In a review of Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners, by Michael Erard, (BN Review, January 25, 2012 ), Graeme Wood
Well yes, but you must have the talent to begin with. Otherwise, maybe practical jokes or backchat might get attention …
This all suggests that there’s no magic formula for language learning, or at least nothing that one can use purely through an act of will. You can’t become Mezzofanti, in part because the traits are not generally voluntary and in part because even Mezzofanti wasn’t Mezzofanti. There are learning techniques that sometimes work and sometimes don’t; some say adding physical movement helps learning (Arguelles likes to run around and shout vocabulary words), and some suggest that zapping one’s brain with electricity can boost memory. But for most of us, it’s back to the flash cards, and to humiliating ourselves when we try to order in French restaurants.
But to say that the traits aren’t voluntary doesn’t get us anywhere either. We don’t get to choose our talents.
The reviewer doesn’t convey a sense that the author grapples with the origin of the mental capacity for learning dozens of languages, beyond identifying prompts, aids, and helps whose value depends critically on an undiscovered country. So far.