By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
Most of my life I have been an avid enthusiast of language learning, both modern and ancient. So far I have achieved an advanced level in English, Portuguese, Latin, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, and German; I have a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit; and I’m in the early stages of learning Old English and Old Norse. As you might guess, it’s easy to get words mixed up when you have so many languages to keep track of, but there’s been one particular trick that’s made it possible for me to learn as many languages as I have – mind maps! This method allows the student to take a look at all the languages that he or she is learning at once and visualize the similarities between each language family. In this short essay I hope not only to convince you that mind maps are a valid language-learning tool but also show you how mind maps may help you in your own language studies.
What are Mind Maps?
A mind map is an easy way to organize and keep track of information. It allows you to put your ideas into a visual context, which can help with analysis and recall. It was popularized by psychologist and writer Tony Buzan who, on his webpage, describes a mind map as:
“A powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills – word, image, number, logic, rhythm, color and spatial awareness – in a single, uniquely powerful manner.”
Although, the modern concept of a mind map is attributed to Buzan, mind maps are much older than people may guess. There are references to mind maps in ancient times – e.g. Porphyry of Tyre, a Neoplatonic philosopher who used the method to categorize and organize the works of Aristotle. During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci often used them to organize his ideas before creating a new work of art.
Creating your Own Linguistic Mind Map
I will now describe each step of my personal application of Buzan’s technique:
Pick a word in English, then check the etymology and identify the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stem it belongs to. Let’s take the word “father”. Now follow the steps below:
- Write the PIE word (*ph2tḗr) at the center of the map. Then, using a red pen, have a go at the primary descendents (Ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit), writing them around the PIE word. (I was told during a course about mind maps that psychologists see red as the color that draws most attention. My personal focus was on Romance languages when I started using mind maps, but you can use red for any language family you prefer). Then, write lines connecting the PIE word to the corresponding terms in Ancient Greek (πατήρ), Latin (pater) and Sanskrit (pitr).
- All the words belonging to the same language family should be written next to each other so you can see the similarities between them. Now, surround the Latin word pater with its descendents, such as “padre” (SPA), “pai” (PORT), “padre” (ITA) and “père” (FRE), and draw lines between each and the Latin word. Do the same thing with Germanic and Celtic words but make sure you use different colors. I like to use green for the Celtic languages since it’s a color often associated with Ireland and Irish. For the Germanic words I use blue. The word in Old Norse for “father” is “faðir”, which I write next to the Anglo-Saxon “fæder”. Then I write lines with all the words for “father” in the Nordic languages: “fader” (Danish), “fader” (Swedish), “far” (Norwegian).
- Make sure your handwriting is neat. If you have a talent for calligraphy, you can use different kinds of calligraphy for each language family or each word, like Gothic for the Germanic languages and Italic for Latin and the Romance languages. Obviously, you could make a mind map on a computer as well, but I recommend making these by hand. The more you struggle to create something beautiful, the better you will assimilate the information. Ideally, the student should feel that he or she is creating a work of art.
- The lines you draw for each family should be clear and neat. I personally like to think of my lines as branches of a tree, and I may even give the whole mind map a tree-like appearance.
I hope you enjoyed this article and will consider using this technique for your language studies. If you follow the steps above, I assure you your command of related languages will become a hundred percent better! And every time you complete a mind map, you’ll feel like Michelangelo after he completed the David. You can then step back, behold your creation and cry “parla!” (speak!).
Latin Language Teacher Resources
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.