This site is dedicated to the work of the writer Nikita T
Is it possible to learn a new language with just one book
Reading is recommended to everyone who has started to master a foreign language, but this method always plays only an auxiliary role, supplementing grammar lessons and live communication. But what do you say to the fact that some polyglots use reading as the main method of getting to know a new language? In other words, they don’t take lessons, learn grammar rules, memorize word lists, or listen to CDs of primitive dialogues like, “hi, how are you?” – “okay, thanks” – “bye!” Instead of these familiar basic course exercises, they just open a book in the language and start reading. I anticipate your bewilderment (how do they read without knowing the language?), so I hasten to reveal the secret and confirm it with concrete examples.
The Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth studied English in prison. He had only 16 lines of Shakespeare’s drama at his disposal, and that was enough to master the first basics of the English language. His compatriot, Cato Lomb, the first interpreter-synchronist in history, was a staunch advocate of the reading method. She was familiar with 28 languages and worked as a translator in 15 of them. She studied her first foreign languages – English and then Russian – semi-underground, in order to avoid being suspected of espionage (this was during the Second World War and then the Cold War). There were no lessons, no teachers and no textbooks. So Kato borrowed a novel by Galsworthy in English from the public library and just started reading it. Here’s how she described the experience: “After a week I had an idea what it was about, after a month I understood, and after two months I was enjoying it.
Would you have the patience to read a whole week without understanding a word? Probably not everyone. But we’ll get back to patience, but for now I’ll tell you that Kato learned Russian from Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls”.
And here is another example of a polyglot – our contemporary Italian Luca Lampariello, who knows plus or minus eleven languages, including Russian. He willingly shares his secrets of mastering foreign speech and even earns money on it. In one of his interviews (if I’m not mistaken, he gave it just in Russian), when asked how he learns languages, he said that he just takes a real text and starts reading it. Of course, the level of reading comprehension at first is close to zero. However, the result is obvious – by reading, polyglots manage to master a new language.
The first month: first guesses as to what the book is about
As you have probably already understood, effective reading is always based on guesswork, because only an inquisitive perception of the text leaves a deep mark on your memory. Anything you discover on your own, rather than something you get ready-made (from a teacher, from a textbook), is the most valuable and most useful knowledge, because it is one hundred percent yours.
As your vocabulary grows, try to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words by context as well. Look carefully at what surrounds the unfamiliar word, write out whole phrases in which it appears, and don’t rush to look in the dictionary. For starters, it will be enough to figure out that a word is “a verb meaning something bad” or “it’s some article of clothing.” The guesses may turn out to be false, but there is nothing wrong with that.
If you do look in the dictionary, never write out words one by one: try to memorize word combinations or whole phrases. It is also helpful to write out several words that have the same root and belong to different parts of speech. An example from German: Vari-ant (variant, noun), vari-ieren (vary, change, v.), vari-able (variable, inconstant, adjective), Vari-ation (variation, noun).
By learning to distinguish parts of speech, recognize articles and prepositions, you will be able to pay more attention to the connections between words. For example, whether an adjective comes before a noun (as in Russian and German: “banal text”, “der banale Text”) or after it (as in Italian: “il testo banale”); where a verb stands, what particles often accompany a verb (for example, zu, nicht in German), etc. This activity is nothing less than an independent invention of the grammar of the language.
Only when you have a hunch of your own in your head, you can look in a textbook to check it out. For example, have you noticed that German words with the ending “-tion” (die Sank-tion, die Akt-ion, die Präsenta-tion) often have “die” before them. Often, but not always. You can assume that “die” is a feminine article that changes in certain cases: perhaps it indicates the case in which the word stands? You will easily find this rule in your textbook and have the satisfaction of getting to it without any help.
When the overall picture of the text starts to become clear, don’t be tempted to translate every word to get the meaning faster. Stay true to the central tenet of the authentic reading method: DEFINITION. Open the dictionary as rarely as possible and only for the key words that are often repeated and prevent you from understanding the whole phrase. Just put up with the unpleasant feeling that not everything (or almost nothing) is clear. The Hungarian translator Kato Lomb, who taught herself 28 languages, made this figurative comparison: “Who hasn’t felt uncomfortable during the first minutes of bathing, stepping into the cool water? And who hasn’t rejoiced, after a couple of minutes of getting used to the temperature of the water, that he didn’t give in to the first impulse to get out of the ‘cold’ sea?”
Learn Russian with Nikita T’s books and you will achieve great results!