The other day, I took the opportunity to read Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners. It was an interesting read, not least because one of the featured “characters” is Alexander Argulles, a one-time regular on the how-to-learn-any-language forum. (One other bit from an anonymous survey was plainly from the poster known as Iverson.) Argulles is an interesting case because he has made it his life’s passion to learn enough of enough languages to survey the world’s great literature. If you haven’t, this is well worth the read for getting a sense of how polyglottism works, why people bother and where the lines get blurred between fluency and functionality and between achievement and bluster. By the end, you should have a healthy skepticism for anybody who boasts of speaking 50 languages fluently, but combined with a healthy respect for those folks who back away from such claims yet somehow seem to get things done in 15 or 20 languages, or even 5 or 6.
One of the nice things about the Babel book is it provides good explanations of Argulles two big techniques, shadowing and scriptorium, and why they seem to work. This has sent me back to copying out Sumerian texts as I go along, using a simplified and regularized version of the symbols. It’s amazing how much it helps: Slowing yourself down enough to capture the characters halfway accurately and staying at it till you are writing consistently turns symbols that you skim and recognize into symbols that you know. (I have found the same thing with respect to copying out passages in Sanskrit.) If you are serious about learning to read a new script, you really should learn to write in it too, so that you get a feel for how the letters go together and what distinguishes one from another. If you’re really serious, you should look for scriptorium on the how-to-learn-any-language.com forum and follow the directions.