Effective language learning

The humane approach

A working definition

Focusing – more in depth

Managers and leaders



A good model can be a great help

Complex modelling

How to model yourself on the best

The logical levels model

The model close up

Eva and Julia

Huge resources are at your disposal



Resources, bankbooks and hidden talents

1. Environment

2. Behaviour

3. Capabilities and strategies

4. Beliefs and values

The best is yet to come



Giuseppe Mezzofanti

Emil Krebs

Carlo Tagliavini

Steve Kaufmann, polyglot of the internet age

An ordinary language enthusiast – John the mathematician

Polyglots' methods under the microscope

Heinrich Schliemann

Kató Lomb

What can you learn from polyglots and language enthusiasts?



Use your imagination

Mnemonics and the imagination

It pays to exercise your imagination

Would you like to practise?

Hurrah for vocabulary?

The polyglot's ten commandments

Not even polyglots have to be perfect

Choosing your learning method

One way or another



Measuring effectiveness

Is the number of foreign languages you have mastered a good criterion?

Other examples

Finding the balance on your language account

Getting into it

Sample language account statement

Assets and liabilities

Before you dream up your future language account…



In the footsteps of the self-reliant

Approaching the ideal

Basic equipment for the self-taught

Adding to your equipment

The goldmine of reading

Four aces up your sleeve



Consistent behaviour

Exercises and how to approach them

What next?



New perspectives will sometimes come as a surprise

Do you really know your own goals and motives?

Rolling up your sleeves

Personal language account plan

How do exceptional people plan?

Exercise – effective goal-setting

Your precious language goals



Success factors and percentages

What you need to put into your studies

Actual results

Motivation, time, abilities...testing your prospects

Pyramid of success

Four portraits

Test preparation

Test: your language learning prospects

Where can I find the time? A sigh despair or a question?



Technology and culture

1. Vocabulary in terms of frequency

2. Card method

3. Oh, those genders

4. Who is stronger, me or those verbs?

5. When you don't have a notebook

6. Consonants and associations

More beneficial than techniques



Working on good pronunciation

The art of motivation. How to properly award yourself diplomas

Preservation strategy

Questionnaire: which method suits you best?

Suggestopaedia – what is it?


The future here and now



Get more in touch with your chosen language

Language school at home

Basic language tools on your computer

Recordings and texts

What kind of recordings should I use?

Text-to-voice programs

Modern technology and listening

Working with texts

Texts from the internet

Newspapers and magazines


Audio-books and other recordings

Computer-based language courses and programs

The best for advanced students

Free applications

Final recommendation



In praise of the internet

"Chinese method"


Listening on the internet

Historic speeches

Latest films

Radio stations

Worldwide radio

Television broadcasting



Moving into action




Translation programs

Writing and the internet

Planning, dreaming and writing poems in Spanish





Miniportraits of golden language sites

Two Czecho-Slovak sites

Exploiting the wealth of the web




Our fund of insights



Exercises for Chapter 8

What can these exercises do for me?

How to set about the exercises

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

When you have completed the exercises



Learning to relax. Sample relaxation text

Sample motivational text

List of suitable Baroque compositions



Most frequent words

Introductory and concluding phrases in correspondence. First aid









Doc. RNDr. Ivan Kupka, PhD. (1958)

Since completing his university studies, he has worked  (with one year-long break) at Comenius University in Bratislava, where he specializes in mathematical analysis. He also taught mathematics at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale in France for a year. He has completed courses in neurolinguistic programming in France and Belgium.

For many years he has been interested in various aspects of communication. His areas of interest include effective learning methods, motivation, creativity and interpersonal communications, information processing and the internet. He has held seminars on neurolinguistic programming communications techniques and effective language learning. He is the author of the first Slovak textbook on neurolinguistic programming. He has published scientific articles on selector theory and topology. He has worked as an internet journalist for e-journals at and In 2006 Grada Publishing brought out his exceptionally readable K sebedùvìøe krok za krokem (Step by Step to Self-confidence),  a book on problem-management, improving communication skills and achieving personal harmony.

The book you are now holding is based on his many years' experience of learning languages, which are his great passion. He has passed the state examination in English and worked as a  translator and interpreter from French. He also reads books in German, Spanish, Russian and Italian, and his hobbies include books, poetry, second-hand bookshops, psychology, yoga, chess and the guitar. He is married and has two daughters.








The main aim of this book is to help you learn languages with less toil and substantially enhance your life with a knowledge of languages.


         This book will let you in on the secrets of polyglots – the people who have learnt languages with exceptional success. It will tell you how you can learn a lot more with the same amount of effort. It will enable you to add up the costs of achieving your language goals. It will teach you to decide which course will be of benefit to you and which is a waste of time.


         This book utilizes the NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) model, which enables you to exploit language-studying resources in an untraditional way. It will demonstrate that you too can achieve above-average results and that it is up to you if you are up to it. It will reveal how best to remember phrases and vocabulary. It will tell you how to make effective use of computers for language studies and which language resources can be found for free on the internet. 








The more things mean to you, the greater you become.



Resources, bankbooks and hidden talents


'Resources' are what we call anything you can derive benefit from. They can be anything at all that enables you to realize your intentions and satisfy your needs.

            There are many unused resources around us all the time. Some are waiting to be made visible, while others are already known to us, but we often underrate them or we first need to get into the habit of making use of them.

            Some people live in the belief that nobody gets anything for free in this world. Actually, if they really had to pay for every resource they used, they would go broke pretty soon.

            We could start, for example, by giving them the bill for the air they breathe. This air is all around us and we breathe it in for free. Our sense organs, our abilities to communicate in a language and to come to an understanding with others are also there for us free of charge, as is our reason and our ability to experience feelings, to work up enthusiasm and to laugh.

            In this chapter we are going to systematically seek out and identify such resources – using Bateson's model. We will be particularly interested in those which can help us to achieve our language goals.


1. Environment


Starting at the environment level, we shall present a couple of examples and ask several questions. Questions written in italics should be taken as a prompt regarding your own activity. Answer them as an exercise that can tell you something useful, which you can then note down.    




Better somewhere than everywhere


Imagine that you wake up in the morning to find that your laptop is in the entrance hall, your CD with German phrases is in the bedroom and your phrase notes are in the living room. You still have seven minutes until the time you usually get up. What are you going to do?

            And what would you do if the CD were in the laptop mechanism, and the laptop and phrase notes were within arm's reach? Say both of these situations can happen sixty times a year. How many minutes of time lost or gained for learning does this represent?


How can you change the spacial arrangements and the distribution of the objects around you to help you study and use your languages?


For a long time Dave could not remember what the German word Kuchen meant (cake). He somehow kept confusing it with kitchen. Eventually, he wrote the word with its English equivalent on a piece of paper, which he sellotaped onto his toothbrush, so that he had it in front of him every day. Now he is more than familiar with the word.


Do you have a special place allocated for the language that you are studying? Do you have your books, notes, CDs and cassettes to hand?


Stick up pictures, postcards, maps and favourite quotations in the language you are studying  on the wall at home. Create a little "German corner" at home, in the garden shed or at work. Collect objects, brochures and materials associated with the language and country in question.


Walking around town


Where in my town can I come into contact with the language that I am studying? How can I otherwise make use of the options provided by my environment?


When Petr can choose which side of Main Street he is going to walk down, he goes for the side where the tourists sit out on the terrace in front of the hotel, so that he can occasionally pick up fragments of German phrases as he is passing. A little way further down there is a foreign language bookshop display window. He always has a look at the titles of two or three German books and then repeats them to himself as he is walking.


2. Elementary activities


Some people need to get their sight sorted out, to ensure that their eyes do not hurt when they read for any extended period of time. Others would be helped by learning relaxation techniques to make studying more pleasant.


Which elementary activity needs to be enhanced to make the study and use of languages easier for you?


Let your hearing make full use of its potential to help in your language studies. Use high-quality recordings and if possible high-quality loudspeakers, sound card, radio receiver and player. Be aware that to study German it is enough  to use a device with a sound range of up to 4000 Hz, but to hear English correctly we need a device that attains the higher frequencies up to the 11,000-12,000 Hz band. Also consider how spending long hours with headphones on at excessive volume can permanently damage your hearing.

            Use high-standard textbooks and aids. If you are learning phrases from cards, design them so that you can read them comfortably…and even with pleasure. Train your vocal cords without overtaxing them.


3. Abilities and strategies


A human is a miraculous little learning machine. Learning begins long before we are born. Not a day goes by in our lives when we do not pick up some new knowledge, a new behaviour pattern or a new way of doing things.

            In comparison with others, people who work efficiently have an extra rare ability. They can transfer the skills and habits that they have acquired in one field to other new fields.


Use what has been learnt in new contexts


Consider the skills and knowledge that you have acquired in life. How could you make use of them for studying a language?


For example, if you did karate in your youth, you could revive the old habit of regular training with its associated disciplines, maintaining a correct "mental regimen" and alternating hard work with leisure and relaxed concentration. You can decide for yourself which level of language knowledge would match a yellow or a brown belt and at which level you would be perfectly satisfied and receive a black belt.

            Kindergarten teachers surely know a lot about how to make use of melody, rhythm and rhyme when teaching new material. They know how important it is to vary different types of activities to make teaching interesting. They notice how children imitate general grammatical patterns more closely than adults do (e.g. "think, thinked"). They also see how much practice is required for them to learn the exceptions to these rules and to acquire correct pronunciation.


Which skills and knowledge have you already acquired in life?


Write them down on a piece of paper. For each of them try to come up with at least one way it could be put to good use during your studies.

A former chess player will learn the German word for "queen" more readily than others might. A natural scientist will apply her knowledge of Latin when studying Romance languages. A mathematician will very quickly understand logical grammatical rules. A painter would find it a waste not to take full advantage of her visual imagination during her studies.       


Used and unused abilities


Catherine learnt French at school and university using classic methods. Most of her time was taken up working with a textbook. She learnt the language to quite a decent level but everybody could tell by her accent that she was not speaking her native language. As an adult she began to study German and decided to make full use of her hearing. From the start of her studies she worked mostly with recordings.  She listened to them and tried to reproduce aloud not only the characteristic stress pattern of speech, but also its rhythm and melody. When repeating she could then make use of her auditory memory, which is stronger than her visual memory.


When she speaks German now she talks with an almost perfect accent. Only a native German can tell that she is a foreigner.


More will be said on methods and strategies in the next chapter on polyglots.


Using your foreign language wherever you can


We have already met some study techniques in the previous chapter. One of these methods was the principle: Use your foreign language wherever you can. For example, if you are watching an international football match, you can just as easily watch it on an Austrian or German channel as on a domestic one.


Say you have a family chore of washing the dishes and cleaning in the kitchen every evening. You can either do it at eight or at ten. There is a radio on the table in the kitchen. At nine the news begins in your foreign language. What time should you plan your cleaning for?


How can you plan your schedule in favour of even fleeting contact with your foreign language?


What knowledge can you bring to bear as a resource for studying and using your languages?


Paul learnt Italian quite well and wanted to test out his knowledge in some way. He decided to show round some Italian guests who were visiting his friend. On the way to the rendezvous he was suddenly overcome by fear: "what if I get into a situation where I forget some important word or where I just can't get a word out for the life of me?"

            But then he sighed with relief as he realized that the foreign guests could speak French well, just like he could. So if need arose, he could get by with French.


Another case of transference


Robert had never learnt any Greek in his life. Yet he enthusiastically reported how for all of two minutes he understood what his Greek colleague was saying in his own native language. Robert told him a problem that had been very much occupying him, in English. His Greek friend then immediately described it to another Greek in their mother tongue. "Because he repeated it sentence by sentence as I had said it, and because a lot of international words come from Greek,  I knew what they were talking about in practically every single sentence."    


Let's choose


The number of methods and strategies for studying languages is inexhaustible. Choose those methods that suit you best. Do not automatically choose the first method or course that comes your way. There are even better options awaiting you. Take into account your goals, abilities and favourite activities. Work in a way that accommodates them.



4. Beliefs and values


This is one of the little secrets that gifted people have:


A basic ingredient of talent is the strong desire to make progress in a particular field combined with the conviction that this is achievable.

Gifted people do not say to themselves: "Mr X does it three times faster than me. He's just got a talent for it. I should give up." They say: "How does that Peter do it? If he can manage it then I certainly can."

            Experts have found that motivation to perform a specific activity is effective when two conditions have been met:


  1. Performance of this activity is in keeping with your main values.
  2. You are convinced that you are able to achieve the goal in question.


How many people give up on their basic goals before they've even started? How many say every day that they are too old, that they are "not up to it" and that others are more talented? But sometimes your value or belief is so strong that it sweeps all obstacles aside. That was the case of a Russian pensioner who began to learn Spanish as her first foreign language at an advanced age. She needed to communicate with her granddaughter, who she was meant to be looking after, and so she learnt to speak the language within a year.


      Another instructive case is that of the schoolboy who was dozing as the maths homework was being given out. When he woke up he quickly copied down two problems that were on the blackboard. Because he had been sleeping for some time, he failed to hear the teacher say that nobody at the school had ever solved these problems. He thought it was ordinary homework. At home he really racked his brains over these problems but he eventually came up with the answers, the first and only one to do so in the entire school!


How to start believing in yourself


One good, simple way to start believing in yourself is to start regularly working and taking pleasure in the progress that you make. Can you remember everything you did not know or could not deal with two or three years ago? If you kept a diary at that time, go through it. You will be surprised!


Even the most difficult journey starts…simply with a first step


The conviction that you will not "up to it" often comes from the feeling that the task you see in front of you is too big. To a beginner the task of reading a German novel may appear impossible. So first choose an easier task. For example, reading the texts of the first five lessons from your textbook fluently and with full understanding. Then just have a glance at a German novel, or even better, the dialogue of a play. Can you find at least one sentence that you basically understand? The chances are that there is one.

            Step back with pleasure and applaud yourself over this – you could even award yourself some small treat. You have taken your first step towards reading German novels. Twenty steps like that will not be so hard, and yet you will have achieved your goal.




Where do I believe in myself and where don't I?


When studying a language, it is good to be able to the answer these questions:


What is my image of myself?


To what extent do I believe in myself and to what extent do I believe in my abilities and my future? In which situations and in which contexts do I and don't I?


Which of my beliefs assist my foreign language studies and which hinder them?


You can work on your beliefs


Neatly list those beliefs and values of yours which most closely relate to language study and use.

            Now have a think about how you could turn a belief with a negative mark into a belief with a positive mark. What would you need to change to make these values and beliefs support your studies?

            For example, take the idea that "I have always been a bad student". Even if this remains unchanged, we can still interpret it as: "I have always been a bad student, so I should use my foreign language as much as possible in a natural setting in real life. When I use it I should free myself as soon as possible from any dry scholarly or academic approach."


Systematically change restrictive beliefs


Sometimes you need the help of an experienced psychological counselor to alter a deep-seated attitude. But in many cases it is enough to look at things simply from a slightly different angle and to comment on them using different words – words that nonetheless fully respect reality. Let us take a couple of examples of such internal retuning:


The belief that "I can't do irregular German verbs" could be usefully replaced by the beliefs that "I need to learn basic irregular German verbs" and "if I learn five irregular verbs every week and do the appropriate amount of practice on them, I will be an expert on verbs in a couple of months". It would be good to back up this new belief as soon as possible with a specific decision: "This Saturday I shall learn the first ten most frequently used verbs – those dealt with first in the Teach Yourself book.“


The belief that "I don't have time to go on a company German course, because I am very busy with work and I'm on the go all the time," can be replaced by "because I have too much work to be able to go on a company German course, I shall get on an intensive holiday course." Likewise you can look at things this way:  "it took the offer of this course to show me how much work I have. What can I do about that? Who could stand in for me for some things? Is there anything in my activities that is less valuable than this course, which I could give up?"


"I'm old now" and "I don't want to make a fool of myself in front of the youngsters" can be replaced by "mental work rejuvenates you", "I'm learning for myself, not for others" and "I have a right to my own time".


"The German lesson is always on television when I go to play with the band.  My music has a greater value for me." In this case ask yourself: "Is anybody else in the band learning German? When? How? Are the lessons on television the only way?"


"It bothers my wife that I watch German programmes, which she does not understand." You can replace this sentence with one of the following:


"My wife looks forward to my company and attention. I'll make up the time we could spend together watching television in other ways."


"And what if I work up to a standard where I could translate the films for her?"


"Thanks to my German I now earn more. There will surely be enough money for a second television given time. Until then we can come to a reasonable agreement."


"I have no talent at all for languages," can be replaced by a range of sentences and statements such as:


"I understand English, so I can also understand hundreds, even thousands of French, Spanish,

Latin and German words."

"When I was learning to swim I had difficulties at first. And I didn't say I had no talent for swimming then."

"I don't need to learn every language. German is enough."

"I'll find out how much study time was needed by those I see as talented. I'll have to devote twice as much time to the language."

"Do I have no talent or do I just not feel like exerting myself?"   

"Maybe I do have the ability to go through the first five lessons in detail. Then we shall see. I might even manage the sixth."

"Above all I need to be able to understand spoken German, to recognize individual words and phrases. I shall work with recordings a lot more."

"I'll give my speech organs plenty of opportunity to practise this new pronunciation that I'm just not used to. I'll get myself tutored by somebody who can teach me correct pronunciation."

"I'll get my memory to retain material by repeating basic phrases every day."

"I need to get into the habit of studying regularly."


And in conclusion, another useful maxim with universal application:


Phantoms fear actions.


The best is yet to come


The attentive reader will perhaps have noticed that in this chapter we have only been through the first four levels of Bateson's model. The other two will be dealt with in Chapter Eight. We can sum up this entire chapter in a single sentence:


The difference between your average dreamer and a successful person lies in the fact that a successful person sets out to find and utilize resources that enable her to fulfil those dreams.


We shall talk about such successful dreamers in the following chapter, which will tell us…







Can we create a work of genius by sheer strength?

Yes, but first you need the strength.


S. J. Lec


There are many cases in history of people who during their lifetime learnt to understand not just one or two, not even a dozen, but several dozen foreign languages! They simply enjoyed languages. Clearly, these people were more talented than the average person, but the main thing was that they were keen on languages and worked hard on them every day.

For us it may be a waste of time and energy to take on so many languages. We might only need to learn one, and only up to a certain level. But even then, we can still learn a lot by looking more closely at the way these genius polyglots used to work.




Steve Kaufmann, internet-age polyglot


            In 1962 Canadian Steve Kaufmann was seventeen years old.  He lived in Montreal, a city with both English and French-speaking communities. At that time the two groups lived separately. Steve only learnt French at school and he had no other contact with it. As he said himself, his life appeared just the same as if he had grown up in any American city.

            In 1962 Steve began to study at university. He was very much taken by lectures in French culture. And these changed his life. He found the world of francophone culture, theatre, literature, chansons and French cuisine new, exotic and exciting. It fascinated him. Steve felt a strong urge to master French. He began to read French books and newspapers, listen to the radio in French and go to see French plays at the theatre. He found French-speaking friends. Later he went off to Europe and spent three years in France.

            Steve mastered French perfectly, and at the same time he came to believe that he could learn any language. These days he is proficient in nine languages. He speaks French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Swedish, Japanese, Korean and the two main dialects of Chinese. His knowledge of languages has been assisted not only by his diplomatic career and long-term stays in Asian countries, but above all also by his new approach to language learning.

            "I gave up on the traditional approach based on grammar practice and drill," says Steve. "The important thing for me was communication. I read texts on subjects that interested me. Even though I did not understand everything in them. I wanted to get into contact as quickly as possible with the culture in question. I struck up conversations with interesting people. I often had to make great efforts to understand and be understood. I tried to express myself in a simple way to match my vocabulary. I learnt to savour the sound and the structure of the new language."

            Steve stresses that you have to take the responsibility for your language progress into your own hands. He says it is important to deal with the language in a context that is as close as possible to real life.

            As he was learning the basics of his new language, Steve spent hours every day listening to recordings, reading, practising pronunciation and learning new writing. He managed to do this even after he moved  to Tokyo with his wife and small child, when another child was on the way. At work in the embassy he mostly met with English, but he tried very hard to find time every day for several hours of direct contact with Japanese.

            Nowadays Steve Kaufmann is back in Canada. He has opened a web-based language school, where he teaches English in a way that is in keeping with his principles. There is a lot of interesting language material on the school pages, some of it freely accessible. See Chapter 14 for the address.  


An ordinary language enthusiast – John the mathematician


Although he is a real person, John does not wish to see his name alongside those of the great polyglots, so we shall use a pseudonym.  The Americans are said to be no good at languages, but languages have now been this mathematician's hobby for several decades. He may not describe himself as a polyglot, but he has put a lot of energy into his languages and they have brought him a lot of pleasure.

            John had his first breakthrough in his language studies when he started to make systematic use of recordings. "It's crazy for anybody to think they will learn a language by doing exercises from a textbook," he says. "It's also quite naive to just rely on going to a language school. A lot of time is spent there going over grammar and practising correct written language, but there's little time left for real conversation. And it's not unusual for the conversation to be on some contrived subject. Most of the time you're better off learning at home."

            John can refer to dozens of resources – textbooks, cassette, CD and video courses – that  have helped him in his studies. Over the years he has learnt some fifteen languages. He has forgotten some that he has not used for a long time, as it has happened a couple of times that in his enthusiasm for languages he has taken up one that was of no use to him. For example, when he started penetrating the mysteries of ancient Greek, there was an unpleasant surprise waiting for him. He found that all the original literature available nowadays in that language would fit onto a bookshelf less than two metres in length.

            By 2000 John had been studying languages for several decades. But it bothered him that he had not mastered any of them fluently enough – at least that was his subjective feeling. A couple of years later, however, he could boast making great progress in his command of Italian. What had changed? One factor might have been that John had come back to this language several times over the course of his life. But above all, he had included more repetition in his latest studies. He repeated words and phrases from his recording until he really felt they were very familiar. And after breaks of varying length he kept coming back to the same material. 


Polyglots' methods under the microscope


So let us now talk in more detail about the methods used by polyglots. Two people who very much suit our purposes here are Heinrich Schliemann and Kató Lomb. By analysing their study methods we can base ourselves directly on their extensive authentic testimonies and the written notes that they left.


Heinrich Schliemann


Entrepreneur, globetrotter, pioneer of modern archeology, discoverer of Troy (1822-1890), Schliemann knew twenty languages by the time he was fifty. In his case too, every new language was easier to learn than the last. At secondary school he studied Latin, English and French. However, he only "really" began to learn languages  after he devised his own learning method, with which he got to grips with English in six months, and after another six months' of work on French he could speak it fluently. For Italian, which he learnt at a time when he practically had all day to study the language, he only needed six weeks.

            By 1866  Schliemann knew the following languages in addition to German and his native Plattdeutsch: English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Polish, Slovenian, Swedish, Danish, Modern Greek, Classical Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi and Persian. He learnt his last foreign language – Turkish – in Constantinople at the end of 1870 and the beginning of 1871. Within eighteen days he had mastered the language, with a vocabulary of six thousand words.

            Schliemann did not ascribe his language achievements to any talent, but to hard work, energy and perseverance – and to his method, which is described here:

              A great deal of reading out loud in the foreign language is required, in order to train the speech organs in correct pronunciation, as well as the ear. Schliemann considered pure grammar exercises to be unnecessary, and instead he wrote articles or interviews on various subjects. Every day he had these pieces checked by his native-speaker teachers, who corrected them. Schliemann then learnt these texts by heart and read them back the next day to his teacher, whose task it was to correct the errors in his pronunciation.

            The student should meet his teacher every day. Schliemann points out that a very favourable time for learning by heart is just before going to sleep, and modern-day authorities agree with him on this.

            Schliemann believed that those who used his method could learn a foreign language within five or six months.    

            Let us have another closer look at some of the features of Schliemann's method.


  1. Work with whole texts and larger language units, i.e. not just with isolated words.
  2. Guaranteed everyday feedback on grammatical accuracy and pronunciation.
  3. Regular work every day for several hours.
  4. Learning by heart – best before going to sleep.
  5. Rejection of the translation method, involving translation work from your native language into the foreign language, or vice versa.


Schliemann did have one unusual ability. He could remember a twenty-page text after reading it just three times. As he said himself, it was not an innate ability. He developed his memory and trained by using it intensively. He was certainly assisted in this by his enthusiastic and energetic approach to study.








He travels fastest who travels alone.

-                                                                                                                                                       Proverb


In the footsteps of the self-reliant


Those who have learnt how to study languages on their own have really turned up trumps.  Study of this kind makes you tremendously self-reliant and above all it helps you to move straight on towards your goal. You immediately find yourself in the position of a skillful handyman who can put up workroom shelves that are made to measure. Or you are like a resourceful housewife who can sew little jackets and other garments herself, so she doesn't have to rely on ready-made clothes from the shop.

You may find that Heinrich Schliemann's method inspires you to study independently and at your own pace.  Admittedly, Schliemann saw a native-speaker teacher every day for most of his languages, so he was not entirely self-taught, but he was one hundred percent self-reliant. He knew exactly what he wanted from his teacher. Only when he had made sure that his teacher understood his requirements did he begin to take an interest in what his teacher wanted from him.

He was also completely independent in his choice of learning method.  Indeed, he did not merely choose his method, he invented it. He also used this method in a modified form when he taught himself Russian, as he did not manage to find a teacher for this language.


Thrown back on his own resources


In the case of Russian, Schliemann first mastered the unfamiliar alphabet and then the pronunciation. Because there were no tape recorders or gramophone records in his day, he could only guess at the pronunciation on the basis of an old grammar book and dictionary, which he only found after rummaging around the bookshops for some time.

The second stage of his studies followed on fairly quickly. This involved working with a Russian translation of The Adventures of Télémaque, whose contents he knew inside out, having used it previously to study other languages.

Every day Schliemann talked out loud in Russian. Of course, he could not find anybody to understand him, and he even hired an old man just to sit and listen to him during his language monologues.

Schliemann kept to the other rules of his tried and tested method: he studied every day and he learnt things by heart.  He formed various different sentences based on original language patterns.


Rapid progress


Several weeks after the start of his studies Schliemann wrote his first letter in Russian. He actually received an answer!

Several weeks later, an Amsterdam auction room had a unique visit from two Russian merchants. Schliemann excitedly fell into conversation with them and they understood him well. At first he had problems understanding the spoken language. He needed things to be repeated and he had to ask them to speak more slowly. But he made rapid progress – so much so, that after several months his company dispatched him to Russia to set up a branch there.

Schliemann later married in Russia and settled down there for many years, becoming a rich Russian trader.


Purely self-taught


Apart from semi-self-taught Heinrich Schliemann and Kató Lomb, we can also gain valuable insights from self-taught Zygmunt Broniarek, a Polish journalist and foreign correspondent, who at the age of 35 had mastered seven languages. He did not attend any courses or have private tutoring, as he taught himself. You may well wonder what price you have to pay to study languages as successfully as he did.

Broniarek spent two to three hours a day studying – a total of fifteen to sixteen hours a week. He worked as much as possible with "normal" texts, paying attention above all to high-frequency vocabulary. Once he had understood a text, he read it out loud for as long as it took him to reproduce the text quite fluently – as fluently as if a radio announcer were reading it out in his native language.

Broniarek also worked with the kind of brief dialogues required for everyday conversation. Sometimes he made up such conversations himself on the basis of original texts and eventually learnt them by heart.

He spent a lot of time studying phrases and translation drills. He was not satisfied just by doing exercises once from the textbook. He kept repeating them until he had completely absorbed them and he could run off the answer automatically without thinking. And he ascribed really great importance to this technique.


US Army drilling successes


During the Second World War the US Army achieved some great successes in the field of teaching foreign languages.  In comparison with the normal pace which they knew from civilian life, those attending its various intensive courses learnt languages with unbelievable rapidity. According to American linguists, one of the reasons for these successes was the fact that a strict distinction was drawn on these courses between "teaching" and "drilling".

Teaching is the stage where you come to grips with new material and on the basis of this logical understanding you are able to perform certain speech acts, but only with conscious control, adhering to principles that have been taught.

Drilling is the stage where by constant repetition and practice of your language skills you absorb things to such an extent that you can react quite automatically. How did Broniarek describe it? "Repeat and practise until you can run off the answer automatically without thinking."

There were some other important reasons why the US Army courses were so successful:


·                    Total concentration on a single goal – learning the language. The minimum-ten-hour-per-week rule was always observed. In practice, some courses required forty hours of study a week.

·                    The courses were well thought out. Everything was efficiently planned and organized.

·                    Students were relieved of other duties – they could focus exclusively on mastering the language.




Approaching the ideal


It is very difficult in practice to create such ideal conditions for studying. But there are times when you can at least come close to them. When Heinrich Schliemann was a young man with no family or commitments, he took advantage of an eighteen-week  period of unemployment to learn Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. How many unemployed young people these days would be willing to give up their little everyday pleasures for a while, get over their stress and manage to do something similar?


Basic equipment for the self-taught


When you start to learn a foreign language, you should not only have time available, but also some basic equipment. To start with, you need the following at the very least:


·                    A textbook with exercises, ideally with the answers at the back. This is practically indispensable for those teaching themselves.

·                    Textbook recordings for mastering correct pronunciation.


Other important aids include:


·                    Simple texts in the foreign language with which you can start reading.

·                    A large foreign language/English language dictionary. Such dictionaries contain more than thirty or forty thousand words and they also provide collocations for some entries. They help you to understand basic phrasemes, grasp word inflections and deduce word classes.


When you are buying a large dictionary you should at least quickly check through it. Bookbinders occasionally make mistakes with such large numbers of pages. Some users have found out after a year that while entries under K appear twice in their dictionary, half the P pages are missing.


Adding to your equipment


At later stages in your study a monolingual dictionary will prove very useful, i.e. the kind  that explains the meanings of words using simple expressions and examples in target-language sentences. To mention just one of each of the famous English, German and French monolingual dictionaries, there is the Pocket Oxford Dictionary, Duden and Petit Robert

Advanced language users also need at least one phraseological dictionary and they appreciate the assistance of a thesaurus. The Longman Language Activator is a dictionary of this kind, compiled in a modern and very well thought-out manner.

For the Romance languages it is a good idea to have a reference book in which basic verb conjugations are given in table format (Guide de conjugaison).

If you enjoy studying and you want to get to know your language in greater depth, over time you will build up a large collection of recordings, magazines and books in your foreign language.

Those who have access to a computer will find out more about its multipurpose uses later in a special chapter.




The goldmine of reading


An invaluable component of any teach-yourself schedule is regular, indeed daily, reading in your foreign language.  This fulfils multiple important functions, many of which have already been discussed. Here is a more complete listing:


1.                  Reading out loud teaches you to speak and to use correct expressions automatically. It enables you to better remember and absorb what you have read.

2.                  When you read you are constantly repeating the most important core vocabulary.

3.                  You subconsciously take in the grammatical rules governing the language in question and painlessly absorb them.

4.                  You also passively learn how individual words are written. Those who read a lot can see if they have written a word correctly or not as they write, because they already have a mental image of it.

5.                  You learn phrasemes in your foreign language.


When should I start reading in my foreign language?


It's a good idea to start reading straight away in your first few days of study. Don't delay! Make a start as soon as you have learnt the basics of pronunciation. Otherwise there is the danger you will fall prey to the unfortunate habit that many students have of putting off regular reading for a week, a month, a year or even five years. He who hesitates to read never reads.

Ideally, you ought to start with simple texts, which should be approximately at the same level as the lesson you are on.  If you have them recorded too then that is excellent. Because textbooks offer so few texts at any particular level, you can achieve your goal of regular reading both by repeated reading of the same texts and by reading texts from other textbooks. Simplified versions of classic works of literature have recently come onto the market – the largest selection being that of English-speaking authors. These books always detail the vocabulary range that the reader should already have mastered.

Gradually (which does not necessarily mean slowly), try moving on to reading simple original texts and to parallel reading of complex texts. To learn a language it is better to read one book three times than to read three different books one after the other.


How Kató Lomb used to read when she started her studies


When this polyglot was studying a new language, she saw reading as an adventure. The adventure of moving from the not understood to the half-understood to the fully understood.

She worked either with adapted or original texts and she endeavoured to work with books that held her interest.

She went over texts repeatedly. During her first reading she noted down the vocabulary that she understood from the context. She did not put it down in isolation but in entire phrases. For example, instead of learning what "error", "love" or "song" meant, she learnt expressions like "chronic error", "fateful error", "eternal love" and "now you're singing a different song". During her second and third readings she started noting down the unknown words, but not all of them – only those whose translations she knew and used in her native language. With every word she also noted down several related and similar words.




What should I read?


Some people recommend original fairy stories as your first reading material. If you know Little Red Riding Hood from A to Z and you come across the same version of it in German, then you will indeed understand a great deal.

But unfortunately, most fairy stories contain a lot of words that you do not need in your vocabulary. In ordinary conversation you will mostly use such common neutral words as "have", "go", "eat" and "morning". It might come as something of a shock to your partner if instead of these words you preferred such storybook equivalents as "amass", "gallop forth", "fill your stomach" and "daybreak".


Plays better than fairy stories


Theatre plays contain lots of dialogue and everyday vocabulary. Likewise you can take a fairy story, a novel or a crime thriller and at first just read the dialogues. Children's encyclopedias also use a straightforward style and their texts are mostly written in the present tense. Descriptive texts of this kind will consolidate and expand your vocabulary, even though they actually contain little direct speech. In all genres you should avoid outdated or hyper-modern authors. Their language is too remote from the everyday standard.


Parallel reading?


This means reading both the original book and its translation together.

Many people swear by parallel reading, seeing it as an excellent way to learn a foreign language – and this can indeed be the case. But you do have to keep to certain rules.


·                    Rule One: The text should interest you, or at least not bore you.

·                    Rule Two: It would be the greatest mistake to take the original and to consult the English translation after reading every sentence.


Give it a try. How long can you read in such a tiring way?

Parallel reading achieves the best effect when first you read a chunk in English – perhaps a couple of pages or a whole chapter or even the whole book. Then when you know what is going on in the book, read the foreign-language section of text in question.

This is how Heinrich Schliemann used to read. When he was learning a foreign language he would read books in it that he already knew very well or even off by heart in other languages.


Related methods – trivial conversation


A very similar method is to read about things that you are already very familiar with, i.e. relating to your profession or hobby. For example, if you are a great Beatles (or Wagner) fan and you know ALL there is to know about them, it will be easy for you to read about them in any language in which you have a vocabulary of a thousand words and the ability to at least passively recognize the past and future tenses.

"Trivial conversation" is a good alternative to this method for more advanced students. When you are conversing with a foreigner, have him describe at length those things that you can already say very well in English. You will be able to anticipate the outline of what your partner is saying and be able to focus on how to "say it in Swedish".



Numerous benefits of reading and listening together


This involves reading and repeating the text after the tape or the CD and following it simultaneously with your eyes. When you read this way, you learn the correct pronunciation of words, as well as correct sentence intonation and rhythm. You learn how the pronunciation of individual words changes when they are placed next to other words. You also gain insights into the relationship between the sound of a word and its graphic representation.

It is also worth considering that you remember a lot more of the text than you would by just reading.


You remember:


5-20% of what you hear,


20-30% of what you see/read,


60% if the information is taken in both by hearing and seeing


One more inspiring example for the advanced learner


Petr has been studying German for years: "I have now read several dozen books in German and I've noticed several things that I wouldn't otherwise have realized:


1.                  Every book seems more difficult to understand at first sight than it really is. The special nature of the subject or author means that in the first few dozen pages you come across some twenty to fifty unknown words that occur frequently in that particular book.

I repeat, most of these frequent words are detected after a few dozen pages have been read.  Only then do you need to reach for your dictionary. If you started looking up every word you didn't know from the first page, you would learn a lot of unnecessary words and quickly be put off. If you more or less understand the text you need to forget the dictionary.

2.                  There are books and there are books. Don't get carried away. Even the best weightlifters only use the weights they dare to lift. Would you ever just nonchalantly start reading a book on quantum physics or church organ construction in English? There are so many interesting books to read that you will be able to understand – so these are the ones you should be working with. Make the effort and seek them out. It is definitely worth the trouble.

3.                  From time to time even nowadays I will use an ordinary work of fiction as a textbook. I call it "detective work". I read a detective thriller and at the same time I take note of a certain area of linguistic interest in each chapter. For example, in the first chapter I underline useful conversational phrases. In the next chapter, past tense forms and in the next one, declensions or usage of articles.


Occasionally, I will also do drills, which I call "sentence processing". I'll choose some sentence from the text, for example: "In the morning Joseph angrily phoned Charles". Then I will start going through all kinds of permutations of this sentence like this:

·                                            In the morning Charles angrily phoned Joseph

·                                            In the evening Joseph angrily phoned Charles

·                                            In the morning Joseph cheerfully phoned Charles

·                                            In the morning Jane angrily phoned Charles


At each step I base myself on the original sentence, just altering one or two words to make sure that the new sentences are grammatically correct and constructed along the same lines as the original model sentence. I read 95% of German books and texts just as I do in English. I simply read them because they interest me. But I find that I do get a lot out of the remaining five percent of "detective work", as I penetrate deeper into the language. It gives me something that simple passive reading cannot give you."


Four aces up your sleeve


To conclude this chapter, four basic principles that have already been discussed in previous chapters should again be highlighted. The first three are:


You should be suitably motivated.


You should spend enough time on your studies.


It pays to be self-reliant as you study.


The fourth one is:


When studying a language, you should start very intensively.


That way you quickly learn the basics and you prevent forgetfulness. The results achieved during the first few weeks will be so convincing that they will encourage and inspire you in your subsequent studies.

But even if you are making the fastest progress, you should not lose one thing from view, and that is your...








There are three kinds of death in this world. There's heart death, there's brain death, and there's being off the network.

                                                                       Guy Almes


In praise of the internet

Modern times are often described as the age of the information revolution. This is no longer anything new – with time the novelty has turned into something of a cliché. What is more important is to recall once in a while that the information revolution has prepared the way for another revolution – the knowledge revolution.

            Mere access to information is less and less a guarantee of success. You need to know how to transform information into knowledge, know-how and skills – ideally, those which are useful, valued and sought-after.


"Chinese method"

 If you can speak English you can learn Chinese online from scratch. You do not have to pay any fees for tuition or for the data that you are working with. You only invest your systematic work, resourcefulness and the patience required to find your resources.

Chinese is a difficult language for Europeans, primarily because it is a tonal language. In Mandarin Chinese the syllable "ma" can be pronounced in five different ways to produce a different word each time, but there are pages on the web that train your ear for this. After going through a sufficient number of exercises, you can reliably recognize all the different kinds of Chinese intonation. Other pages help you to learn the required vocabulary, while others teach you to read and write Chinese characters. Elsewhere on the site you will find text and audio files with key phrases, more complex dialogues and texts to read.

You'll then find that Chinese lessons on some university sites are also freely available, after waking in the morning you'll start listening to Chinese radio, during lunchtime at work you'll be reading through the Chinese newspapers and before bedtime you'll check out Chinese television broadcasts on the internet.

And if you can handle all that then thanks to the internet you will find friends in China itself. You can correspond with them or even chat with them long-distance. Thanks to video-chatting, you can get to see just how attractive your partner from the other side of the world really is. And all it needs is for a spark to fly and what they call e-love is in the air. The only thing you still can't have entirely on the internet is the marriage.




            It's best to start your language life on the internet in a fairly modest way. How about testing just how much you have mastered your new language? Visit and click on "Take our free online test", which links to a page that offers knowledge tests in five languages.

            Services of this kind fit the bill nicely if you are gearing up for several months of intensive study of a particular language. Test yourself when you are starting your studies and record your results. Do the test again when you finish your period of intensive study. You will be pleasantly surprised when you see all the progress you have made. This page also offers a number of courses abroad, including Chinese courses.


Listening on the internet


            The internet is increasingly "wired for sound". Even the Opera web browser ( allows for voice communications, reading English pages aloud and responding to English instructions. And this browser is free, like many other resources on the internet. Let's name a few...


Historic speeches


Speeches by the famous and the not so famous can be found using keywords such as audio archive and speeches. At and you can, for example, find the speech made by Martin Luther King on 28th August 1963 with the famous sentence "I have a dream".

            German keywords Rede, Archiv and audio will find numerous pages for you in the search engines. One of them on the site shows speeches made by present-day German politicians.


Latest films


            The internet also has trailers for thousands of English-language films, which in most cases we can watch online. Some can also be downloaded to your hard drive. Of course, there is no doubt about the usefulness of repeatedly watching and listening to interesting material in the language you are learning. What you have seen can later be fixed in your memory when you tell your friends about clips from the latest film.

            Search keywords for these include trailers, movies and download. Depending on the software and hardware that you have available, the following pages may be of interest: – here you can download clips to your hard drive.


A program that is frequently used to play these clips is QuickTime Player.


Films in other languages are more difficult to find on the net. French film reviews in several languages – including French – can be found at  A similar service in German can be found e.g. at and


Radio stations


   – this page alone has links to half a dozen stations broadcasting in English. Watch out here for the keyword live or key phrases live radio and on air. Some pages have a link to a live broadcast indicated by a radio speaker icon. is available in several languages, including, of course, the original German. It provides a wealth of material, and for some subjects and programmes it also provides links to German audio and video files. At many German stations you will find a link to live broadcasting by using the keyword hören.

You will find French radio, including the very well-known international stations France Info and France Culture at The key phrases that will take you to live broadcasting are en direct and écouter en direct.

Another rich multimedia page that also offers you the chance to hear several stations in French is at

Links to many Spanish radio stations can be found at

The German Radio Brehmen pages offer language material not only in German, but also in Latin. There you can read and listen to Latin news reports about current world events. At the same time you have access to a German translation of the Latin text. You can find these news reports at

Here is the URL for a rich multimedia resource with pages in numerous languages: One page on this site at is in Esperanto.


Worldwide radio


At you can search among thousands of radio stations for the one you would like to listen to online. Stations can be searched by country, and there are "find US radio" and "find world radio" sections. Another very good service of this kind is offered at One interesting feature here is the option to listen to a "random station".

When you are searching for a radio station you will occasionally find that you cannot tune in to one of them. The reasons are various, e.g. an outdated link or an excessive amount of data, which your internet connection cannot handle. However, if you have a recent version of MediaPlayer or RealPlayer installed and a good browser, you should be able to listen to a radio station in your favourite language in just a couple of minutes.


Television broadcasting


Suitable key phrases for searching for television stations include Live TV broadcast and online TV. At you will find a list of television stations from all over the world. The CNN TV station at includes numerous video and audio recordings, as well as transcripts of the famous Larry King show (last seen at Another interesting page can be found at

            The Russian Channel One at offers news videos together with their text transcripts. A similar combination of video and text files is offered by Eurovision at, this time in seven languages. The range of video recordings at both stations is extensive. If you record the news audio and save the texts you are creating an excellent language-learning aid.

            When the author was last using, the video files wouldn't open for him either in Explorer or Mozilla, but Opera could handle the site without difficulties. The moral is to have several browsers on your hard drive, and make sure you occasionally update them.





The first syllable of podcast comes from the Apple iPod player, while cast is from broadcast. Podcasts are a new kind of global medium. Archive audio and video recordings are to be found online and listeners can freely download them to their hard drive. Most podcast files are available in mp3 format.

            The world of podcasts is so exciting because basically anybody who has internet access can create his or her own programme. Interested in sport? Modern technology? Hypnosis? Would you like to hear a novel read out in German? Or a podcast about languages and Esperanto in Esperanto? A Spanish course in English? Or a Spanish podcast about how to make your own podcast? Or a French tourist talking about his holiday in Thailand? You'll find all of this in podcasts.

            To listen to some podcasts, you need special software which allows you to download individual audio files to your hard drive. At the time of writing, the most popular programs for this are, for example, iPodder and iTunes.

            Some podcasts are put online in such a way that individual broadcast episodes can be downloaded in the usual way – by right-clicking on the link and then selecting "save target as" or "save link as", depending on which browser you are using.


Podcast links


Here are the URLs for some sites where you can find a large number of different podcasts: provides links to thousands of podcasts in English and over a thousand podcasts in other languages, including Arabic, Dutch, Chinese and Korean. Another excellent site of this kind is at As the world of podcasts is new and individual pages are constantly changing, here are another two podcast URLs: and The latter has podcasts in more than two dozen languages.

            A professional podcast produced by journalists from The Guardian  can be found at And here is a site that specializes in serialized audio books:

            Here is a weblink to an extensive list of German podcasts: At there are German podcasts on teaching, brain functions and brain training. An even wider range of subjects such as neurolinguistic programming, sales skills, goal setting, motivation, mnemonics and the like is offered at




A videocast is a kind of podcast, but instead of an audio file we are dealing with a video recording. As the internet develops, this will surely find increasingly wider application. Of course, from a language-learning standpoint, audio files have many advantages: they are easier to transfer and nowadays you have access to many different audio files in many languages. You can listen to audio files even when you are performing some mechanical work, commuting or walking down the street.


Moving into action


Listening to audio files, reading texts, websurfing – all of these are more or less passive activities. But the reward for our ongoing language skill development is…




© Ivan Kupka