Daniel Tammet is a savant with Asperger’s Syndrome, who is well-known for breaking the world record for reciting the largest digits of pi, and for his wide array of languages that he learned. Though most of the languages that he learned started in his high school years, he continued to learn those languages either by himself or with peers.
Specifically, Tammet speaks British English. This is, of course, because he is originally from the United Kingdom.
Tammet came across this language in the library. With the internet, he managed to study Esperanto on his self-studying pace. What fascinated him was the simplification of its grammar from its European counterparts, and the usages of affixes in order to create entirely new or idiomatic words.
Tammet recalls meeting a girl whose mother was Finnish, and had Finnish books in her collection. After reading those books, he started speaking in Finnish with her. He recalled how beautiful the sounds were.
When he was interviewed for a job at a library, one of his interviewers was Finnish. Tammet went into detail about how much he knew about Finland, and spoke a little bit of Finnish with her. Unfortunately, while he did make good company, he did not get the job.
While learning French in school, he was given the opportunity by his French teacher, Mrs. Cooper, to spend a school trip to Nantes, France, in order to become immersed in the language. Tammet took full advantage of the ten-day stay, improving his French along the way.
Tammet had a friend named Jens who was originally from Germany. He took the opportunity to teach him English, while also learning German himself. This resulted in the two friends conversing with each other in a pidgin of English and German.
Tammet learned this difficult language within a week prior to entering an Icelandic show, just like with the Lithuanian language, he was given a package consisting of Icelandic language books, including a children’s book, a grammar book, and a pocket dictionary. The complicated phonology and grammar is what separates it from the other Scandinavian languages. It has more in common with the original Norse spoken by the Vikings who settled Iceland than its sister-languages Norwegian and Swedish.
He managed to speak it fluently, to the surprise of the hosts.
Tammet spent time in Lithuania teaching English, but while there also learned Lithuanian. He did more than just take full advantage of the Lithuanian phrasebook that was in his volunteer package, he made sure that he had Birute, who was a classmate of Tammet and a translator herself, to teach him Lithuanian. His fellow English-speaking colleagues were fascinated with how much Lithuanian he was able to speak.
When creating his language-learning website Optimnem, he was able to structure the Lithuanian lessons based on his personal experience learning the language with Birute. Specifically, he focused on the parts that he had trouble with, in order to ensure that no one else has a problem with them.
When his friend Ian met a Romanian woman, he asked Tammet if he could help learning Romanian himself, in exchange for going out and golfing with him. As a result, Tammet dedicated himself to learning Romanian by reading the Romanian translation of The Little Prince.
After learning Lithuanian, Tammet started learning Spanish after his partner’s mother offered him a Teach Yourself… installment focusing on the Spanish language, which she bought on her vacation to Spain. He managed to learn it in the same way that he learned Romanian, which surprised her when he was able to speak fluently in it after such a short period of time.
Of course, another reason why it was easy for Tammet to learn Spanish was because he noticed the similarities between the Romance languages, in terms of the cognates.
Three years prior to meeting Kim Peek, Tammet traveled to Wales with Neil and made note of all of the Welsh-language place names on the signs. He managed to associate the words to those signs. As part of his self-study of Welsh, he watched the Welsh-language channel S4C. This was directly related to how Kim Peek was able to notice unrelated topics as relevant cues in order to develop his encyclopedic knowledge of many topics.
As Tammet noted in Embracing the Wide Sky, “Languages have helped me to learn more and more about what it is to be human.” The important components of Tammet’s language-learning has to do with the company that he kept. Since there is a lot of interaction with people who would help him, and vice versa, this provided the perfect opportunity to speak these languages.
- originartist. “Daniel Tammet.” Fiverr. Jurvetson, Steve. “Born on a Blue Day | Daniel Tammet.” Flickr. Taken on March 3, 2011. CC BY 2.0.
- Tammet, Daniel. “Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant.” 1st Edition. Free Press. 2006.
- Tammet, Daniel. “Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind.” 1st Edition. Free Press. 2009.