,
it highlighted two pretty major problems in the way my story was covered.
On a personal level,
I felt that language learning was nowbecoming like a bit of a task, almost.
It felt like something that was suddenlyhad to be rigidly organized.
某种条理化 合理化的 可以量化评估的东西
Something that had to becompartmentalized, rationalized, expressed in a concrete number.
I speak X languages.
I know Y languages.
As opposed to what I’d always done, which was just learning languagesfor the fun of it.
Learning to communicate with people, learning about foreign cultures.
And on a bigger level,
it’s cheapenedwhat it meant to speak a language, or to know a language.
Now if I can impart youwith anything today at TEDxTeen, it’s that knowing a language
is a lot more than knowinga couple of words out of a dictionary.
It’s a lot more that being able to ask someone where the bathroom is, or telling them the time of day.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
So for those of youwho aren’t familiar with my story,
maybe a lot of you heredon’t know what the word polyglot is, and it’s a pretty weird one.
I started here.
So this little tot is me, circa 2001,
and this is the beginningof my language learning journey.
I actually was a child actor before I’d learned any languages.
And I always had a little bit of a giftfor accent.
So I’m going to auditionsfor radio commercials, or for TV commercials,
and I’d do an Austin Powers impression.
I’m not going to do one now.
(Laughter) Or maybe I would do
Apu from the Simpsons.
In fact there was actuallyone time an audition which I was asked to leave,
because they told me to speaklike a little kid with a lisp,
and I wanted to doDarth Vader in a French accent.
But, that taught me the basics of of how to breakdown sound.
如何模仿外国口音 或外语演讲 真正去使用它
How to pick up a foreign accent, or foreign speech patterns, and really live with it.
那么快进一点 我现在三年级 第一次开始学法语
Now fast forward a little bit, I’m now in about third grade, and I’ve just started Frenchfor the first time.
但经过了六个月 一年 甚至两年 我都没法和人交流
But six months into a year, into even two years later, I can’t converse with anybody.
French is just another subject in school, and even though I can tell you words
比如 肘 膝盖骨 鞋带
for elbow, knee bone, shoelace.
I couldn’t really havea fluent conversation with anybody.
Fast forward a little bit more.
In seventh grade, I started Latin.
So Latin of course is a dead language, and in learning Latin, you really learn how to breakdown language,
to see language as a system with rules, and as a bit of a puzzle.
So that was great, but I still didn’t feellike language was for me.
So, forward a little bit more.
About 13, and I’ve been interested in learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
I started studying Hebrew.
Now, I had no way of doing it.
I had no ideawhat I was supposed to be doing, so I listen to a lot of Rap music.
I memorize lyrics,I’d spit them back out,
我会试着和当地人聊天 每周一次 每月一次
and I would just try to chatwith native speakers, once a week, once a month,
and I’ve got that incrementally, I started to understand a lot more.
Now I didn’t sound like a native speaker,
I couldn’t speak very articulately and
I certainly didn’t know the grammar.
but I had done what I’d nevermanaged to do in school,
which was to pick upthe basics of a language all on my own.
Forward a little bit more.
I started taking Arabic when I was 14
in a summer program going into 9th grade.
This is summer of 2010.
After a month I foundthat I could read and write without a problem.
I’d learned the basicsof the formal language and one of its major dialects.
And it turned me onto the fact that Icould really pursue languages as a hobby.
So, it finally came to March 24th 2011.
So I’ve pretty vicious insomnia, and as I was studying more languages
using grammar books or watching TV shows,
and let’s say Arabic or Hebrew,became one way of focusing my time.
So on that night, while I wasawake till some ungodly hour,
I recorded myself speaking Arabicinto my computer screen, subtitled it,
and I uploaded it to YouTube under the title, “Tim speaks Arabic.”
(Arabic) Next day I did the same thing, (In Hebrew) Tim speaks Hebrew.
And the comments, when I trickled in,were fantastic.
I got things like, “Wow, I’ve never seenan American speak Arabic before.”
(Laughter) You blame them?
In addition to that I got things like, “Wow, maybe you shouldfix your vowels here.”
Or “maybe this wordis pronounced this way.”
这样突然间学语言从书中独立的页面 从我的电脑屏幕 变成了世界范围的事
So suddenly language learning had gone from the solitary pages of a book, or my computer screen, into the wide world.
After that I was hooked.
I had a community of speakersto interact with,
and essentially had a teacheror conversation partners for any language that I wanted to do.
So I’ll show you a quick montage of that.
Video: (Arabic)I started studyingArabic roughly, 6 months ago.
[印度尼西亚语]大概开始于 一 二 三 四……
(Indonesian)This started… one, two, three, four…
maybe four days ago.
(Hebrew) I actually feel
that reading and writingare easier in Arabic
(Ojibwe)I certainly find Ojibwe difficult!
(Swahili) But I came homethe day before yesterday.
(Pashto) How is my pronunciation?Thanks so much!
Have a great day. Goodbye!
Tim Doner: That became my way
of reaching out to the world.
But as I was learning all these languages, I faced a number of obstacles.
So number one,I had no idea how to teach myself.
In fact, I’m sure many of youif you were told you have to learn Pashto by next month,
you wouldn’t know what to do.
So I experimented.
Here’s one thing.
So in my Latin class, I read aboutsomething that Cicero described, called, “Method of Loci.”
But it’s a techniquein which you take mnemonics.
So let’s say you want to learn 10 vocabulary words on a list.
You take each of those words and instead of memorizing them in blocks.
you integrate theminto your spatial memory.
So here’s what I mean.
This is Union Square.
It’s a place I go every day.
If I close my eyes I can imagine it very, very vividly So I imagine myselfwalking down Union Square,
and in each spot in my mindthat has resonance,
I associate it with a vocab word.
I’ll show you right now.
I’m walking down Park Avenue, and in Japanese “to walk” is “iku”
I go a little bit further, turn right, sit on the stairs where I can “Suwaru”.
正北就是一座George Washington（华盛顿）的雕像 我以前还以为是一座喷泉
Directly north of thereis a statue George Washington which I used to think was a fountain,
so that’s “nomu”, “to drink”.
Right next,there’s a tree that you can “Kiru”, “cut”.
If you want to go northfor Barnes & Noble, you can “Yomu”, “to read”.
Or if I’m hungry and I want to goto my favorite Falafel place,
I can go one block west of there,so I can “Taberu”, “to eat”.
I missed one.
好吧 十分之八 还不错
Alright. So 8 out of 10!Not bad!
So I found that most of the time by experimenting with methods like these,
it made language learninga much more interactive experience.
It made it somethingthat I can remember much better.
and I had a lot of fun with.
Maybe that’s not for you.
Here’s another one.
So a lot of people often ask me, if you’re studying so many languagesat the same time, how do you not confuse them?
Or how do you learnso many vocabulary words?
In Spanish I learn a word for table and the word for bookgoes out the other ear.
What I do is I embrace those.
So for example, take these three words in Indonesian.
These were actually amongthe first 50 words that I learned.
“kepala” “kabar” “kantor”
“Kepala”, “Kabar”, “Kantor”.
Lexically there’re unrelatedto each other.
“kepala”是头 “kabar”是新闻 “kantor”是办公室
“Kepala” is a head. “Kabar” is news.”Kantor” is an office.
But they all sound similar “K”, “A”.Right?
So what I would do, is I would memorize vocabin batches of sounds that were similar.
So if I hear the word “Kepala”in Indonesian,
I automatically thinkthe words “Kebar” and “Kentor”.
在阿拉伯语也是一样“iktissad” “istiklal” “sokot”
Same in Arabic, “Iktissad”,”Istiklal”, “Sokot”.
These three words are unrelated.
一个是经济 一个是独立 一个是下跌
One is economy,one is independence, one is downfall.
But if I hear one, it triggers…(Laughter)
(Laughter) it triggers the rest.
Same thing in Hebrew.
(Hebrew) Even that those arereturn, remember and to shine.
Or in Farsi in which they are related.
So for me if I hear the word “Pedar”, which means father,
我立刻会想到“mada” “barodar” “dokhtar”
I automatically think in the words, “Mada”, “Barodar”, “Dokhtar”.
母亲 兄弟 女儿
Mother, brother, daughter.
So again this is one method,
and I’m not saying this willmake you fluent in a language,
but it has been one of my ways
of overcoming those obstacles.
So you may be wondering, what’s the point in doing this?
Why learn Pashto or Ojibwe when you live in New York?
And there’s a point to that.
In fact,I’ve lived in New York my entire life,
and I’m always blown awayby the number of languages
you can hear on a given day.
Walking at a street,I see billboards in Chinese or in Spanish.
看到俄语书店 印度餐馆 土耳其浴室
I see Russian bookstores,Indian restaurants, Turkish bath houses.
Yet for all that linguistic diversity, mainstream American culture remains decidedly monolingual.
And if you don’t think that’s true, look at the reactionsto Coca-Cola Super Bowl video.
So as I started to play around morewith language learning, I found that I had my own community
of learners here in New York.
I’d go to outer boroughs, and for lack of a better word,embarrass myself.
I try to talk to people all day, get their views on things,
and use my new found language skills.
Video: (Russian) What’s your name?- Natan.
Natan.- Good day.
What’s your name?
Pleased to meet you.
Pleased to meet you.
Where are you from?
(Urdu) This book is written by Qudratullah Shanab himself.
What is ‘nawist’?
It means the writer has written…
Oh okay, Khod-Nawist (self-write).
作者Khod Nevashtan 语言为波斯语
From khod-nevashtan in Persian!
TD: So maybe you have to usea lot of English, maybe you’re not really
that particularly interestingwhen you talk,
but the point is you’re getting out there and you’re getting exposure.So I don’t speak Urdu that well, it was kind of an awkward conversation,
but just from that,I’ve learned a new word: “Khod-Nawist”.
I’m not going to forget it now.
我们继续 你可能会想 这么做有什么意义？
So moving on, you may wonder again what’s the point in doing this?
And I try to explain to people a lot what my various motivations are, but I often feel that this quotefrom Nelson Mandela is the best expression of that.
“If you talk to a manin a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his languagethat goes to his heart.”
所以我开始认识到 语言和文化之间 语言和思想之间都有着紧密的联系
So as I began to see, there’s an enormous connection between language and culture, language and thought.
And quite honestlyif you want to learn Persian for example,
you pick up a dictionary, you say,”I know how to say ‘thank you’, I know how to say ‘how much is this?’,
and I know how to say ‘goodbye’.
Oh, I speak Persian.”
Probably not, let’s see actually.
In fact, if you want to buy somethingin a Persian bookstore,
you might ask someone ‘how much is this?’.
Generally, he will tell you this: “Ghabeli nadaareh.”
Which means, ‘it’s worthless’.
(Laughter) So in fact this is an ingrainedcultural practice called, “Taaraf”,
in which two people having a conversation,
both try to behavemore humble than the other.
So if I go to buy a book, it’s rude for that person to tell me’it’s five bucks’.
He has to say “it’s worthless, please.
You’re so good-looking,you’re so talented, (Laughter)
“ 我这么卑微 拿走吧不要钱 白送你了”
Take it for free,I’m so humble, take it for free.”
(Laughter) Or you might find somethinglike this phrase: if you want to thank somebody,
if you want to show your gratitudetowards them, or say ‘nice to meet you’,
I could say, “Well,I know how to say ‘thank you’ in Farsi.
I speak Farsi.”Maybe not though.
In fact I’ve often heard this phrasewhen I talk with Iranians, “Ghorbanet beram.”
Which literally means, “May I sacrifice my life for you.”(Laughter)
所以 这很有诗意 你可以称之为戏剧化
So again, it’s poetic, you might call it melodramatic.
but this is something you reallyhave to understand the culture to get.
我不想夸大这个 因为想象一下 我们说英语时
I don’t want to exona-size this, because, think about it,we have this in English all the time.
If you ask somebody ‘how are you?’,
what you’re expecting to hear?
If you tell me anything else,I’m not interested.
(Laughter) But we do it anyway.
We say ‘bless you’,
即使这和信仰没有关系 比如当人们打喷嚏时 对吧？
even though that has no realreligious connotations now, when people sneeze, right?
So, it’s interesting we thinkabout the fact that most linguists believe
language doesn’t inherentlyaffect the way you think.
Right. There’s no languagethat will make you a math genius.
There’s no language that will make logic problems impossible to understand.
But there’s a real tiebetween language and culture.
There’re so much language can tell you about one culture’s mindset.
And in fact on planet Earth, every two weeks, another language dies.
No more people are speaking it.
因为战争 因为饥饿 而大多数情况下是因为同化
Because of war, because of famine, oftentimes just because of assimilation.
Maybe it easier for menot to speak my village language but to speak, Arabic let’s say.
Or maybe I’m from a tribe in the Amazon, my habitat is cut down
and it just makes more sense for meto learn Portuguese
and lose my culture.
So think about that.
Two months from today is April 1st.
For many of you that day maybe stressful because you have a paper due,
or the rent is due.
But for two groups of peoplearound the world,
for two cultures that meansthe death of their language.
他们传说 历史 民俗的死亡
The death of their mythology,their history, their folklore.
Their understanding of the world.
Now again, you,brushing up on your Spanish, going to Japanese class,
is not going to stop language death.
But what is does do,is begin to open up your mind to the idea
that language in its sense, in essence,
represents a cultural world view.
And if I can impart youwith anything today at TEDxTeen, it’s this:
you can translate words easily but you can’t quite translate meaning.