“I like to say that we should study languages, because languages are the only thing worth knowing even poorly.”— Kató Lomb
If you’re really serious about foreign language acquisition, you owe it to yourself to read Polyglot: How I learn languages, by Kató Lomb. Lomb (February 8, 1909 – June 9, 2003) a native of Hungary, had a command of 16 languages. She was one of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world and challenged many of the current conventions of language learning, namely, the over-reliance on grammar coupled with dry textbook learning.
“The traditional way of learning a language (cramming 20 to 30 words a day and digesting the grammar supplied by a teacher or a course book) may satisfy at most one’s sense of duty, but it can hardly serve as a source of joy. Nor will it likely be successful). I don’t believe there is an innate ability for learning languages. I want to demystify language learning, and to remove the heroic status associated with learning another language.”
Basically, Lomb’s formula for language learning success can be distilled into the following equation: Motivation + Perseverance= Success.
Naturally, there is a little more to it than that, and Lomb goes into great detail in her book by describing her entire methodology. Chapter 20 of her book gives her Ten Suggestions for Successful Language Learning:
- Spend time tinkering with the language every day. If time is short, try at least to produce a 10 minute monologue. Morning hours are especially valuable in this respect: the early bird catches the word!
- If your enthusiasm for studying flags too quickly, don’t force the issue but don’t stop altogether either. Move to some other form of studying, e.g., instead of reading, listen to the radio; instead of writing and composition, book about in the dictionary, etc.
- Never learn isolated units of speech; rather, learn them in context.
- Write phrases in the margins of your text and use them as “prefabricated elements” in your conversations.
- Even a tired brain finds rest and relaxation in quick impromptu translations of the billboard advertisements flashing by, of snippets of overheard conversations, etc., just for its own amusement.
- Memorize only that which has been corrected by a teacher. Do not keep studying texts you have written that have not been proofread and corrected so mistakes don’t take root in your mind. If you study on your own, each text you memorize should be kept to a size that precludes the possibility of errors.
- Always memorize idiomatic expressions in the first person singular. For example, “I am only pulling your leg.”
- A foreign language is a castle. It is advisable to besiege it from all directions: newspapers, radio, movies that are not dubbed, technical or scientific papers, textbooks, and the visitor at your neighbor’s.
- Do not let the fear of making mistakes keep you from speaking, but do ask your conversation partner to correct you. Most importantly, don’t get peeved if he or she actually obliges you — a remote possibility, anyway.
- Be firmly convinced that you are a linguistic genius. If the facts demonstrate otherwise, heap blame on the pesky language you aim to master, your dictionaries, or this book–but not on yourself.
Do yourself a favor and read it.