Before Rosetta Stone–Languages Made Simple

  • Russian Made Simple
  • German Made Simple
  • Latin Made Simple

Wow! These books are awesome! I was reading short Russian words in just five pages. Wow!  How does it sound? Hmmm…well…dunno, but it’s fun anyway.  These books are such an old- school way to learn a language, but so what.  I’m learning to read them.  The rest will come soon enough.  They were free (except for the German one) so no harm, no foul. 

I don’t remember where I got the Latin one.  It’s been with me for a few years.  I think I took it from my parent’s house.  Or, given all the time I spent in used book stores when I lived in San Antonio, maybe I got it there.  The Russian book I found in a table of throw-aways  at the local uni. It’s ancient, which is part of its charm, actually.  The pages are so yellow, they are russian made simple0001ready to disintegrate if I even breathe on them.

How do they make the languages simple?  Well, they feed you little bits at a time.  The Russian book starts with sight words – three and four letter words for basic things like “classroom”, “home”, “hall”, “vase”.  Then the sight words build into short phrases, then long phrases. I’m reading Russian phrases (with translation) by page five!

The German and Latin are easier to sound out.  I speak Spanish, so I just pronounce Latin like Spanish.  I know it’s not how it really sounds, but who among us is old enough to prove me wrong.  Just listen to Eddie Izzard:

Product DetailsI don’t know what it is about German, but when I’m pronouncing it, my voice gets deeper.  And the book contains diagrams showing how certain sounds should be shaped in the mouth.  Ummm…fine.  I can’t wait to lay it on my students that EVERY noun is capitalized, not just the proper ones and the ones at the beginning of sentences.  Hahahee!  And I solved the mystery of “DIE”, “DER” and “DAS”, as well as what the heck “Flemish” is.  Having never been to Flemland, it was confusing.

I’ve listened to Eddie Izzard’s DEFINITE ARTICLE for several years now.  So when I came latin made simple0001across the Latin book, I now had a tangible reason for reading it instead of just leaving it in a box.  While I read the book, I would picture “Mr. Dog” talking to his centurions with a poncy intonation while they swish the toothbrushes on their heads.    No doubt if there was a “Greek Made Simple” book, I’d be thinking about his bit from SEXIE where Medusa goes to the hairdressers – or the bit where the sirens lure sailors with songs about very good parking spaces.  I wish I WAS exaggerating!  The real treat: the Latin book goes great with my Loeb Latin Classics. 

The Latin book still has the bookstore label on it.  Amazingly, the book was originally purchased in 1985 at a bookstore that I actually used to frequent when I lived in San Antonio in the 90s.  Hang on – I guess that means I got it at a used bookstore and not from my mum’s house.  Okay. Just figured that out.  Writing things out is so clarifying!

back of latin0001

So anyway, purchased from Bookstop at Sunset Ridge, which was in Alamo Heights, a shabby genteel part of town.  I shopped there in the 90s, but the store closed around the time that Barnes & Noble came to town and started building book supermarkets.  Yep, B&N, for all their charms, pretty much killed the neighborhood book store in San Antonio.  Mega-marts of any kind are a sign of social and commercial  progress – apparently.

Back to Russian, I watched Boris Gudonov on public television’s live Met series last weekend.  I was trying to catch words, but I think I need to get further along in the book.  Nothing in the music sounded familiar.  Die Walkure is coming up in May so I should brush up on my Deutsch.  Opera is actually a good way to learn the lingo if the subtitles are in the original language.  Everyone seems to think they are singing about quantum mechanics and epistemology.  What they are really singing about is more like stuff you would hear on the O.C. or OTH with a bit of Smallville mixed in for pathos.

So anyway, these books are an old-fashioned way to learn a language.  But ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.  There’s plenty of dictionaries on the ‘net where they will pronounce the word for you.



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