Saturday, 15 May 2010

Language Learning

Heinrich Schliemann, the German archaelogist who claimed to discover Troy, had to learn English in a short period of time and he made some recommendations about language learning based on that experience.

His main method was to read a lot of texts out loud without attempting translation and have a daily lesson. He wrote down details of things that particularly interested him and improved upon them with his teacher's help and learnt them by heart (auswendig lernt) and then he recited (aufsagt) his corrected piece.

Memorising was a problem at first. Mein Gedächtnis war, da ich seit meiner Kindheit gar nicht geübt hatte, schwach, doch benutze ich jeden Augenblick und stahl sogar Zeit zum Lernen.

He used to go to English church services so he could model his pronunciation on the preacher. ich ... sprach beim Anhören der Predigt jedes Wort leise für mich nach. This shadow speaking is a useful aid to language acquisition and pronunciation. We can do something similar by using recorded materials, for instance, podcasts from Deutsche Welle. It might be as well to start off with something spoken slowly but it is surprising how quickly the speed builds up. And we can do something that Schliemann could not - we can hear and shadow the same piece several times. We could even record our own voices and compare them with the sounds and rhythms of native speakers.

What I find quite incredible is Schliemann's claims about how much his memory improved. So stärkte ich allmählich mein Gedächtnis und konnte schon nach drei Monaten meinem Lehrer mit Leichtigkeit alle Tage in jeder Unterrichtstunde zwanzig gedruckte Seite englischer Prosa wörtlich hersagen, wenn ich sie vorher dreimal aufmerksam durchgelesen hatte.

No wonder he claimed he had discovered ancient Troy when he worked like a Trojan. A phrase that in German would have to be rendered as "er arbeitet wie ein Pferd". I don't suppose that has anything to do with Trojan horses!

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