NOTE: The Language Hacking Guide is now available to be read in its entirety in six languages (seven next week), translated by natives.
The stone of Rosetta
You might think that this post has something to do with expensive yellow boxes that you can buy at airports with language learning software. Nope.
The Rosetta stone is, in my opinion, one of the coolest contributions to languages of modern times, and I'll refer to it as the stone of Rosetta so that there is no confusion. The people who wrote the software program are very clever for using that title, but I find it frustrating that the name is associated with them now for many people more than with the original “language hack”.
Before the Rosetta Stone was discovered and then deciphered, there had been no understanding of the ancient Egyptian language, which appears in pyramids and in other incredible sites, since shortly before the fall of the Roman Empire. For 14 centuries, even the Egyptians themselves were incapable of reading hieroglyphics.
The stone was discovered in 1799 and immediately seen as the key to understanding all the ancient writings of the Egyptians: it's a tri-lingual translation of a decree for King Ptolemy V, created around 200 BCE, in hieroglyphics, Egyptian demotic script (closer to the spoken language at the time) and ancient Greek. Since scholars knew ancient Greek, it was a simple (well actually it took about 20 years and a lot of ingenuity) case of comparing the Greek to the hieroglyphics.
This one stone, and one translation opened up the doors to a world of Egyptian history and culture, turning their writings from mere random scribbles of images into a readable language. As a language buff, I was in awe of getting to see it in person at the London Museum, as this one translation did indeed change the world as we know it.
The “stone of Rosetta” method: reading equivalent translations
I am sure some clever linguists will educate me on the official terminology, but I like to think of the stone of Rosetta method as one of the oldest, and still quite an effective way to learn a foreign language.
You read a text in your mother tongue and then with the full idea of it in your head, you read the target language equivalent translation (obviously only a good quality translation). Rather than using a dictionary (which sometimes can give you translations in the wrong context, or generally be frustrating to use to look up words) you can refer back to the full translation in your own language to compare what you don't understand.
Since you have already read the text and understood it entirely, your focus changes to allow you to get into the flow of the language much more and this can help your progress a lot.
For centuries many people got their first exposure to foreign languages by reading translations of the bible in that language, knowing the original off by heart.
If it worked well to decipher Ancient Egyptian, then I'm sure it can help us a little to improve our French, Spanish etc. 😉
You don't even have to read to apply this method – I used to watch way too much TV when I was younger and could almost recite the entire script of some episodes of The Simpsons, so it actually helped my Spanish comprehension a lot to watch the dubbed Los Simpson when I moved to Spain. I didn't need subtitles; I already knew what they were saying and associated the Spanish words much quicker than getting distracted by reading subtitles.
This greatly improves learning speed because you are focused more on the flow, rather than on the meaning of every single word, since you already understand what you are reading.
Multilingual Language Hacking Guide
With this in mind, I have taken my Language Hacking Guide, which explains precisely how you can speak languages from the first week and improve towards fluency very quickly thanks to lots of confident practise, and had it fully translated. All 33,000+ words of it have been translated by natives to the languages listed below.
Since the techniques I discuss are equally valid for all languages, I wanted to still give people an edge on the actual language they are interested in learning. My hope is that they will attempt to read the guide in that language. In doing so, they will be applying the tips of immediate immersion (albeit just in reading form in this case) discussed in the guide. They can refer to the copy in their mother tongue to help them understand. I'll be using the guide myself in future to learn languages as I have them translated to these languages.
These translations also allow non-native English speakers to read it in their mother tongue. All translators worked hard to make sure that my ideas and voice were maintained, as well as re-wording things so that they sounded more natural in that language.
The languages included in this update are:
- French, translated by Christine Schmit, professional translator from Luxembourg. Title: Domptez les langues étrangères
- Portuguese, translated by Leticia Dáquer, professional translator from Rio – I worked in a translator traineeship in the same company as her in Italy. Wouldn't have had anyone else translate it to Portuguese but her! Title: Guia para hackear línguas
- Spanish, translated by Alex Arroyo from Mexico. He has an engineering background like me, but is gaining a passion for languages. Ridiculously nice and clever guy! Title: El manual del superpolíglota
- Italian, translated by Andrea Piu from Sardinia, another translator with a varied work background like myself. Title: Il manuale del superpoliglotta
- German, translated by Bleicke Peterson from Germany. He was happy to help me promote my learning method over the academic approach. Title: Der Fremdsprachen-Hacker
Next weekend I'll send an update with a Polish translation, and in 2 months I'll send the Greek, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Esperanto, Hebrew, Dutch and Russian translations. The price will go up when I add the next group of translations, but they will all be sent for free to anyone who gets a copy in the mean time.
I'm hoping to include many more translations in the update in 2 months, so if you are a native of any language not listed and are interested in translating (payment is based on sales that the translators themselves make), please contact me if you have time this summer.
I'll be starting my next mission (already announced on Facebook) next week! But first, I'll get my German exam results on Monday and let you know how it went! It won't make the slightest difference, but any pagan luck rituals of knocking on wood, throwing salt behind you or crossing fingers, will be appreciated for the sentiment!
On Friday I'll make a special birthday request so look out for that post! 🙂 (Thursday in the e-mail list)
Note to “enthusiastic” commenters: While I welcome pretty much all comments, if you plan on complaining that quality unique content costs money, and that I also need to keep my lights on, please save your breath as I will delete all pointlessly negative and irrelevant comments. Over 95% of the content I write on the blog and in the e-mail list is completely free, and sales from the Language Hacking Guide will help me devote even more time to providing more free content to inspire others to take on the language learning challenge.
Looking forward to hearing from you all! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch a football match with tens of thousands of Germans!