You often hear about the idea of learning language like a child with reference to speaking it in, say, a direct method. I haven’t seen much about reading in this vein, however. And yet, the reader, which has been with us for quite some time, represents another version of the direct method, does it not?
I have recently been fussing with short texts in Sanskrit, in Sumerian and in Akkadian. I jot them in my notebook for later reading; I pick through them as best in can, and when I do a familiar experience comes back: We often joke about the child who knows their favorite book better than their parents. It’s observed that a parent, reading from the text, will omit a word that the child, by memory, knows is there. In time, the child sits with the book and is able to “read” it aloud, or at least to give the appearance. And bit by bit, words become known. When working my way through Sanskrit, the familiar shapes of words like Agni, Deva and the elegant Vaishvanaro leap off the page among the squiggles I have to pick through. When looking at Sumerian, the frequently appearing asterisk shaped character DINGIR, indicating the next word refers to a god, instantly helps to give an orientation in the text.
I have complained in the past that it’s hard to find a good text like the Assimil programs for learning ancient languages. Yet I have to admit that I didn’t get nearly as much out of Assimil’s Latin course as I did the Italian one. And so it seems to me that maybe for ancient languages, that you mostly read, you need to learn to “read” like a child, gaining a solid acquaintance with certain passages and letting the words fill themselves in when you return to it until enough of the language feels a little bit familiar that you can start making other texts your own a little more easily each time.