Learning by reading

Today I came across another interesting language learning method on Language learning tips, which was used by the 19th-century German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), who excavated Troy. In order to learn Greek he read a Greek translation of one of his favourite books, and compared the translation word by word and line by line with the original text. This enabled him to learn a lot of vocabulary and grammar in context without having to refer to dictionaries or grammar books all the time. Here’s some more information about Schliemann’s language learning methods, which enabled him to acquire eighteen languages quite quickly and successfully.

The reading method would be even better if you had an audiobook version of the translation and/or a native speaker to help you with pronunciation. Moreover, if you choose a book that includes a lot of colloquial dialogues, you can learn everyday conversational words and phrases as well.

Grammar books and vocabulary lists are useful, but I find that if I discover a grammatical pattern or the meaning of a word on my own, I’m more likely to remember it.

This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

13 Responses to Learning by reading

  1. Ramses says:

    That’s exactly how I’m learning Russian at the moment. And I must say; it really works. I had some troubles with learning the sounds of the characters of the Cyrillic alphabet, but with the method I managed to learn them relatively easy and boost my vocabulary :).

  2. DMH says:

    This is the method that’s used in all of the Assimil books. Texts/dialogues available with audio only in the target language.

  3. TJ says:

    Is it really useful?
    I mean, you have a change in the length of lines because of many different aspects in the two languages!
    There are also some translations that are based on meaning rather than “word by word” translation, how can I compare words in that sense?
    Moreover, there are different expressions and idioms in different languages so sometimes I think it is not really easy to translate such things since they don’t make sense in another language or so!
    both of them in english, is written in Arabic in 2 ways:
    1. Kiláhumá (one word)
    2. Kollin minhumá (2 words)

    I believe comparing texts should be combined with personal efforts in reading grammar and teaching books. As for Schliemann, I think he had the chance to practice it very well since he was (as I guess) in a greek medium (or did he find Troy in Turkey? I can’t really remember!).

  4. Trevor says:

    I think this method can be a great way to learn… it might not be practical when used as the only method to learn a language, but it’s great that it promotes diving into the real language, as it’s really used, at an early point. Most language learning methods try to break down the language into easy chunks to digest through your own previous cultural/linguistic understandings… this method would force you to try to recognize the ways in which the language is working without it being explained to you in any way. You’re using your own mindpower to work through it, and that could lead to a more profound understanding of the language at a faster pace. Coupled with other methods, this could help round out an individual study plan. On it’s own, though, it could be pretty stale, and only cause your reading ability to benefit, at the expense of the other abilities.

  5. Janis says:

    🙂 I think my language-learning tips would consist of “Find as much of it as you can, cram it into your head as often as possible, as quickly as possible, as much as possible, don’t stop to swallow, and make sure you love it to death so you gulp at it like a parched woman at a thermos of ice water.” That seems to solve most language-learning problems. Get it intoyour head any way you can, as often as you can, at as high volume and rate as you can. Fall into it and just let yourself drown.

  6. Polly says:

    I have Bibles in about 20 different languages exactly for this purpose. I’m already well familiar with it in English so, I can read it in another language and easily guess words I haven’t seen before. It’s also fascinating to see how different languages use different parts of speech to say the same thing. The drawback is that I’m not getting much modern vocabulary and a lot of “religious” vocabulary that may not be that useful in everyday situations – unless I ever became a missionary ;-).

    I have a dual language book of Russian short stories and I’m always on the lookout for dual language Russian literature but I can’t find much :(.

    Another source: Russian websites. I copy articles on various topics – mostly news. I translate them on Babelfish and use the English as a quick reference. I’ve learned a few phrases and expressions this way – but mostly I pick up lots of vocabulary.
    The problem with reading is that it’s not the same as everyday conversation. My goal is to converse, not to ANNOUNCE or REPORT. But, in the absence of native speakers, reading’s the best I can do.

    Also, I’ve been using AUDACITY to record Russian internet radio. For anyone who’s interested in multilingual ‘net-radio:


    has many broadcasts in other languages including Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Farsi, Spanish, and more. The Cyrillic may be an obstacle to navigating the site, though. And the times may not correspond to waking hours depending on where in the world you live.

  7. I would visit that site you recommend, but given where it’s located, I have to ask, is it free of viruses, spyware, cookies, or anything that could harm my computer? I’ve had bad experiences with Russian and Romanian websites–no offense to the people there; it’s not everybody’s fault those countries’ governments have not seen fit to enforce the rules on the Internet.

    The idea about using the Bible may not be a bad idea…some stories, if you know where to look, are actually kind of “ordinary” and discuss ordinary things. I have 3 myself: Spanish, German, and Koine Greek (word study, with a very, VERY literal word-for-word translation underneath and English parallel text). The only trick is making myself spend the time with it…

  8. Polly says:

    M.A. – I have visited V.O.R. quite a bit and have never had trouble. But, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I got the website address from Omniglot if that lends anymore cred’.
    I can think of a few Bible stories where the people actually talk to each other, but, they’re few and far between. At least I now know how to say, “demon” in Russian. Now to find the applicable venue…

    I think I have that same Greek Bible where it puts the English word-by-word underneath the Greek (or vice-versa), but has the English again in paragraph form off to the left side of the page. I’ve seen 3 more separate volumes breaking out the Hebrew O.T..

    It’s hard to find any other work that is widely translated and widely available. I did see, but resisted purchasing, “The Davinci Code” in Russian at a local chain-book-store, Borders. That’s about the extent of their selection of Russian “literature” except for a poetry book. But, I can’t even understand poetry in English 😀

  9. Geoff says:

    In my briefcase, I have Agatha Christie’s Poirot Investigates, plus the Spanish Poirot investiga. I actually have a fair bit of Spanish and could follow the Spanish alone, but in reading the two side by side, I’ve picked up a lot about how to do things with Spanish that I could understand in context but where I didn’t really know what was going on with the language, just what was meant by it.

    I’m hoping to do the same thing with Uzbek, which will say a lot more about how much there is to this for me, but so far I’ve mostly found Somerset Maugham stories and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (So far I’ve learned that one translator found “mo’mo'” to be as good a way as any to translate “moocow” but I’m not sure how much practical application that has!)

  10. renato says:

    Dear Polly, I liked to see that you have bibles in distincts languages. Me too. Did you try to download bible versions from http://e-sword.net It it a progranm very interesting.
    There are other sites with versions of Bible. I have a version in Armenian.

  11. Polly says:

    Renato – Thanks for the recommendation. Great site!
    Do you read Armenian? I’ve read several books of the Bible in Armenian. I’m surprised by how easy it is. Reading a newspaper is much more difficult.

  12. BabelPoint says:

    Yes this is a good method of learning a new language, but you have to pay attention that the translation is a good one. An example is Tolstoy’s War and Peace. This is my favourite book. I have read English, French, Spanish and German translations and most of them were awful, specially old translations.

    If you are learning Russian, I would recommend you to buy the audio books of your favourite writer at http://www.ozon.ru They have a huge quantity of audio books (and not only Russian literature). The audio books are in MP3 format and they cost only few dollars. Then you go to http://www.lib.ru/ and find the book you bought for free.
    Tolstoi is here http://az.lib.ru/t/tolstoj_lew_nikolaewich/


  13. ofzewotir says:

    I laughed as i imagine people who want pierced nipples to the vehicle. Her hand.

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