You have no doubt heard the story of the Trojan War. The Illiad and the Oddysey are two of the most enduring and influential works of literature in the Western world.
They were created by Homer, an ancient Greek poet, most likely based on accounts passed down orally for generations. Even 3 thousand years after the supposed events took place, they remain well-known to myriads of people from around the world.
For a long time, it was thought that these stories were works of pure fiction. Yet there were always people who thought that they were based on real events, real people and real places. One of these believers was Heinrich Schliemann.
The Life of Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann was a true rags to riches story, a man of German origin who grew wealthy by being a shrewd businessman. However today he is most remembered as an archaeologist.
He was a real-life Indiana Jones, travelling the world, living through many adventures and discovering great ancient treasures.
As a kid, he grew up on stories of the Illiad and the Oddysey and the great adventures that the heroes of these tales had to go through. Unlike most other people who listened to these stories, he took them at their word. To him, Troy was a real place which was now buried somewhere on the Aegean coast of Turkey. He decided that he was going to find it.
What is not so well-known is that he was also a great linguist who managed to master many languages. Wherever he travelled, he tried to learn the local language. He would often write in his diary in different languages, which resulted in him keeping his diary in at least 12 languages.
What is most remarkable is that he managed to do this in a world without quick travel, without the internet and starting off as a poor errand boy.
Schliemann’s Language Learning Method
He simplified the process by developing a method that he applied consistently. Supposedly the system that he developed allowed him to learn any language in around 6 weeks.
He applied this method every time he was about to learn a new language. When he couldn’t find one of the elements of this method, he always came up with a work-around.
The main elements of the method consisted of constant writing in the target language, reading out loud in it, and trying to get as much native input as possible.
He was a self-directed learner and one of the main elements of this learning were books in the target language. The key to this was one little book: “The Adventures of Telemachus”.
This book talked of the adventures of Telemachus, the son of Oddyseus and his quest to find his father. Since it was set in the times of the Trojan Wars, the subject matter was very interesting to Schliemann and never grew old. He ended up memorizing the story in the book by heart.
When he would start learning a new language, he would always try to track down a copy of that book (or some other book that he had read previously in another language and knew the story well) in his target language.
That way, he could compare the two texts and learn new words and grammar structures by reading along in a new language, as well as in a language he already knew.