There are several archaeological bilingual and multilingual artefacts, e.g.

  • the Philae obelisk (ca. 118 BC?),
  • the Rosetta Stone (196 BC; Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Greek script),
  • the Ezana Stone (4th C BC; Ge'ez, Sabaean, Greek),
  • the Behistun Inscription (6th/5th century BC; three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian),
  • the Karatepe Bilingual (8th century BC; Phoenician language and Luwian language hieroglyphs).

We also know from, e.g. Pliny the Elder's Natural History, that classical antiquity produced a few polygots.

But what are the oldest documented language learning techniques or resources? (I am not referring to the multilingual artefects listed above, since these were not originally intended as learning tools.)

3 Answers 3


Probably the Lexical Lists containing Akkadian-Sumerian word correspondences from the 3rd millenium BC on are the oldest language learning materials. They were intended for speakers of Akkadian to learn the prestigious classical language Sumerian.


One notable early example is Panini's Astadhyayi. The book provides a systematic study of the grammar of Sanskrit, a primary language of Hindu scripture, which was already sufficiently archaic that people had to undertake study to learn it. The exact date of publication is not known, but it appears to be around 2,500 years old (5th or 6th century BC or thereabouts). Another resource estimates a 4th century BC publication.

Another early resource is the Tolkāppiyam (3rd century BC or earlier), a handbook of the Tamil language.

Also take a look at the Hermeneumata (3rd century AD) for Latin and Greek.

A later, but still old, resource is the First Grammatical Treatise (12th century AD) of the Old Norse language.


The Chinese hadn't really discovered syntax or morphology before they got in contact with the West. They hadn't even had the concept of a word (as opposed to a character). But it doesn't mean, of course, that there were no language learning materials. Unsurprisingly, they were focused on teaching the characters. Some examples of character primers (童蒙識字):

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