Books from Nikita
Useful Information

Useful Information

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.

At what point does the magic happen? To understand how the reading method works, we will have to answer the key question of how to read.
Since most of us are not polyglots, we will need some preparation before diving into authentic reading. Polyglots are known to develop a certain skill over time, and each subsequent language is easier and faster for them. But the first foreign language is the most difficult to learn (hello to you, my English). So, tips for those who decide to take a swing at a new language using the authentic reading method.
First week: dive into the unknown
Before you open the book, write down the forms of the verb “to be” (I am, you are, etc.) on a piece of paper: they are common and will give you some sort of support. In addition, learn how to pronounce all letters of the alphabet and their combinations (of course, the algorithm of actions in case of alphabets other than Latin will be different, but for simplicity we will have only European languages in mind). So, for example, we need to know that in German “sch” is pronounced as “sh”, and if a word has the combination “sh”, then it should be pronounced as “s-h” (and not “sh” as in English). This is important! For example, I read the German word “bisher” as “bischer” for a long time and could never remember its meaning. And only when I heard its correct pronunciation (“bis-her”), it dawned on me that it consists of two words (bis-her), which meanings I know very well (“do” – “now”). Everything fell into place: bisher means “until now”; now I’m not likely to forget the word. The more correctly you can pronounce the word, the more likely you are to recognize/remember it. And here we come to the next important point.
The main task at first is to look for only the familiar and nothing else in the text. Beginners usually do the opposite – stumble over everything they don’t know. In a new language, with such a strategy, you will not get far, so set yourself to pay attention and slow down only on the words that tell you something.
What can be familiar in a foreign text? Very much! For example, geographical names (Moscow/ Moscau/ Mosca) and food names (Pizza, Limone/ lemon), words of Latin or Greek origin (Literatur/ letteratura/ literatura/ literature, Aventeuer/ avventura/ adventure/ adventure) and all words that have become international (sauna, Boutique, vis-a-vis, ciao, Hitparade, vodka). You will be surprised how many words in any language you already know: Kultur, privat, negativ, Horizont, chaos, risultato, Ketchup, Jogurt, Banana, Büro, schik, Pyjama, Spezifika, Schal, aeroporto. You have just read an entire line in at least three different languages. Names of famous people may also be familiar. Write down all the words you recognize or almost recognize on a piece of paper immediately.
Examine the words. If you look closely at the long German word “kontrolieren”, you will notice the root “kontrol” and in “probieren” you will notice the root “prob”. Perhaps you will have the hypothesis that if you add the ending “-ieren” to the stem, you will get a certain part of speech. And this is very close to the truth: the examples given are the German verbs “control” and “try.
When writing out words, group them at once – it will be easier to make guesses. For example, in one group you will have words with the ending “-ieren”, and in another group you will have words “literar-isch”, “metod-isch”, “log-isch” (all these are German adjectives with the typical ending “-isch”). Undoubtedly, you will notice that all these words are written with a small letter, while similar words in their basis “Kontrolle”, “Probe”, “Literatur”, “Methode”, “Logik” are capitalized, which gives away their belonging to another part of speech (they are all German nouns; all nouns in German are written with a capital letter). This is how, step by step, armed with a pencil and patience, true polyglots dig into the text in an unfamiliar language, taking it apart piece by piece.

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?”

Keep reading, page by page, slowly, rereading the same thing several times and making notes in the margins (recording your guesses). Gradually you will get used to the “atmosphere” of the language and begin to navigate in it. From the earliest stages, try to retell what you read, even at a very basic level, answering yourself the questions: “who?”, “what did it do?”, “where did it happen?”.
So far (bis-her) I’ve talked about how to read, it’s time to say a few words about what to read. After all, the right authentic text can make the process of entering a new language much easier. So, a few tips.
If you read fiction, choose the works of local authors, that is, not translated, and written in the language. It is better to choose modern literature, because the language of the classics can cause difficulties even for native speakers. Short stories or plays with dialogues are good (there is a lot of colloquial vocabulary). I also met the advice to read in a foreign language what you have already read in Russian. It makes sense, because you already know the characters and know the plot, so it’s easier to guess the meaning of words.
Choose for reading something that would be interesting and in your native language. Let’s say an article flashed in your FB feed that caught your attention. “How many cups of coffee a day can kill a person,” or “How polyglots switch from one language to another,” or “Ten free online courses from the best universities in the world” are topics that would get my attention, and you, of course, will have your own. The point is, don’t rush to open these articles in your native language. Instead, translate the article title (or keywords) and Google them – you might find a similar article in a foreign language. Read it to kill two birds with one stone – to satisfy your natural interest to the topic and to practice your language.
In short, read in a foreign language all that you would read in Russian – whether it’s professional literature, news about the referendum in Catalonia, a recipe for veal in pomegranate sauce for Sunday dinner, or a guide to the country where you plan to spend your next vacation. If you don’t understand everything, that’s okay. Then you can read the same thing in Russian.
Finally, once again, what is good about the method of authentic reading.
You are immediately immersed in a living, natural language. All the words are found in context, in the usual combinations for a particular language.
Words and phrases are repeated in the text, which is the best way to master the vocabulary. Moreover, the so-called frequent vocabulary (the most frequently used words) you will naturally memorize faster than the rest, because they occur on almost every page.
The book helps you to invent grammar by yourself, that is, not by memorizing the rules, but by guessing them.
Books help not only to learn a language, but also to see what is behind each language: a mentality, a certain way of thinking, typical themes or complexes of the people (for example, the theme of “little man” in Russian literature). It is not language that creates the gap between people from different countries, but a cultural “back-gound. Compare the German expression “Schwein haben,” which literally translates as “to have a pig” and means “to be fortunate,” and the Russian expression “to set a pig,” which means “to fail. An ordinary pet pig, it would seem, but what different associations it evokes in Germans and Russians. Or take the word “Pinocchio,” which is understood by both Russians and Italians. But if in our minds it conjures up an image of a touching, mischievous boy, for the Italians burattino is simply the common name for any wooden doll on strings (the touching Italian boy was called Pinocchio).
Every culture has its own figurative expressions, its own metaphors, its own well-known characters. To understand foreigners, it is not enough to learn their grammar; one must learn to think like them, and to see behind the words the same images they see. Books are perhaps the most effective tool in this regard.
I’ll finish with the words of Cato Lomb: “The journey from misunderstanding through half-understanding to full understanding for an adult is an exciting, interesting travelogue.” I think the famous polyglot can be trusted, for she herself has traveled this path more than once”.

Learn Russian with Nikita T’s books and you will achieve great results!


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