August 29, 2019

Multilevel text analysis

Sometimes people ask me whether I use any special methods to learn languages so quickly and so well. These are their words, not mine:) I think language learning is very difficult, takes forever and I think I make a ton of mistakes in every language I speak including my native language. I used to say that talent, passion, focus and a lot of time are probably what influence my results most, but there are also a few methods that I like to use and I wanted to write about one today.

When I'm learning a new language, I like to analyze it on my own. The usual way I used to go about this was to make notes directly into the text I was reading, but this would get messy very quickly, especially when I knew very little or nothing about the language, because I needed to take a lot of notes:

My notes on Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic wars. Latin.

The advantage of this approach for me is, that I can write notes or translations of the text I'm analyzing directly into the text in any language I feel fits the translation/analysis best. If, for instance, in the text I come across a noun in accusative, I write the translation of that word into my native Slovak, because it also has an accusative and represents the form of the Latin original in my mind perfectly. If it's some strange verbal form, I usually write the translation in Italian (or English), since its verbal system is quite complex and derived from Latin and I usually can find a very good match. If it's some rare expression, I usually translate it into English or Slovak, since my vocabulary base is best in these two languages.

When I was learning Latin, I came across an amazing book from the 19th century which taught Latin through a four level analysis of Caesar's Gallic wars which looked like this:

The four layers were:
  1. The Latin original (top-left 2/3)
  2. A word by word 'Neanderthal' English translation (below the Latin original)
  3. A nice English translation (top-right 1/3)
  4. A detailed analysis of every word (conjugation, declination, number, mood, aspect etc.) (bottom 3/4 of the page)
This was an absolutely marvelous resource, because:
  • the authors had done all the tedious work of looking up and writing the meaning and form of every word for me
  • paired up the Latin original with English word by word
  • provided the correct English translation for each sentence as a whole (very important as it often happens, that you understand every word in a sentence but you still don't know what the sentence says)
The only three things that didn't make this book perfect were:
  • an additional layer which would explain word etymology so that I could remember individual words better (I had to look up the etymology manually) 
  • it wasn't very effective, because the base language was English, which has trouble with Latin nouns. These had to be tediously written out in long hand such as: Belgarum gen. plur. of Belgae. 
  • it unfortunately 'only' covered Book 1 of 7 of the Commentaries on the Gallic war. I say only because this analysis of Book one is 400 pages long. 
So I decided to take the best of my analysis methods (translation into the language that I found fits what I read best (Slovak, English, Italian etc.) and add additional layers, if necessary, for etymology or just general notes and a line for A) word by word translation and a line for B) full sentence translations. This is my file on Ancient Greek for instance (text: Xenophon, Anabasis):

The four levels are:
  1. Ancient Greek original
  2. Latin transliteration for greater ease of getting used to the Greek script and Ancient Greek reading rules
  3. A word by word translation (preserving the form of each word) into the language that I find fits best. The aim here is to really understand, on the lowest level, what is going on in the sentence word by word. This combines the A) word by word translation in the 19th century book about Ceasar's Gallic wars and B) the detailed analysis of every word in the same book. 
  4. A nice translation into Slovak for a better understanding of each sentence as a whole (I translated this layer into Slovak just in case I would like to publish a translation of the whole text in Slovak on my blog later).
I'm also using a more suitable language than English where necessary to make the whole method more effective than the 19th century Latin book. For instance: 
  • 19th century Latin book: "Belgarum gen. plur. of Belgae"
  • My document: "Belgov" (written in gen. plur. of Belgovia in Slovak)
The sources that I used for the analysis were: 
  • several translations of the text into different languages
  • interlinear word by word translations of the text into English
  • Ancient greek vocabulary analysis tools
The method can be adapted to ancient languages with different scripts, such as Sumerian as well:

The six lines are:
  1. Sumerian original in the cuneiform script
  2. Pronunciation
  3. What needs to be typed on the computer in order to get the Sumerian cuneiform glyphs
  4. Word by word translation in the language I find most fitting
  5. A line for notes or remarks
  6. Nice English translation
Once I have the sentences nicely analyzed and know what exactly is going on in every sentence:
  1. I re-read what I analyzed every 10 or 20 minutes to reinforce the memory
  2. Read entire chapters I had analyzed before over and over again and again until the reading is absolutely natural and I can feel/understand the text empirically and not analytically
  3. Combine the reading part with listening to the audio recordings of the text over and over again in my free time (gym, metro, while running etc.) until I can understand the audio naturally
The advantages of this method are:
  1. Whether I do the analysis on my own or it has been done by someone else, I see exactly what is going on in each sentence on the lowest level (thanks to the word by word translation and word form preservation)
  2. I also know what the whole sentence is saying (understanding the highest level)
  3. The writing is neatly organized. My notes that I made directly into my books were often illegible.
  4. The most important advantage: it is in my opinion one of the fastest, if not the fastest method to  learn to understand a language naturally (provided someone did the analysis for you) and understanding the language naturally is the first serious step to fluency in my opinion.
The disadvantages are
  1. Obviously the amount of work you have to put in in creating these files if files like this don't exist for the language you are learning
  2. The absolute scarcity of multilevel materials like this
  3. The heavy and intensive work with the written language, can negatively influence your pronunciation

To sum it up with this method, you basically need at least 3 layers depending on the language and your needs. The three basic layers are:
  1. Original sentence
  2. Word by word translation preserving the form of every word to understand what is going on in the sentence on the lowest level
  3. Nice translation into English (or any language you feel is most suitable) to understand what each sentence means as a whole
You then:
  1. Re-read what you analyzed every 10-20 minutes to reinforce your memory
  2. Re-read entire chapters of the original text without your notes, until you can understand them at natural speeds as if they were written in your native language
  3. Once you are comfortable with reading, listen to the the same text over and over until you are comfortable with listening as well (if you have the audio).
Note: Goes without saying that this method is helping you understand the language and not speak the language, even though it should provide you with a very solid foundation for speaking practice. 


  1. Great article Vlad! It is so easy to see your amazing results, and underestimate the work that person has put in behind the scenes :).

    Also, where did your long livestreams on youtube go?? I loved these videos, I listened to them so often in the gym! :(

    1. Hi Rom:) Thank you very much.

      I had to take the streams down, because there was someone downloading them and then re-uploading them to their own channel.


  2. Great article Vlad,you have been doing great things in the field of language learning?Some while ago I read a book whose title is “The art of learning languages”that uses a similar approach.The book was written back in the first half of the 19th..but the name’s author doesn’t come to my mind..When will you come back to Italy?greetings

    1. Thanks Alessandro. I haven't heard of the book. I don't know when I'll go back to Italy, but I would love to go soon.

  3. Hey Vlad,first of all,thank you for your kind reply.i’d have question not about this specific topic that I’d like to ask you:have you ever thought to write a book about how to learn languages?Something that would include your strategies,your personal approach and why not your immense experience and talent..what do you think?A book that could become sort of a bible for polyglots or just for someone interested in learning languages?I mean,you’re super expert in this field and a work like that would be useful for everybody out there..Bye Vlad

    1. Hi Alessandro. Thanks for the nice comment. I thought of writing a book a few times, but I have so many projects I'm working on that it would take me forever. I also keep learning something new in the field of language learning all the time so.. I don't know how much my approach will change just a few years from now. And.. after writing my first book and seeing how difficult it was, I am a bit demotivated to write something again, but thank you for the encouragement. I would like to write a book in the future :)

  4. And you’ll have all my support..i’ve Just rewatched your video recorded in New York(i don’t remember if it was polyglot gathering or polyglot conference)and i’ve found it really inspirational..ok it was just a simple suggestion or maybe just an idea..

  5. Výborná metóda! :) Akurát sa chcem spýtať - ako si to myslel s tým prečítaním po 20. minútach? Čítať opakovane niekoľko krát denne?

  6. A ešte sa chcem spýtať - tú analýzu si vytváraš v nejakom súbore, alebo si to niekde zapisuješ ručne?

    1. Cauko. To opakovanie tak po 20 minutach je kvoli tomu aby sa ti posilnila pamatova stopa. Najdi si nieco na internete o pamatovych/zabudacich krivkach ked chces. Je okolo toho cela veda, ale ja to nekomplikujem. Proste po nejakom relativne kratkom case si segment, na ktorom som pracoval precitam cely este raz, a potom povedzme cele 2 segmenty na ktorych som pracoval, 3 segmenty atd.

      Analyzu si robim tak ako ju vidis na obrazkoch. Ja konkretne v programe Mac Pages, ale da sa kludne aj v Worde alebo aj v Exceli.