Dr. Kató Lomb (1909–2003) was Hungary’s most accomplished multilinguist. A professional translator/interpreter, she worked in 16 languages for government and business concerns. As a state translator she traveled widely, and her reputation was such that, according to an interview in Hetek newspaper (14 November 1998), she and her multilingual colleagues were known as “the Lomb team”. A lifelong language learner, Lomb began learning her 17th language, Hebrew, in her eighties.
Spend time tinkering with the language every day—if there is no more time available, then at least to the extent of a ten-minute monologue. Morning hours are especially valuable in this respect: the early bird catches the word!
If your enthusiasm for studying flags too quickly, don’t force the issue but don’t stop altogether either. Move to some other form of studying, e.g., instead of reading, listen to the radio; instead of assignment writing, poke about in the dictionary, etc.
Never learn isolated units of speech, but rather learn words and grammatical elements in context.
Write phrases in the margins of your text and use them as ‘prefabricated elements’ in your conversations.
Even a tired brain finds rest and relaxation in quick, impromptu translations of billboard advertisements flashing by, of numbers over doorways, of snippets of overheard conversations, etc., just for its own amusement.
Memorize only that which has been corrected by a teacher. Do not keep reading texts you have written that have not been proofread and corrected so as to keep mistakes from taking root in your mind. If you study on your own, each segment to be memorized should be kept to a size that precludes the possibility of errors.
Always memorize idiomatic expressions in the first person singular. For example, ‘I am only pulling your leg.’ Or else: ‘Il m’a pose un lapin’—‘He stood me up.’
A foreign language is a castle. It is advisable to attack it on all fronts at once: via newspapers, the radio, un-dubbed movies, technical or scientific articles, textbooks, or via a visitor at your neighbor’s.
Do not let the fear of making mistakes keep you from speaking, but do ask your conversation partner to correct you. Most importantly, don’t get peeved if he or she actually obliges you—a remote possibility, anyway.
Be firmly convinced that you are a linguistic genius. If the facts demonstrate otherwise, heap blame on the pesky language you aim to master, on the dictionaries, or on this little book, not on yourself.”
All of Lomb’s “requests,” with the exception of VII (a minor point), have been validated as strategies of “good” language learners in research and studies by Stevick (1989), O’Malley and Chamot (1990), Oxford (1990), Rubin and Thompson (1994), Naiman et al. (1995), Cook (1996), Gethin and Gunnemark (1996), Chamot et al. (1999), and Lightbown and Spada (1999). More broadly, Lomb’s requests fall under the two holistic strategies that Nation (1983) found employed by good language learners: abstraction (non-analytical learning; requests I, II, V, VIII, X) and rule induction (analytical learning; requests III, IV, VI, VII, IX).