Monday, February 05, 2007

Brainman amazes scientists

Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant. He can perform mind-boggling mathematical calculations at breakneck speeds. But unlike other savants, who can perform similar feats, Daniel can describe how he does it.

Daniel can speak at least English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Estonian, Icelandic, and Esperanto. He likes Estonian very much because it is rich in vowels. He claims he can learn a new language within a week.

Daniel was recently profiled in a British documentary called “Brainman.” The producers posed a challenge that he could not pass up: Learn a foreign language in a week – and not just any foreign language, but Icelandic, considered to be one of the most difficult languages to learn.

In Iceland, he studied and practiced with a tutor. When the moment of truth came and he appeared on TV live with a host, the host said, "I was amazed. He was responding to our questions. He did understand them very well and I thought that his grammar was very good. We are very proud of our language and that someone is able to speak it after only one week, that’s just great."

Daniel has never been able to work 9 to 5. He says it would be too difficult to fit around his daily routine. For instance, he has to drink his cups of tea at exactly the same time every day.

I like to do things in my own time, and in my own style, so an office with targets and bureaucracy just wouldn't work, says Daniel.

Instead, he has set up a business on his own, at home, writing email courses in language learning, numeracy and literacy for private clients. It has had the fringe benefit of keeping human interaction to a minimum.

Daniel believes he can make a difference even in his condition. Many believe that he is a genius and indeed for his talent he can make a unique contribution.

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