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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Synesthesia among Duolingo language learners (includes a poll)

Synesthesia

is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway People who report a lifelong history of such experiences are known as synesthetes.

In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme-color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored. More information about Synesthesia.

A couple of years ago, former Duolingo moderator AlexisLinguist created a poll and discovered that there were quite a few of synesthetes in the forums. I'm curious to see what the situation looks like nowadays. So, here is a new poll:

Poll

Results

Back then, AlexisLinguist wrote:
Bonus points if you tell me if it affects how you learn languages, which ones you choose, and if they make certain languages more enjoyable. :)

I would add, does it make any of the languages harder?

(Extra bonus points if you have color-graphemic synesthesia and you list the colors of your vowels. And, what colors do you associate with various colors, either from the sounds the languages produce or because the spelling of the name of the language?)

If you've answered "Other" in the poll, I'd love to know more about why, if you're willing to share.

March 24, 2017

44 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

I have color-graphemic synesthesia (among other types). Personally, I like English and Japanese most so far. English is the language I am most familiar with and I find that comforting to explore. The pronunciation and spelling are really inconsistent. This makes for some exciting discoveries whenever people ask me questions about my experiences as a synesthete. For instance, a friend recently asked me if if a C makes an "S" sound in a word, do I see grey or orange. And, in a word that uses an "I" that sounds like "EE", do I see white or green? I hadn't thought closely about it before that. I definitely have a visual bias for colors, when I know that the spelling doesn't line up with the sounds.

On the other hand, I enjoy Japanese because its pronunciation is so consistent between spelling and sounds. There is less dissonance between when I am reading Japanese and when I am speaking it.

Meanwhile, synesthesia can present me with certain challenges. For instance, Swedish pronouns "hon" (feminine) and "han" (masculine) are gender switched compared to Spanish, in terms of color. Spanish uses "o" (black/licorice brown) for masculine and "a" (red) for feminine. I am much more familiar with Spanish than Swedish. So, I am constantly mixing mixing up hon and han because of their dominant vowel colors.

My vowels are A (red), E (green), I (white), O (black/licorice brown), U (weird color I cant describe on the very light but not bright yellow/white spectrum), Y (yellow).

A few languages are: English (green), Spanish (orange), French (yellow), German (brown), Russian (reddish brown), Turkish (a light soft brown). These colors aren't because of the sounds the languages produce, but dominant color associations with the names of the languages. French being the weirdest, because R is a red brown, but, when squished between F and e, the r becomes such a bright yellow it almost glows.

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Oscar921110

News to me. Btw, how is it that people with synesthesia "can hear colors", and do you also have this problem? Like, when you hear the sound of a piano, is it possible to hear "its color"?

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

The theory I'm familiar with is that parts of our brains having to do with sensory input grow close together and cross wire a bit.

When I was very young, color sounds were actually how I found out that synesthesia was a thing and not everybody had it. I commented to my dad about how pretty the wind sound colors were. I was very surprised when he said he couldn't see the colors. I was fortunate he knew what synesthesia was. However, as I've gotten older, the sound/color areas of my brain must have grown apart a bit. (Many people who have synesthesia as children lose it as they get older). I still get visual feedback from sounds, but, it is more abstract and almost impossible to put into words. A rare exception is the singer Halsey, who to me has a very satisfying red color voice. :)

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Oscar921110

All of this information is pretty much new and interesting for me. I think I'll be reading a lot of articles about it.

Do you mind answering some questions before I do so?, since, you know, you have synesthesia and you pretty much know about it already.

  • What do you think it's the origin of synesthesia on childs?
  • Is it a symptom of something serious?
  • Is it treatable? and if it is, what kind of treatments do doctors give you?
  • Have there been occasions in which you found it frightening?
  • what kind of advantages (you already stated some disadvantages) has it that comes to your mind?

(sorry if you find these questions offensive or dumb, I barely know about this lol)

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7
  • As above, I think the origin is just parts of the brain being linked that have to do with different senses, causing overlap in sensory experience.

  • Synesthesia itself isn't something harmful. I mean, for a few people it can produce unpleasant sensations, but not for most synesthetes as I understand it.

  • I've never come across any accounts of people treating synesthesia. Though, I was grateful my religious community didn't mistake my experiences for demon possession. (I am not being cheeky about this. I am grateful my dad knew what synesthesia was before hand!)

  • I haven't found synesthesia to be frightening. It has been with me as long as I can recall. It was and is just another sense for me, like my sight, sound, touch, taste, balance, etc. (Not that I have very good balance ehehe ^^;.)

  • I have used synesthesia to help me remember passwords. If I can recall a general sense of the colors of one of my passwords, it helps boost my recollection of what the password is. :)

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Oscar921110

I have used synesthesia to help me remember passwords.

I'm starting to feel jealous because I'm sometimes forgetful when it comes to things like passwords.

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Oscar921110

http://prntscr.com/eo0bht

What comments?

(I can only reply you here because it has been more than 2 weeks that I can't see my own activity stream nor that I can reply to anyone. I checked it on another browser without logining).

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jack.Elliot

Thank you for this post

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Aria487

I find this very interesting, like to being able to feel the numbers colored! Thanks for the post and the comments here, Usagiboy7!

(Also, thanks for pointing out poll-maker.com, I like the "Geographical Breakdown", I'm in the one from Iran :-) )

(Minor edit)

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Bellatrix86

I did have some parts of synaesthesia when I was a child. Not all of them, only that letters and numbers had colors. I never experienced this with music or taste like other people. And you are right, it often disappears when growing up. Mine vanished probably around the beginning of puberty.
Now I remember these associations for the most cases because it is like I learned them together with the letters and numbers. But I don't feel/see them anymore.

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/HexManiacSarina

O_O I didn't think that other people associated sounds/languages with color. I do, for sure. It does affect how I pick languages because if certain 'colors' don't go together, I don't want to learn them. But, it does make the idea of some more enjoyable than others. My language colors go as: Spanish-red, French- pink, German-orange, Italian- darkish green, Latin- Dusty lavender/almost gray, Hindi- darker orange, Mandarin- orange, but more solid darker orange than German, lighter than Hindi, Cantonese- yellow, Japanese- blue, Korean- green, Polish- purple on the blue/gray side, English is yellow-orange, Norwegian- light blue.

I also associate languages with temperatures, like: Spanish- very hot, Japanese- cold-cool, Korean- mild-cool, French- mild, Italian- mild-hot, English- mild, German- mild-warm. But none of it is associated with the actual climate of the country. My mind seems to prefer 'cool' languages despite me preferring warmer weather physically.

So for me, languages that fit together based on color would be something like: Spanish+Mandarin, Japanese+French, Korean+German. But then my mind also categorizes languages in families like normal almost, but as like 'primary' and 'secondary' of them, like good language pairs in my mind in this area are things like: Spanish+Portuguese, French+Italian, German+Dutch, Russian+Polish, Mandarin+Cantonese, Japanese+Korean, Hindi+Urdu. But English in my mind is like a neutral one that can be paired with any language well.

And I have colors for numbers, names, and places, even if the places themselves aren't matching the color my mind associates them with. I have textures too, but that would make this list super long.

My vowels are A- red, I- Whiteish, U- Purple-blue, E- Orange-yellowish, O- Green-white.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Windsaw

My synesthesia is centered around colors on abstract things (for numbers for example) and directions (am I looking at the number from below or above, for example).

I tried several tricks to take advantage of this when it comes to learning languages but they have not been successful. It helps a bit, but really not much.

However, it does not make the learning process harder either.

BTW vovels: a: green, e: red, o: black, i: white, u: orange

Japanese syllables for example are dominated by the vowel color but there are variations. "ti" for example is a grayish white while "shi" tends to yellow. "te" is a "thin" red (if that makes any sense), "he" is a hazy red and "ke" is a very dark red. Not all colors are unique, for example "o" and "wo" are both in a very fat black and are not distinguishable.

I have associations for pretty much every abstract concept. Languages for example: German: grey, English: red, Irish: white (blueish), Latin: yellow, Japanese: white (greyish), French: green

Usually the languages' colour corresponds to the country's colour, but not always. While the german language is grey, Germany itself is blue.

I think it is interesting that even to this day, there is hardly anything I can think of that does not have a colour, even if I only encountered it a few times. Take native american languages for example: Mayan: red, Nahuatl: brown, Otomi: black, Guarani: brown

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/WaterPolyglot

For me, French is red.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ferret513

I've always been interested in synesthesia; I know someone who has the color-graphemic type. I've read a few books about it, fiction and nonfiction alike. Thank you for putting this together and sharing the link; I enjoyed participating in the poll. :-)

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/WaterPolyglot

Just putting this out: the type of synesthesia mentioned by Oscar921110 is called 'association'. The other type is called projection, where for example, a person might hear a trumpet and instead of hearing it sounding very orange, they would actually see an orange triangle floating in space (source is Wikipedia, I remember reading about synesthesia once after mistyping the name of the game 'Synthesia' for synesthesia.)

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/WaterPolyglot

I sometimes feel like whenever I play Kiss the Rain by Yiruma on the piano, it makes me feel yellow. I wonder if it's because the piece is from an album called 'From the Yellow Room.'....

My little sister is doing random stuff on the piano that sounds like jazz.I just looked up at the ceiling. It looks blue and a bit of gold.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/quinnine

Wait a second - that's not normal?! It's not drastic in my case but I do associate colours to words and numbers. 7 is orange, 8 is red and 9 is purple. As for letters, the first half of the alphabet is light and the second one is darker, i j k l m n are greenish. Vowels as a group are blue. But when I see the word, I don't break it down into colourful letters. This 'ability' only helps me in Mathematics.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/chirelchirel

I don't have a full synesthetic alphabet, but there are a few letters paired with numbers and together they are associated with certain colors. I've made several mistakes in math writing N instead of 4 (in an exam :D)=yellow or H instead of 8 (this started before I knew English)=gray, I don't think I've mixed up V with 5=dark blue anywhere though it's a stronger association than H/8/gray. But yeah, not very useful... All of these I've had since I was a kid and they've stayed the same.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Welcome to the club you didn't know existed! ;)

Additionally, there are many other forms of synesthesia. For instance, when I look at things, I taste their textures on my tongue. Fortunately, I can use selective attention to filter it out of my focus in most cases. Another one is bio-feedback. When people tap their fingers I feel it in my own fingers and the effect travel through my hands and arms etc. Same for when people are jumping or being touched. Again, I can often filter these sensations out. Though, when I can't it can be very distracting and unpleasant. Hmm... gosh I have other forms. But, I am so used to living with them that they don't immediately come to mind haha. Anyhow, I only discovered that the texture one wasn't part of everyone's experience until after I joined Duolingo. Same with the bio-feedback.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/quinnine

You might know how to name this thing I seem to do. For example, when I turn around I have to turn the other way too. If I don't I'll get this itchy feeling (but it's not real) all over my body. When I stretch my arm I have to do it with my other hand too. Or better - both at the same time. Because if I don't, again, I get this ichy feeling in the place I want to stretch/have stretched already. First on the other hand, then the one I was thinking about in the first place and then both. If I touch the table when passing by, I'll touch it with my other hand when I reach its end. I need to do things evenly. I'm very dependent on numbers. Let's say I want to get some work done. I have to do an even number of batches. When I read I need to finish on a even page. But I can stop myself if it's very necessary, for example if I'm running out of time or feeling very tired.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

This sounds more like OCD than Synesthesia to me. Please note, I don't have any medical training in order to diagnose things. I am only going off of having lived with OCD my whole life. (I currently take medication to help manage it.) Reading about what you're experiencing, it kinda seems like OCD to me.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/quinnine

Your comment was very helpful nonetheless. I haven't thought much of it but now it makes sense. Maybe I should seek help.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Do you feel like you need help? Some compulsions are just an aspect of our lives that do not cause us distress or cause harm to anyone else. I am cautious to encourage people to treat natural human variance just because it seems different. If it is negatively impacting your life or ability to function, maybe a doctor can be helpful. Ultimately, it is important for you to make a decision that you feel is best for you. :)

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/fractal_shadow

I don't know if what I have counts as synesthesia. Certain strong emotions trigger tastes. For example, a strong feeling of affection or love has a coppery taste. Is this synesthesia too?

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/chirelchirel

I have the same! (+emotions trigger colors and shapes). I said in the earlier discussion (link in Usagiboy's original post) that I can taste sarcasm (and it's the only way I can detect it, actually).

I also said that whatever this is, is so different from classical synesthesia, that I hesitate to call it synesthesia.

March 26, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Ok, holy crap! Now that you've mentioned something specific like sarcasm, it brought back to me that people gave me an odd look when I mentioned that sugar tasted like edible joy. (Because to me, it does!) It's just that I never thought of it in terms of synesthesia and the only time I taste metal in my mouth is before a migraine. So, I hadn't connected the two. Seriously, I learn something new here everyday! I'M NOT ALONE!!

March 26, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/fractal_shadow

I found this link about synesthesia. One of the people interviewed says she can taste emotions too! So I guess it is considered a form of synesthesia:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/03/12/174132392/synesthetes-really-can-taste-the-rainbow

March 26, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/chirelchirel

Wow, cool!

March 26, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Interesting! I don't know. But, I would be interested to know if you find out. :)

March 26, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

For some reason, this discussion has begun transporting some of Oscar's comments into a black hole, never to be seen again, along with replies made to them. Here are two of them: I'll answer again in a reply comment.

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Oscar921110

I wonder if it's only you who has this problem. I can see any of my comments, what I can't see is my own activity stream.

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Can you also see the replies I made for each of your comments I screenshoted above? My replies are missing for me also.

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Thanks! Bah, I've been here so long that weird stuff glitches and I'm just like, well, there goes that again. Time to have tea and wait it out. :)

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Hey, the missing comments have returned for me! :D

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/chirelchirel

I can't see the comments anywhere else but in your screenshot. Also no answers to them.

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

Well, at least I'm not the only one. So odd though! Anyhow, Oscar, posted links to the screenshot of my replies just above. :)

You can see the other comments in here though, right?

March 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/chirelchirel

Yes, but the missing comments are still missing :D

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Duo_Shop

The same thing happened to me a few days ago. Someone posted something on one of my discussions and he told me to read it, but I could not find it until he re posted it.

March 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/germanwannabee

This is really interesting. I know a few people who have synesthesia but I personally don't have it (although I always have thought it would an amazing thing to experience.)

One person I know sees color when she hears music. She said it was pretty neat to have, but once she went to a live concert and the colorful lights did not at all fit the song :)

March 27, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/hopeisnotlost

Seriously you and your habit of making me want to do research.....Awesome post by the way.

March 27, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Usagiboy7

hahaha xD

March 27, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/hopeisnotlost

Yeah you laugh!One of these days I am going to do something about it....Like I don't know what yet but I'll figure it out...

March 27, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/hopeisnotlost

Maybe I'll meme bomb you...You know send you links to memes...XD

March 27, 2017
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