I was recently hit by a pang of nostalgia for the summer program I attended two years ago. It’s called EXPLO at Yale. There, students could choose two classes and two workshops to participate in while getting to live on Yale’s campus. (Yale itself did not host the program, it just provided the location.) There were also weekend trips, mostly to New York, and activities held on campus for entertainment and socialization throughout the week. One of the events was a talent show.
It was mostly the talents you would expect to see – singing and dancing. I suppose if you were watching something like America’s Got Talent (of which I’ve only watched part of an episode) you might see more variety of talents, though of course there would still be a lot of singers and dancers.
Of course, the word talent does also get applied to to activities that aren’t really performing in nature, like drawing. And considering that we have things like the Guinness World Records, I’m sure some would argue that plenty of activities which have no apparent practical use are talents as well. Burping the alphabet, for instance, or beating Pokemon Red en masse, as has recently happened with Twitch Plays Pokemon.
In any case, talented is a word commonly used to describe skill in some activity or other. But what sometimes bothers me about this usage is its resemblance to the way “smart” is often used. Although usually people will call others talented or smart with the positive intent of admiring their prowess, it’s also sometimes used an excuse for not making a serious attempt to improve at an activity. A person might praise others’ talent for art but they themself will insist that they just “suck at art”. Or they might enviously comment about others being smart and good at math while attributing their own difficulties with the subject to their stupidity/dumbness.
I do believe that everyone has innate strengths and weaknesses. But no one (or at least, almost no one) who is really, really good at something started out that way. It would still take a great deal of time and dedication in order to reach that level. It just means that if you don’t naturally have an aptitude for something, you’ll probably have to work harder than someone who does in order to become an expert at it. Even among athletes, for example, some people might be better suited to long-distance, endurance sports, while others will be better suited to doing things in a quick burst, due in part to the ratio of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers that they have; however, you can convert some of the slow twitch fibers to fast oxidative fibers (which could be considered “intermediate” fibers since they are somewhere between slow oxidative and fast glycolytic fibers in their endurance). Also, one of my friends has an aptitude for math and it is her favorite subject, while math is one of the most frustrating subjects for me. It often takes me weeks after first “learning” something in math before I really begin to understand it, and math just doesn’t come naturally to me. However, back in elementary school, for about two years, my parents sent me to afterschool/summer math classes every weekday. The sheer amount of practice gave me a temporary boost in math and allowed me to pass the test which determined whether students would be put in advanced math (1 year ahead) or kept in the “regular” track for the following school year. So I ended up permanently (I would only be able to leave if I got failing grades or stopped taking math classes after fulfilling the graduation requirement) in the advanced track. I struggled more and more with math after that head start I received started to wear off. Math is still one of the subjects that requires a lot more studying on my part to do well on a test than for other subjects, and I often forget what I’ve learned in only a short period of time. Nevertheless, it is still possible to become good at math, if I were willing to devote the huge amount of time and energy required.
I suppose it just comes down to the intended meaning when someone uses the word talented/talent. Are they referring to natural gifts only, or are they including all the effort that was made in their definition of talent?