Most people are happy enough to master one language (if they can even do that). The determined and perhaps diverse in heritage may reach two or three. But as the linguistic catalog grows to a half dozen and higher, scientists start to take notice. And Tim Doner, they notice.

The 18-year-old Manhattan-based “hyperpolyglot” speaks 20 languages. By his own definition, he’s fluent in five or six — French, Farsi, Arabic, Hebrew, and German — and conversant or “engaged” in a dozen more. The more he accrues, the more current science suggests his brain may have held the potential since birth, endowing him with greater capacity for memory and the ability to recall long strings of intricate grammar and lexical systems.

“There are suggestions that people with the ability to mimic pronunciation have brains that are anatomically different and work more efficiently in areas related to processing and producing speech sounds,” explained linguist Michael Erard to Time. “[But] there’s a lot that has to happen. These people are not born. And they’re not made. They’re born to be made.”

Doner practices. He practices a lot. Managing his slew of tongues requires regular attendance of language courses, the consult of educational books, and random chit chat he strikes up with strangers. He says he likes to visit outer boroughs in New York to help brush up.

Above all, most of the languages he’s picked up were the result of his own teaching. He calls Hebrew his “second first language,” and the love of learning only snowballed from there — language systems appearing more as puzzles that needed solving than verb tenses to be rotely absorbed in a classroom.

Then again, most schools probably aren’t teaching Xhosa, an African clicking language, which also happens to be one of Doner’s favorites.