Learning Like a Child – Reading

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.

About G Barto

Geoffrey Barto has been teaching language and culture for more than twenty years. His focus is helping people use language to achieve their goals, both for personal growth and in building their careers. The right words can make all the difference in the world!
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3 Responses to Learning Like a Child – Reading

  1. Stefanie says:


    The Top 100 Language Lovers 2012 competition hosted by the bab.la language portal and the Lexiophiles language blog has started and your blog has been nominated in the category language learning blogs. Congratulations! The nomination period goes until May 13th. Feel free to spread the word among other bloggers writing about languages or to suggest one blog yourself.
    For further information on the Top 100 Language Lovers 2011 competition, visit http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/top-100-language-lovers-2012-nominate-your-favourite-now

    Best wishes,
    Stefanie for the bab.la and Lexiophiles team

  2. jabnaki says:

    I did learn Latin for the most part by reading and did not study grammar often and just passed my exam without lessons. I also did like you say read some passages or text over and over again.

  3. jabnaki says:

    I am making a load of plans for language houses for uncommon languages. There one could learn by using the house’s language in everyday’s life. There would be much linguistic work done and texts written and I am doing my best to think up useful and interesting activities.

    We will probably have Dutch Creole, Raeto-Romance, Latin and a certain conlang. There are already some people who are sure they want to participate.

    What languages would you like to have there? It could be any one.

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