Learning a new language is a big commitment, but these days there are a vast array of resources that make it a lot more fun than just reading a grammar textbook (though at some stage you'll probably need one of those, too). We have book recommendations for learning languages ancient and modern. The two are connected, in that by learning Latin, it will make it easier to learn the modern Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian) which are based on it. However, that's quite a roundabout way of setting about learning a modern language, and mostly learning ancient ones is about reading ancient texts, whether it's reading Plato’s Apology of Socrates or Herodotus's Histories in the original Greek, or deciphering the hieroglyphics on a temple wall in Karnak, Egypt.
For modern languages, the learning techniques are very different, as the primary objective is normally not just reading but communication with other human beings. It's worth reading our interviews on learning French and Spanish—even if you're not interested in those specific languages—because the techniques are similar in most languages. As Benny Lewis, the Irish polyglot points out, you really do need to get talking and not get too hung up on making mistakes, otherwise you're never going to get anywhere. Reading is also important and a quick way to ramp up your skills. Nice stories, that make you want to read to the end, are a great way to do this. Olly Richards, an English polyglot, has written a really good series with stories catering to many languages and different abilities, starting with beginner.
In spite of all the online ads promising to teach you a new language in a matter of minutes, learning a language takes time and commitment—and motivation is critical. Here Vincent Serrano-Guerra, author of a book for learning French that focuses on the 20,000 words that are the same in French and English, explains how best to set about it and recommends some books that’ll also get you familiar with French culture.
Hieroglyphs: A Very Short Introduction
by Penelope Wilson
Hieroglyphics: The Writings of Ancient Egypt
by Maria Betro
The Myth of Egypt and Its Hieroglyphs in European Tradition
by Erik Iversen
Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts
by Andrew Robinson
The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts
by Susan Brind Morrow
Reading the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt reveals much about the worldview of a civilisation that rose to prominence 5000 years ago and flourished for thousands of years. Here, intellectual historian Diane Greco Josefowicz—whose book, The Riddle of the Rosetta, co-written with Jed Buchwald, tells the story of how the meaning of the hieroglyphs was deciphered in 19th century France—recommends the best books to learn more about hieroglyphics.
Complete Spanish: A Teach Yourself Program
by Juan Kattan-Ibarra
Short Stories in Spanish: New Penguin Parallel Text
ed. John L King
Short Stories in Spanish for Beginners
by Olly Richards
Mastering Spanish Vocabulary
by Axel J Navarro Ramil & Jose Maria Navarro
Lonely Planet Spanish Phrasebook & Dictionary
by Cristina Hernandez Montero & Marta Lopez
Which are the best books for learning Spanish? Benny Lewis, polyglot and author of the popular language-learning blog Fluent in Three Months, recommends his top five. He explains why beginners should be wary of grammar, and why forcing yourself to make mistakes is the key to success in any language.
Interested in philosophy? Drama? History? Within a year you too could be reading seminal texts in their original language. Academic Paul McMullen recommends the best books for learning ancient Greek.
What books should you read if you want to learn Latin? Harry Mount (and Katie Walker) recommend the best books for learning Latin—the language of a small, central Italian tribe that managed to conquer most of Europe.
China covers a vast territory, and is far more ethnically and culturally diverse than many outsiders assume. Chris Livaccari, a veteran Chinese language teacher, recommends books he believes every Chinese language learner should read.