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    Two Signs of Language Genius

    Two Signs of Language Genius
    March 14, 2013
    Brent Van Arsdell

    I’ve met a lot of people who have an amazing talent for learning languages. Unfortunately, these people often think they have no talent.

    It’s especially worth mentioning the two groups below, because you may be a part of one or both of these groups.

    If you’re a genius, it really helps to know it!

    Two Groups of Language Learning Geniuses

    1. People who can identify regional or foreign accents well in their own language.

    2. Musicians of all kinds and all levels of ability.

    Why Foreign Accent Identification Is a Marker for Language Genius

    The ability to recognize accents is really the ability to identify subtle differences in the sounds of your own language. This is a key marker of language-learning talent.

    If you can tell the difference between a Brooklyn accent, a Boston accent, and a Chicago accent, you have a huge amount of language learning talent.

    Yes, you will still have to learn to identify and then copy the subtle sounds of your new language; but because you learned to do this in your first language, you will be able to learn it in your new language too.

    What if You Can Identify Accents but Can’t Copy Them?

    If you can identify foreign and regional accents in English, but you still can’t copy them, don’t worry. It’s the ability to identify subtle sounds that is the key talent.

    If you already have it, then celebrate, because you’ll soon learn to copy the sounds of your new language with just a little bit more work.

    Why Musical Ability Is a Marker for Language Genius

    Musicians of all types and all abilities always have a huge amount of linguistic ability too. Languages and music have much in common.

    Language and music both have rhythm, meter, and intonation. Languages and music both have pitch, tempo, and sometimes even melody.

    If you are a musician, the musical skills you already have overlap very strongly with the skills you will need to speak your new language.

    What if You Can’t Identify Regional Accents and You Aren’t a Musician?

    If you can’t identify regional accents and you’re not a musician, you will still be able to learn a new language. It will just take more work.

    Remember that every year, thousands of profoundly deaf and hearing-impaired people learn to speak languages that they have either never heard or never heard well!

    What if You Are a Good Musician and You Can Copy Accents Well?

    If you’re a good musician, and you can copy every accent you ever heard, you are going to do very well at learning foreign languages.

    You have a lot of talent for languages.

    You will still need a good method for learning your favorite language … like the program … but you are going to do very, very well.

    Leave A Comment

    25 Comments to “ Two Signs of Language Genius”

    1. V. Gloud

      I am a musician and I identify and copy accents well and I love learning languages. I can even identify regions of other languages. I also have a terrible attention span and I get bored easily. I respect Pimslur, but it’s such a snore. Maybe I’ll try your system when I can wrap my brain around getting serious about it.

      • Brent Van Arsdell

        Your skill at copying accents well will help you a lot. Now you will want to learn to apply the same skill you have of concentration when you are learning a new musical piece to learning a new language lesson.

        Good luck. You’ll do very well.

    2. lch1

      Interesting! I studied piano and learned guitar, and wrote music for years. I also was always able to recognize accents, even able to distinguish a German from an Austrian accent, but what part of those countries people were from! I have trouble with California accents and sometimes parts of New Jersey. Some accent features are very subtle–like Maryland (around Northern Virginia). They have a very rich “r” that is unique. I wish I could use this to do something important–but it’s just an oddity!

      • Brent Van Arsdell

        I think you will be able to use your ability to distinguish accents as an important talent that will help you be able to learn and speak a language much better.

        With a little work you will be a champion language learner!

    3. Alisha

      I am a musician and I can copy and identify many accents. I have a long list of languages I plan to work on learning, but I’m not completely sure how. I can’t afford a lot software…

      • thomas

        Alisha –

        Sounds like you have a natural ear for learning foreign languages! Check out our scholarship page for more information on ways that you might still be able to learn new languages to sing your heart out with:


    4. Mark Benninga

      I am a Dutchman, and I am extremely talented at languages, I speak between 10 and 15 languages, my only problem is I don’t know how to make my living from them. I have worked in a language laboratory and have often done odd and on translation work, but still don’t know how to make my talent work for me moneywise! Could you give me advise?

      I speak Dutch, German, English, Finnish, French, Italian, Swedish, Frisian, Hebrew, Arabic, some Spanish, some Portuguese, a little Hungarian, Croatian, Papiamento. I pick up languages at an extremely quick speed, and also with a very good accent. In English I am able to speak with several British accents and also with an American accent. Where is the real use for my talent???? Please answer

      With my kindest regards,

      Mark Benninga, Hardenberg, Holland, Europe.

      • Brent Van Arsdell

        Hi Mark from Holland,

        Do you have any idea why you are so good at languages? Anything you did or studied?



    5. Mike

      Just clicking around and read the article. Interesting stuff. I played saxophone in high school, and am okay with accents, and never thought either of those would ever really be meaningful outside of some random conversation.

      I’ve been using Language 101 for a good chunk of this past summer, and I’m super pleased to report a few things. First, I really like the recent updates. I find that in French and Spanish (I’m trying to learn both concurrently) it only takes me about 6 or 7 views of a slide to get it, though some I’ve seen as high as 15. Another neat thing is that I wound up really getting into my work last month and barely logged in at all. The level of retention I’ve experienced is outstanding! I forgot a word here or there, but largely speaking everything I had learned was still very much in tact.

      From a user standpoint, I really recommend the program to people who want to learn.

      • thomas

        Thanks Mike! We’ve been working hard to bring very useful updates into the software! Your recognition is much appreciated!


    6. Mark Benninga

      I think it is a natural gift. I was diagnosed as having Asperger. Anyway, whatever.. I simply have an extreme talent for languages and am very good at picking up accents as well. I had Latin and Greek at school (besides French, German, Dutch and English), and studied Semitic languages, Hebrew and Arabic. I am a Master of Semitic languages. After meeting Auli from Finland in 1987 I started learning Finnish. We speak Finnish at home, all four children speak it, though the two eldest children know it better than my two youngest ones. I have tried making a living by making on-and-off translations and teaching (mainly) adults, but I find it difficult to make a real living in the field of languages. In my freetime I read books in all kinds of languages and I study chess matches on Youtube. Well, if you would to comment or like to offer me some interesting job…, go ahead. My best regards. Mark Benninga

      • Brent Van Arsdell

        Hi Mark,

        Someone out there needs you, I’m sure of that. I’m particularly interested in what makes it easy for you when it’s not easy for most people. Have you met other people who as seemingly gifted with languages as you are?



    7. olytitan

      To Mark Benninga –
      I think a lot of people could easily envy you. What a gift! You have so many options open to you! Try this: Go to and search the phrase “multilingual jobs”.
      I think you could easily find a recruiter to help you find something that really interests you! Even without a recruiter, there is sure to be something you will love to do.

      Maybe you would like to create translations of manuals for companies? Have you ever read even short instructions in English that come from products made in China or some other country and it’s obvious that the person who tried to write them, really didn’t understand the English language very well? You could approach companies yourself and offer your services to translate their manuals, instructions, etc. If you are speaking to them fluently in their own language and they know it’s a secondary language they are bound to realize that you can do a great job for them.

      Search some of those job boards and see what you find. Probably some jobs you never thought of. Maybe you want to provide services in many locations but stay near home? You could probably do conference calls or internet sessions to translate for people who need to work together. With technology none of you would even need to be in the same room. I think you would be a terrific asset for lots of people or groups. Maybe you could be an independent contractor for law enforcement. When they have someone who doesn’t speak their language they can call you. You know so many languages you could probably translate on the spot before someone else has to first figure out what that person is speaking. You have so many options. You should take the initiative to offer your services to any company that does something you are already interested in. Be independent rather than an employee, and you could work whatever hours are best for you, and work with more than person or company at a time. Maybe you would like to work with import or exports between companies with other countries. Maybe you have a certain subject you are interested. Approach some publishers and ask if they could use your services to translate books for them. (Fiction, non-fiction, college text books, etc). There are so many things you could do knowing so many languages. You translate, then maybe someone else (if necessary) edits for any grammatical or similar type errors that maybe only a native would catch, or someone in the field of study would catch. Good luck!
      Another idea – create a profile. (If you haven’t heard of it, it’s meant to be a professional listing – what you do, your skills, who you’ve worked for, etc.) List all of your languages, start making connections and ask people to tell others about your multilingual abilities and let them know that you are looking for people who would be interested in using your talents. I think you can go far with your abilities!

    8. Mark Benninga

      Thanks very much. I have just written an article on behalf of Brent Van Arsdell. It is about my language skills and about how to make learning languages more easy. If Brent agrees, I will place my article here as well as on some other spots. Thanks once again. I will think about your advice. Have a nice weekend. Mark Benninga, Hardenberg, Holland

    9. Siani Powys

      I have found these comments most interesting, as I seem to pick up the beginning of languages, enough to sort out their structure and ‘feel’ . I haven’t had the time to follow through and master any one of them, although in two of these, German and Welsh, could (have) become fluent with some immersion after my academic course study. I could tell I was dreaming in these languages, conversing with native speakers in my sleep. Same thing with sign language—I carry on sign convos that I’m not fluent enough to do ‘awake.’

      I didn’t mind the conjugations & declensions (I started with Latin which had both) as I found the language of language interesting, the ‘shape’ of the sentences. I used sentence diagramming—a VERY valuable tool—to study NT Koiné Greek.

      I pick up accents easily as well without thinking about it. After a week or so in Wales, I’d be speaking English with a Welsh accent, and English people would have no idea I was American. Coming back to the US would be linguisticly confusion because I couldn’t really remember what my flavour of the language WAS.

      Try visiting the Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, where the ‘residents/actors’ have assumed the identities, viewpoints and regional accents of their 1620-1627 counterparts. Coming back over the hill to the Present at the end of the day to hear Bahston is a real shock.

      Just to carry language learning & structure further, I was proficient in a couple computer languages as well, and worked as a programmer/analyst for over 20 years.

      Fascinating how language shapes the way one thinks; the concepts that are deemed important enough to have vocabulary for is very revealing.

    10. Emma

      It’s true that I haven’t even met people from Boston or New York. The people I know from Chicago, though, don’t speak differently from the way I do. I’m from Minnesota, but I don’t have that stereotypical accent that the rest of the country seems to assume we all have. I only sound like I’m a northerner. Some people have told me I sound British sometimes, but I’m not sure where that’s coming from. Perhaps I speak too formally?
      The funniest thing is that I love speaking Spanish, and can recognize and imitate accents from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain, and Argentina. The accent that tends to leak into my everyday Spanish is from Argentina. This is probably because a few of my past professors were from Argentina.

      • thomas

        Emma –

        I’ve got a few friends from the east coast and I assure you there is a bit of an accent us midwesterners carry. I believe the experience you are having is due to the neutrality of our accent – it’s neither slow (southern), nor fast (eastern). It seems that the entire middle to west of the country has relatively the same speaking style whereas everything south of central Illinois as well as all of Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and everything south of them speak with what is referred to as a ‘drawl’. It’s a slowing down of each spoken syllable with a stress on each of the soft vowels of any given word. I haven’t exactly figured out what the deal is with the varying east coast dialects. My friend from NYC speaks one way, New Hampshire another, Maryland yet slightly differently. It’s my notice that the northeast seems to be about as diverse in dialect differences as the English are in their cities – maybe its a trait from the pilgrims bringing over slightly subtle shifts from each of the areas they came from. That would certainly explain the colonies being named after previously lived in places (New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, etc) and the reason each of these places speak a bit different than their direct neighbors.

        Having a strong command of accents and dialects can certainly help you blend into a crowd. Maybe it’s possible that when you receive the information that you sound British you were just listening to some British comedy or hanging out with some people with a British accent and picked it up. I notice I do similar things myself. This is a sign that you are really good at learning foreign languages (as exampled by your knack for subtle Spanish dialectal differences). Perhaps you say bollocks too frequently for your American friends’ comfort. ;)

    11. Talar

      I certainly agree with the author: the musicians can learn languages easily and they have talent for this. Each language has a melody, accent etc etc. I am also musician but I have one more advantage: I am bilingual. I started to this life already with 2 languages:) Later 3rd, 4th, 5th..I hope I’ll learn more

    12. Erica Faber

      I’m not so sure about this. I have the ability to distinguish different regional accents in my own language and also a few other languages, yet I have an especially hard time learning a foreign language. :/

      • thomas

        Erica –

        Have you tried using our free lessons for any language you may wish to learn? designed the system specifically to help people memorize sounds faster through association and through self-grading. Being able to differentiate regional aspects is a lifetime experience that you’ve gained through regular practice. The same skill is applied to learning a foreign language – listen to the sounds, differentiate the meanings, copy them in your own speech and practice with other people speaking similarly. The more practice you get the better you will be. Don’t let traditional educational language classes fool you – they are NOT easy to learn with!

        Thomas Wyse

      • Brent Van Arsdell

        Hi Erica,

        Success with language learning is highly dependent on using the right techniques.

        You say that you can identify regional accents in your language AND other languages now? For example can you hear the difference in Spanish from Spain and Spanish from say Columbia?

        If you can already hear these differences in accents in languages that are not your native language, all I think you need to have the success you want is using and keep using the right techniques.

        I’ve never seen anyone actually using our system and following our instructions and fail to learn. However I have seen many people who refused to follow our instructions and fail.

    13. Jun Francis

      Im not sure about this but I think I could pick up foreign languages easily.Various of my teachers said that I spoke fluently like a local even though Ive just begun learning it,not include grammar and stuff . I can copy accents like Russian, Japanese,Vietnamese…
      but is that really a talent?

      • Brent Van Arsdell

        If you can hear and accurately copy foreign accents well, in my opinion, you will have a relatively easy time learning a foreign language.

        Find a method that you like that is proven to work, like, Anki, Pimsleur etc. and dive in. It takes consistent practice to learn, but you will learn and your accent will be good.

    14. Francis

      Interesting post but I have many examples of musicians –some of them good ones :), who really *suck* at languages, and that’s always been a mystery to me, because it’s so counter-intuitive. And all the reasons you’re giving, why they *should* have an edge are valid but only in theory… Or at least let’s say that there are many exceptions

      Take a guy like Sting, for example: his French and Spanish are terrible, hardly understandable at times.

      • Brent Van Arsdell

        Hi Francis,

        Thanks for your comment. I do know that with language learning the method that you choose to try is really important. Many of the popular methods taught in schools and many that you might think up on your own (like memorizing lists of words), really don’t work. I dropped out of college Spanish because after a couple weeks I was pretty sure that I would spend a huge amount of time on the class, still get a C and still not be able to speak Spanish.

        Today, because I have used the lessons I developed for, I am conversant in both Spanish and Russian.

        I’d love to know more details about Sting’s language skills if you know any.

        Musicans often simply memorize the lyrics for a few songs without really knowing the language at all. If that is the case with Sting, that might account for the lack of clarity in his Spanish and French recordings.

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