In this talk, Tim mentioned that he was able to remember words in French, but he couldn't really have a fluent conversation with anybody. This is one of the challenges that most of us have encountered when learning a foreign language. It is not uncommon for students who have learned a foreign language for years and struggle to utter a word when conversing with native speakers. Some people might suggest to solve this problem by living in a country where the target language is spoken. It helped, but we have to be aware that language exposure does not guarantee fluency and proficiency when acquiring an additional language. One must make an effort and cognitively employ a range of strategies that works for them.
After watching this video, my students had a discussion on what motivated Tim Doner to learn so many different languages and what strategies that he used to help him acquire different languages. The process of learning a language should be fun and allows us to learn about foreign cultures and communicating with people. Strategies Tim mentioned including:
- seeking feedback and interaction through social media (youtube);
- experimenting various strategies or techniques (method of loci or memorizing unrelated words based on similar sounds) to make language learning much more interactive and retainable;
- creating language exposure to negotiate meaning with native speakers in a local community;
Additionally, I invited students to reflect and investigate how they can make their language learning more enjoyable and motivating by taking their preferences into account.
The most important statement in this video to me was when Tim quoted Nelson Mandela's saying:
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
Students were asked to contemplate on this statement and think about the connections between language and culture and how language shape thoughts. The examples Tim provided was easy to understand and students can relate without easily. If you are interested in reading further and perhaps introduce this topic to your TOK class, here is an interesting article to read. It is called "How language shapes thought" written by Lear Borodtsky, who is an assistant professor of cognitive psychology at Stanford University.
To conclude, I think this is a great video to inspire students and guide them to identify effective language learning approaches that meet their needs. What more fun was that we learned a new word, "polyglot"!
Description of this TED talk:
"In this talk, Timothy Doner, a 17-year-old hyperpolyglot, walks us through his language-learning journey, recounting his adventures with media and sharing the major points that made him overcome the obstacles of learning languages. He encourages us to learn not only languages, but the cultures they reflect." (http://amara.org/en/videos/ikb2UHP8lOtD/en/690053/)