Read English or Any Other Language! Viva Kató Lomb!

A few month ago I purchased a Kindle e-book reader and tried out my language learning techniques using it.  The technique goes back partly to the experience learned by famous polyglots (people speaking many languages at a very high level) such as Kató Lomb, Giuseppe Mezzofanti and Heinrich Schliemann, and was partly designedby me for my personal needs and those of my language students.

Each of the above-mentioned personalities in their time succeeded in learning at least a dozen languages. Kató Lomb used 16 as an interpreter and translator (all in all she learnt 26), Heinrich Schliemann learnt 20, and the legendary Mezzofanti was said to speak 102 languages.

Actually one of the common techniques of these polyglots , who lived in different ages, was reading books in foreign languages.

We can learn a lot from their experiences and techniques. But we can learn from them important attitudes towards language learning as well.

Well, read English or any other language without a dictionary!

Without a Dictionary!?

Are you sceptical? Don’t be! This is one of the keys that opens up the door to the castle of languages. But how can you read a foreign-language novel without a dictionary if you only understand a few words?

Well, the easiest way to find out the meaning of a new word is to look it up in the dictionary. You only need to open your dictionary or switch to it on one of your gadgets. But does this really lead to the best results? Sometimes you need to know the meaning of a word for immediate use, but sometimes you would like to retain it for a longer time in order to reuse it or to recognize it in a text. In the latter case you can’t afford to forget it. But remember the motto: “Easy come, easy go!”

If you don’t look it up immediately in the dictionary but rather try to find out its meaning from the context, you invest mental energy. You may have a closer look at the context or be reminded of similar words to the given unknown word in the passage.

If you look up an unknown word in a dictionary right after having read it, you don’t invest mental energy. And except for a few words you’ll forget most of them straight away afterwards.

I hope you agree: you’ll retain best what you have figured out by yourself! And although at first sight it seems more difficult to read a text in a foreign language without looking up each word in a dictionary, it is much more effective and can be much more fun.

If you read a novel or book that really interests you, your curiosity about the details will help you to stay in the text, even if you don’t understand the whole thing!

It could seem strange and tiring to read a foreign text without a dictionary. But after the first try you’ll understand a lot. Maybe not everything but you’ll understand the text globally.


(From the book: The Open Secret of Polyglots by Mihály Hevesi)