polyglot: 2 posts

5 Books for Language Lovers

Babel comes from the Hebrew verb meaning “to confuse,” and the story of Babel is the story of human folly in aiming to reach the heavens by building a large tower. To stop their efforts, God splintered their tongue into a dizzying multitude–and created the first language barrier humanity has experienced. Yet, one can find this diversity incredible, rather than regrettable. The 6,000 or so human languages that exist today are so rich that learning them, or learning about them, is a fascinating pursuit.

I’ve shared some of my tips on learning languages in three different articles, How I Learn Languages, How I Learn Languages: Where to Start, and How to Learn A Language by Reading and Listening, but today I would like to invite you to read about languages. I’ve selected five books that either explore the way languages developed or the way people use them. None of them are standard academic books, but rather works written by people passionate about words, sounds and letters.

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How I Learn Languages

The KGB blacklisted my stepfather, making it impossible for him to travel outside the Soviet Union. He satisfied his wanderlust by reading and learning languages. I remember our bookshelves filled with self-study books and dictionaries: English, French, Italian, German, Bulgarian, Serbian/Croatian, Czech. I opened them at random and the more unfamiliar they looked, the more I wanted to learn and enter the universe of new languages. It felt exciting and liberating.

That exhilarating feeling of discovery has remained with me, and it drives me to learn new languages. I speak, read and write 18 languages and am currently learning my 19th. Besides English, these languages include French, Italian, Persian, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, Vietnamese, Urdu, Bulgarian, German, Hindi, Uzbek, Portuguese, Albanian, Serbo-Croatian–and learning Mandarin. Most of these I’ve learned in the past few years when I figured out a method that worked for me. I’m often asked by many of my friends and readers to put together my strategy for studying languages, and so I’ve jotted down certain rules and important elements that make my learning efficient. Once I started writing, I realized that I could come up with a whole book on the topic, but since my goal today is to summarize my approach in an article, I’ll leave the comment field for any additional questions and clarifications. Please feel free to ask your specific recommendations and share your experience with learning languages.

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