Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Polyglot: How I Learn Languages” as Want to Read:
Polyglot: How I Learn Languages
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Polyglot: How I Learn Languages

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,079 ratings  ·  137 reviews
Kató Lomb (1909-2003) was one of the great polyglots of the 20th century. A translator and one of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world, Lomb worked in 16 languages for state and business concerns in her native Hungary. She achieved further fame by writing books on languages, interpreting, and polyglots.

Polyglot: How I Learn Languages, first published in 1970, i
Paperback, 215 pages
Published July 5th 2008 by Tesl-Ej (first published 1970)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Polyglot, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Polyglot

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,079 ratings  ·  137 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Polyglot: How I Learn Languages
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
A wonderful must-read for all polyglots, actual and aspiring ones.
Love the book, admire the author!
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pdf
It was very refreshing to read Lomb's language-learning tactics. Just about everything else I've read said basically, "Talk, talk, talk, nothing else really matters". As an introvert, this is disheartening, and just plain impossible. But Lomb advocates reading, in addition to speaking, and says that books can be your strongest language-learning tactic. It's how she did it, and she taught herself many languages. It was also inspiring to read that she learned most of her languages in her 30s and 4 ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
This should be titled, "My life as an interpreter". It presents very few ideas on how to better learn a foreign language. If it were possible to pull all that information out it might make up a single chapter.

The vast majority of the book is a series of flashbacks, stories from other people, and references to numerous works of literature and/or their creators. They come so rapidly and with such randomness that it literally made my head hurt. The author referred to learning a language as building
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"To look it at another way, surely there are many unfortunate people who have needed to undergo multiple stomach surgeries. Yet no one would hand a scalpel over to them and ask them to perform the same surgery they received on another person, simply because they themselves had undergone it so often."

My own thoughts, examples, additions or conclusions are in italics.

-For TLDR, see her ten personal rules.

-Language is the only thing worth knowing badly (or just a little). I wonder if I've seen the
Nov 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: bio-and-memoir
I felt the author was a bit disingenuous here. She starts off telling of how she taught herself Russian using only a novel and a dictionary. Later, however, in her chapter on advice for learning a new language from scratch, she says not to do that, but start with a "teach yourself" book (and supplemental grammar reference), before tackling actual reading. Agree with another reviewer that she should've gone into greater detail on how she managed languages that don't use conventional western scrip ...more
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
I had pretty high expectations for this book, so I can blame that for such a bad rating. I expected it to help with learning languages, to give some real tips and really motivate you. But it failed, hard.

First of all, the title is irrelevant. It suggests that she is here to help you learn the language and make you better in that field, but it gives very few ideas. It would be fine if it was titled as "Life of a polyglot" or something like that because the book is crammed with random stories from
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
After reading this book I started talking in Dutch to clients without feeling bad anymore about mistakes I'm making and words and phrases I still don't understand. I learnt to give myself a compliment after a full day of talking the language I haven't mastered yet, instead of feeling unprofessional, miserable and wanting to give up.

From the very start, Kató keeps insisting that there is no such thing as “talent for languages”, that it is dedication, hard work and practice that do the magic. I’v
Madame Histoire
Interesting read on language learning technique from before the e-era of apps and Google translate. If it were to be resumed in one word, it would be : READ. But the author introduces all her tips and techniques learn through her own personal experience.

-Reading enables you to achieve for both purposes: elaboration (internalising patterns) and frequent repetition + best mean of creating a personal linguistic microclimate (as opposed to our country of residence linguistic microclima
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook, non-fiction
There is a stark difference between how books about language learning are written today, and books a few decades ago. A distinct lack of the word "science" aside for now, the organization of the material itself is very different. Don't expect clear headers, and subheaders guiding you to the main points, and techniques of interest. The entire chapter needs to be read in order to grasp the main point. If there even is one. Sometimes it's just an anecdote. Though I tend not to skim books, preferrin ...more
May 20, 2017 rated it liked it
This book had a lot of insight, but it felt very scattered and repetitive at some points. Not only that, but some claims (particularly about men and women) I feel should be backed up by research and not just by anecdotes. Idk, that might just be me.

Also I found this amusing:

"Only those who are not introverted and not deterred from being in the limelight should become teachers and interpreters."

"An introverted and hesitant individual who is prone to self-criticism may only be suitable for transl
Victor Sonkin
A very outdated account of one Hungarian woman's drive to learn many languages and its results, which she shares with the reader (the book was translated sometime in the 1970s). While her comments about interpreting seem all right, it is of course very difficult to judge whether she was a decent interpreter. Lots and lots of unnecessary details as well, and, most importantly, almost all ways of learning a foreign language now, more than forty years later, are completely different (all such thing ...more
Jan 04, 2013 rated it liked it
What's fascinating is Lomb, a 19 language polyglot, learned most of her languages at 30 or older. The book was written in the 1960s, but many of her observations about language learning are not only still relevant and true, but they have also been validated by current research on the brain, learning and memory.

Her strategy: pick up a book in another language and start reading it. Pick a book in the genre or topic you love and try to puzzle it out as you go. She believes you learn grammar from la
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language, biography
This book is a bit all over the place, but the author's humour and her delight in languages and learning more than make up for it. This isn't quite an autobiography but it's also not a textbook either. The author talks about her journey, how she fell into languages and happily stayed there, sharing numerous anecdotes along the way. She touches on some theoretical aspects of language learning, bursting a few myths along the way (like being too old or not having a gift for it), breaking the recipe ...more
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Very interesting stuff. I've always been interested in languages and would like to learn several (at least!). Ms. Lomb presents a very intriguing and practical method of attacking a foreign language.

My only qualm with the book is that it seems to take her a long time to get around to actually describing her learning method. Much of the book is fraught with personal and hearsay anecdotes that, while interesting, are more fluff than substance.

That said, it's a quick read and worth scanning throug
May 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This, obviously, is not an actual guide on how to learn languages, but rather an individual's story on her own adventure. I found is extremely interesting, because I love hearing about the languages other people can speak, and I felt validated, because I use much of the same methods, I agree with a lot of the advice given out.
Do I feel like I was left with a mind-boggling recipe for learning languages? No, but I have admiration and respect for Lomb, and maybe just the tiniest bit more motivatio
Feb 08, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Absolute disappointment. Mostly ramblings and loosely related stories about people who speak several languages and her own adventures as an interpreter, loads of random metaphors what language is. Change the misleading title, ignore the patronizing tone, lack of structure and some outdated views, you might actually be happy to find a couple of pages worth practical information on how to learn languages. Really not worth your time. Perhaps I'm a tad harsh, that's the disappointment speaking. ...more
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Polyglots is knowing or using several languages; (of a book) having text translated into several languages; a person who knows and is able to use several languages. PUAHAHAHAHA some of you might be thinking I will elaborate polyglots mean whole paragraphs! Got youuuu!

By the way it is nice knowing some people in the world intuitively learn languages even they achieve languages in earlier age or might be they have mastered languages since toddler. One word, envy… Yes exactly I am. I was not able
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I have been reading this book for a long time. I downloaded it to my phone around my freshman year and started reading it when I didn’t have internet access to read other things, usually whenever I was on an airplane.

This book is a quiet delight to read, and Kató Lomb has a lovely turn of phrase in English (and, I imagine, in her other languages as well). I can’t give an accurate impression of the entire book, since I’ve been inching through it over at least the last three years, but I was alwa
I picked up this book several times over the last six years, I always felt it had beaucoup de content, but in the end it didn’t deliver and my high expectations were not fulfilled, which is not to say that she doesn’t offer sound advice, just that I was left underwhelmed
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, witty and well written book. Got me interested the whole time. The fact that I live in Hungary helped recognise so many references since the author is Hungarian. Very motivating to learn languages. Couldn't have been done better :D ...more
Jan 17, 2020 added it
Shelves: languages-other
Lomb's ten broad tips (with thanks to a now defunct blog called LangHack):

1. Spend time tinkering with the language every day. If time is short, try at least to produce a 10-minute monologue. Morning hours are especially valuable in this respect: the early bird catches the word!

2. 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 writing a compos
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language-study, 2012
2012 03 05 I'm about half-way through, and have to say, it is a very easy read* and has some good helps and some interesting observations. I'm loving all the Hungarian examples - bonus of the writer's nationality. I wouldn't say so far that most of her advice is really earth shattering, nor is it very detailed. I do think it will be helpful in thinking about language learning from a different angle. Combined with Barry Farber's How to Learn Any Language, I think it would be a great way to start ...more
May 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
There were some language learning strategies outlined in this book, interspersed with amusing anecdotes and scenes from the life of the author. But what a life! And all because of her proficiency in learning languages, and her fearlessness in using them, even if imperfectly. I found Lomb's narrative inspiring, because, as I read, I felt a strong sense of the author's love for all the idiosyncrasies of the many languages she spoke, and the encounters she had because of her language abilities. Mor ...more
Aug 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Although this book contains a few ideas and best practices on how to learn a foreign language, it should be very entertaining and enriching for any language learner as it contains various thoughts, general tips and some useful experiences on the topic. It contains no revolutionary ideas or methods on how to learn/acquire a new language, but rather very obvious advice and guidelines about language learning. I was disappointed, because I couldn't find lots of practical tips and methods on how to e ...more

I had known about this book for years, but I finally picked it up because an instructor at my interpreters training school told me that this was written by a legendary Hungarian simultaneous interpreter between five languages (and translator of 11 other languages) and was translated (from the Russian version) to Japanese by Mari Yonehara, a legendary simultaneous interpreter between Russian and Japanese. The author recommends reading in the language
Mar 25, 2013 added it
I didn't know until now that my personal method of learning a new language is a variant of Kató Lomb's.

I am very impressed by her description of Romanian language:

To this day, I find Romanian very fetching. It has more of a country flavor than French and is more “manly” than Italian and more interesting than Spanish, due to its Slavic loanwords.
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hu
I read this in Hungarian and I was blown away by the language used by her. It took me back to the past, the long-gone era of my grandmother, when people still had the time and willingness to express themselves with those fascinating, rare words of the language our descendants won't even know anymore. ...more
Christopher Ngo
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it
I spent some time self-learning a handful of human languages the past several years, so I thought I'd check out what Kató Lomb had to contribute on this hobby.

While the learning methodologies she had access to are dated, human languages themselves have not evolved much to consider her tips and tricks obsolete. I did find it interesting that she recommended limited usage of dictionaries, as to avoid too much delay when reading in new languages so that motivation remains higher than inhibition.

Nguyên Lê
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
I don't expect much from this book, especially language learning. The title itself says it all, how she learns languages, so it does not mean it should be how we learn languages. Although there are take-aways that I can understand as a teacher and a learner such as reading simple or abridged novels to expand vocabulary, the majority of the book does not cover much of the language learning aspect. As a reference book, this work of Lomb does it job quite well in the way of showing the adventure of ...more
Feb 22, 2021 rated it it was ok
Even though part of this book is still relevant, a great deal of it feels horribly outdated (no surprise, given that 50 years have passed since its original release). Kató surely has an appealing personality and she managed to include in the book some really aspiring statements (e.g. even a very low language skill is valuable). Nevertheless, the book fails for me in so many ways, mostly because the title of chapter often promised me one thing, but that chapter contained something completely diff ...more
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners
  • Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction
  • Петровы в гриппе и вокруг него
  • Bomba atomica
  • Вся кремлевская рать: Краткая история современной России
  • Eden
  • Jak Nauczyłem Się Ośmiu Języków
  • Cogito ergo soffro
  • Attack on Titan: Colossal Edition Vol. 3
  • Attack on Titan: Colossal Edition 2
  • Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language
  • The Seducer's Diary
  • How to Learn a Foreign Language
  • Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World
  • Манюня (Манюня, #1)
  • Time Management: Proven Techniques for Making Every Minute Count
  • Witnessing Torture: Perspectives of Torture Survivors and Human Rights Workers (Palgrave Studies in Life Writing)
  • Prince
See similar books…
Kató Lomb was a Hungarian interpreter, translator, language genius and one of the first simultaneous interpreters of the world.

Originally she graduated in physics and chemistry, but her interest soon led her to languages. Native in Hungarian, she was able to interpret fluently in nine or ten languages (in four of them even without preparation), and she translated technical literature and read bell

News & Interviews

  Mateo Askaripour is a Brooklyn-based writer whose bestselling debut novel, Black Buck, was published in January. It's been a Read with Jenna...
76 likes · 11 comments
“Solely in the world of languages is the amateur of value. Well-intentioned sentences full of mistakes can still build bridges between people.” 17 likes
“My view is that knowing languages is part of the process of becoming a cultured person.” 13 likes
More quotes…