Dr. Kató Lomb (1909-2003) studied languages later in her life than usual. Yet, she became the world’s most multilingual woman, learning to interpret and translate in 16 different languages at her peak. In school and college, she did poorly and showed no special aptitude for languages. She did not begin to seriously study languages until she took up English after getting her PhD. in Chemistry. Later, she learned Russian on the eve of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Hungary in World War II, and first gained fame as the translator between the Russian speaking occupiers and the Hungarian speaking government representatives.
Her methods were unconventional. She felt that the traditional way of studying languages, memorizing so many words a day and studying grammar supplied in the usual course materials “…may satisfy one’s sense of duty but it can hardly serve as a source of joy. Nor will it likely be successful.” Since she loved reading novels, she endorsed a method that used novels to learn languages with a dictionary. She bought the novels so that she could write notes in the margins. For example, she learned Spanish by purchasing a Spanish translation of the American novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes written by Anita Loos, which she knew from the original English. Her method was like decoding a coded message and she made a kind of game out of it. Many people fail to get anything out of Foreign language instruction because it is such drudgery.
Her book, Polyglot, is well worth reading. It’s available here free as a *.pdf file.
Dr. Kató Lomb