A Polyglot's Secret for squeazing More Out of Los Libros

I’m sitting here looking across to at a pile of around 3,000 books that just arrived from my home in Bangkok. About 85% of these books are ‘language’ books. That is, they’re books whose purpose is to teach you a language, or books on linguistics … in many languages, or dictionaries.

How Many of Your Books Have You Read?

When I was on the Thai TV Talk-show ‘Joh Jai’ a few years back, one of the hosts asked me as we were looking over a table full of books that I had brought into the studio:

“How many of these books have you read?”

At first I was taken aback by the question … inside, I was thinking “Why the heck would I have all these books and not read them!?”  … but I found a more tactful way to respond.  Something along the lines of “These books are like my own children… I know every bit of every one of them”.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  There are some articles that have come out in the Thai press over the past couple of years claiming that Thais read on average around 8-9 lines of text per year.  There are other more generous estimates finding that for ‘literate Thais’, the average is 2 books per year (and many of these are Mangga Comics.

What I mentioned to ‘Tot’ the TV host on Joh Jai about the books being like my own children was true though.  As I look down at the spine of each book, the emotions all come back – where I was reading each book, what I was feeling while reading them, what I was eating, what ‘AHA’ moments I had while I was reading them, what sauces my food was seasoned with while on a certain page (that was easier to know because many of the pages might have smudges of sauce all over them! )… books are indeed magical things.

What do all these Books have in Common?

When looking at all my dictionaries, language learning books and text books, there is one familiar thought that I could remember having with so many of them… upon reaching the end of the book…

‘Why on earth didn’t I read the Appendices earlier!?’

There’s Gold in Them Thar Appendices!

If you’ve ever learned speed reading before, you would have learned how to skim and scan the table of contents and the examine structure of a book first.  Our brains operate at lightening speed (whether we want to believe it or not), and just by flicking through the book’s chapters – headings and skimming ‘bites’ from each chapter, our brains start to collate the information, and then as we start reading and learning from it properly, what we had already read starts to become like bonding glue, tying in all the new stuff we’re receiving.

Appendices allow you to do this on steroids, as many of the appendices are concentrated ‘knowledge bits’ of things that are unfolded throughout the book.  In the appendices you find summaries of grammar rules, pronouns and key points to watch out for that you might not fully appreciate if you just read through the language book page by page from the front to the back of the book.

So next time you pick up a language book, look at the contents page and then flip back to the appendix section in the back of the book and see if you can take in as much as you can through about 10 minutes of skimming the appendices’ contents.

When you go back to the main text, you’ll be amazed at how much more of what you’re learning sticks.

Stuart Jay Raj.



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Written by

Stuart Jay Raj