3. Nabulione

In which we survey the field of battle

Nabulione was a short man, prematurely balding, and he suffered from piles. Not a natural role model, you might assume. We can though take a few tips from this unprepossessing character.

For he was, in many people’s opinion, the greatest military commander in all history. Alexander the Great may have a word or two to say about that, but very few others could claim to match the tactical and strategic genius of the little man from Corsica.

It is said that, on the eve of battle, he would ride to the top of the nearest vantage point with a local guide to survey the field of the next day’s impending slaughter. There is a gripping scene in War and Peace where Tolstoy imagines Le petit caporal exclaiming “We have them!” as he sees the opposing armies descending into a vulnerable fold in the landscape just before his famous victory at Austerlitz.

In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the Emperor’s defeat at Waterloo is partially ascribed to his guide not informing him of the existence of a crucial ditch into which La Garde Impériale plunged to their deaths as they charged the British ranks.

Nabulione di Buonaparte is better known to history as Napoleon. In this chapter we are going to learn from his methods. Before we prepare to do battle with a foreign language, it is always a good idea to survey the peaks and troughs that await us. We are going to examine one of the most detested words in the English language and see how much we need to know about it. Grammar.



  • What is grammar, and do I need to learn it?

  • Can’t we just learn languages as children do?

  • Making sense of the jargon

  • Essential grammar

  • Simplifying our speech

  • The rules of the game

This is an extract from our must-read book about language learning, THE LANGUAGE SECRET. Browse the site for more extracts from the other chapters and information about what they contain. You can also purchase a copy of the book by clicking on the button at the bottom of the page.