How to Teach yourself Ancient (and Modern) Languages

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One of my main loves in ancient history and archaeology is the learning of ancient languages. This post is in response to one of my followers who is currently trying to teach herself Mayan glyphs. But I know there are many of you out there who have struggled to teach yourself languages or would like to be able to in the future. So here are a number of tips and ideas for you to help you out on that journey.

46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscrip...
46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscript of the Epistles written by Paul in the new testament.

These preliminary tips can be used for any language either ancient or modern and can be used in combination with the language resources I supply in the menu bar for certain languages. If you have looked at my ancient Greek resources as well you can use these techniques to help you remember them or languages you are learning at university or elsewhere already.

Finding sources

  • Use social media and friends to discover the best books and sources to use
  • It is worth while finding them to save you time and to teach you better
  • Research the texts and their reviews
  • Avoid generic internet programs – they generally use methods that are more in touch with teaching basics to children rather than adults. Remember that the adult brain learns differently to a child’s
  • The best sources are usually in book or cd form from reputable suppliers
  • It is a good idea to see what universities use to teach language  basics – this information can usually be found in course descriptions and handbooks which are generally available online

Using sources

  • You generally want to learn as quickly as possible and often get over enthusiastic
  • Try and avoid this and slow yourself down and don’t skip ahead
  • This way you will learn properly and take in more
  • Take to doing one lesson or hour a day
  • Stick with one source book so you are following a program

Remembering material

  • Before each lesson review the day before and any exercises the sources set
  • Without looking at the answers from the previous day’s exercises, do all or some of them again and some from previous lessons even further back so you keep them in mind
  • Run through the whole lesson for the day before you undertake new exercises so you have the complete context for what you have to do
  • Literally do it every day, if you miss a lesson then at least take 15 minutes to go over an exercise from a previous day

Tips for memorising information

  • Write out the stuff you find difficult and stick it around the house where you are going to see it regularly or at work, for example:
    • Behind the bathroom door
    • Above the sink
    • In the kitchen
    • On the ceiling above your bed
    • Beside your computer
  • Another little used technique which works ridiculously especially for grammatical concepts well is a walk about memory exercise:
    • Make a list of what you want to remember
    • Pick a room in your house
    • Start at one corner of the room and move around the room allocating an object in the room to each thing on your list
    • Then find a link between each object and each idea
    • Ie. A participle – a chair – a chair is used for sitting – sitting is a participle
    • No matter how abstract the connection is the memory of it will help you remember concepts through physical associations
  • For vocab literally stick labels on things in your house
  • Or make up songs or rhymes – it is amazing how your mind works

Tips for if you can’t find one particular source for a language

  • Look at sources for another language. Ie. Latin
  • Make a note of how the lessons are set out and how grammar is taught
  • Then use what sources you do have and apply the information into that format
  • Grammar is the basis for all language and stays the same in ideas throughout the majority
  • By applying an accepted and working format from another language you can help yourself learn another.
  • If lesson one is on the alphabet and then verbs, then look up the alphabet and common verbs in your array of sources for the language you want to learn, ie. Mayan glyphs.
  • Sometimes this will take longer because there are varying lengths of alphabet for instance but readjust the time you spend on it to suit.
  • If you have the sense and desire to teach yourself a language then you should be able to work it out

Remember to be patient with yourself and the material

These things are not learnt over night


15 thoughts on “How to Teach yourself Ancient (and Modern) Languages

    peterking720801 said:
    May 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Reblogueó esto en Tepotzotlan2013y comentado:
    Por el lenguaje universal adaptando la educación.

    Bronwyn Ondracek said:
    May 9, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    The Cambridge Latin Course is a great way for adults to learn Latin in a structured and enjoyable way. I wish it had been around when I was learning!

    GraecoMuse said:
    May 10, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Nice 🙂 do you have a link I could share with people?

    Bronwyn Ondracek said:
    May 10, 2013 at 7:34 pm^top^home is the home page.
    They have books and a new electronic version and the web page (free access) has lots of interesting links and activities.

    Kelly M said:
    May 13, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    Reblogged this on The Archaeology of Tomb Raider and commented:
    If, like me, you’re thinking of teaching yourself how to read and understand an ancient (or modern) language, check out Jenni’s tips on her blog!

    […] Reblogged from GraecoMuse: […]

    […] How to Teach yourself Ancient (and Modern) Languages (GraecoMuse) […]

    hyly said:
    May 16, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Reblogged this on Step by step.

    Hypatia Alexandrina said:
    May 16, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    This is a great post, thank you so much! I have some experience in learning ancient languages on my own. I started teaching myself Middle Egyptian when I was 13, and then I continued with Biblical Hebrew and Coptic. I was fortunate enough to find a priest with whom I continued studying Coptic. I also studied Mayan glyphs for some months, but I had to stop when I started my Ph.D program due to lack of time (and because I had to focus on learning the other stages of Egyptian, and especially Demotic, which is now my field of expertise). I am currently teaching myself Sanskrit, since it is very useful for my study of Greek etymologies (apart from a fascinating language on its own).

      GraecoMuse said:
      May 16, 2013 at 12:25 pm

      That’s awesome 🙂 I’m similar. I have always had a good knowledge of several modern languages including French and German due to having very educated parents who left a tonne of foreign language books around the house. Then I set about teaching myself Egyptian Hieroglyphs, elder futhark runes and hieratic in my teens while at high school. Then at university I learnt New Testament and Classical Greek and have developed a good comprehension of modern Greek, Linear B, Latin, Italian, and Hieroglyphs again. Currently during my PhD i’m focusing on more Greek and Latin as well as Turkish and Arabic. I love languages.

        Hypatia Alexandrina said:
        May 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm

        I love meeting people with similar interests! I am Spanish, so part of my childhood was spent learning the languages I needed to understand scholarly Egyptological books (English, French and German), since the only books that used to be translated into Spanish back then were just popular books. It was worth it, as they are the required languages for any Ph.D program in America! Your PhD sounds really interesting! My Arabic is very basic, just what I need in order to direct my team of Egyptian workers during our excavations (although I want to improve it in the future!). I work on Graeco-Roman literature and religion from Egypt, so my texts are basically in Demotic, Coptic, Ptolemaic hieroglyphs and Greek 🙂

      GraecoMuse said:
      May 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      So do I 🙂 Find my page on facebook too! That’s great that you were able to learn so much growing up too. What is your PhD on? where are you digging? and what university are you doing your phd at? We have the same need of those languages in the PhD programs for ancient history in Australia too. If you don’t have a working knowledge then you really can’t undertake one. On facebook you can find my personal page here if you want to chat directly at any time 🙂

        Hypatia Alexandrina said:
        May 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm

        Great! We’ll be in touch through Facebook! 😀

    […] to learn an ancient language but don’t want to fuss with formal classes? Here’s how to figure them out on your own. […]

    […] How to Teach yourself Ancient (and Modern) Languages ( […]

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