I’m a nincompoop when it comes to learning languages. My pronunciation is flawless, but my inability to grasp foreign language grammar structures (despite being quite adept at my own), coupled with my lazy memory, mean that, despite have studied myriad languages, I’ve never mastered any.
Daniel Tammet is a linquistic horse of a different color. (And yes, I hear the moans of agony about that strained,, even broken metaphor, but I’m feeling metaphoric today, and just can’t seem to stop myself.) A language savant, who sees words in color and numeric patterns, he recently mastered German in a week. He’ll add this skill to the more than ten other languages he’s already taught himself:
Tammet is a savant. As a child he had epileptic seizures. Doctors later diagnosed him with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. He mastered the world of emotions only through hard training.
Numbers and foreign words, on the other hand, come to him naturally. He sees colors and shapes where most people see only plain words and numbers. He’s memorized the number pi to 22,514 digits. He knows instantly that January 10, 2017, will be a Tuesday. And he’s a fleet-footed traveler in the rocky terrain of languages.
Tammet can speak Romanian, Gaelic, Welsh and seven other languages. He learned Icelandic in a week for a TV documentary, at the end of which he gave a live interview on television. He felt somewhat nervous, but was able to speak quite fluently with the show’s host. He even dared to make a joke in Icelandic, which is generally dreaded for its complexity. He still speaks the language today.
You can read more about this fascinating man here.
UPDATE: Here’s a video of his Icelandic challenge: