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Ever heard of resource overload? Most language lovers I know can't get enough of new books, courses, and blogs to inspire them...but there's a dark side!
Language resources can be overwhelming. You might wonder which ones are worth your time, or what you really need to get started in a language.
Over the years, I've amassed a huge pile of language learning resources, and in today's post I want to introduce you to a few of my favourites and explain four categories of resources that you should have when you're teaching yourself a language.
1) Guiding Resources: Language Textbooks and Language Courses
The first resource I believe you should have is what I call a guiding resource. This can be a book, a CD set, a video course, or even a night class. For any resource to be considered a guiding resource in my mind, it must fulfil the following criteria:
Never compromise on structure. Look out for units, chapters, steps. There is none that is best for everyone, so ensure that your guiding resource follows a path that you will find interesting. You don't want something that just throws a lot of information at you, and you don’t want to be yawning by chapter 3.
The resource should have lessons that move you from one level to the next level. For example, in Benny Lewis' Teach Yourself book, there are different units and they tell you what it is you are going to learn - units such as talking about yourself, asking about other people, talking about family, and describing things.
Having a structure to follow is very important for independent language learners, so be sure to check out the curriculum before you buy.
Designed for Your Situation
When you buy a textbook, make sure you check if your choice might be designed for group classes (for example, Façon de Parler). This doesn't make such textbooks bad resources, but the way they are written, a lot of the exercises are usually not designed for you to do by yourself. The text will say something like: "Find a partner in your group and then practice these sentences with them," or "In the group, have a discussion of this image." The textbooks just assume that you're in a group class. If you're teaching yourself, this is not always helpful.
Third, there should be a multimedia component. This means that you want more than just a book or audio. You want the book unit to be accompanied by audio, worksheets, or video. Online courses in languages are getting better and better, but check that there’s offline access if you need it.
My preferred structure for a guiding resource is this:
Start with a story or dialogue, then an explanation of what was new, and finish with a chance for you as the learner to practice what you’ve learnt.
Good examples of guiding resources are
- Teach Yourself series, in particular the Language Hacking books
- Assimil (on Amazon UK)
- Duolingo if used in line with these recommendations
2) Input Resources: Enjoyable and Comprehensible Input
Input resources are very easy to find…the internet is a total treasure trove of them! I also call them supplementary resources, as they supplement all other learning.
You can have as many as you want. You never have too many input resources. With these resources, you can follow any story or video for some time, drop it, and then get back to it weeks later. Most YouTube videos in the language that you're learning are going to fall into this category. Music and TV shows also fall into this category.
Your input resources must be understandable, but not too easy and not too hard. You need to be able to sense that you're learning as you're following it; so, there should be a little bit of a challenge. But at the same time, you don't want them to be so easy that you know exactly what's coming.
If it’s fun, it works
Input resources also must be enjoyable. They must be fun, so feel very free to toss out what doesn’t interest you. If you don't enjoy them, you aren't going to engage with them. At Langfest in Montreal, I met the famous applied linguist Dr Stephen Krashen, whose belief in comprehensible input is all about these resources. This is where the magic happens. You need input, it needs to be fun, you need to understand it, and you need lots of it.
Good examples of input resources include
- Easy Languages on Youtube
- Olly Richards’ Short Stories for Language Learning (Amazon UK | amazon.com)
3) Reference Resources: Dictionaries, Grammar Guides, Phrasebooks
In a journey as epic as learning a new language, you’re going to get lost and waste lots of time without a map, and that’s what the reference resource can be for you.
Accessible Language Materials
First, the resource must be accessible. Obviously, they should be there for you to touch or open, but more importantly, they must be easy to understand. Second, the resource must be accessible in the sense that you should have it around. It should be there when you want it because the whole idea of a reference resource is you don't follow it as a course.
Dip in and out
Nobody ever learned a language by reading a dictionary. Instead of following reference resources as a course, you just have them around for when you have a question. At the start of language learning, I think reference resources are good to help you answer the question for yourself: Where am I going to look this up?
Many video courses fit right into the reference category. For example, the Fluent courses on German pronunciation and on grammar cross over between guiding and reference resources. My dream for my German courses is that somebody follows it, gains a lot from it the first time, but knows that they can dip in and watch every video individually.
Good examples of reference resources include
The three core reference resources you need are
- a good online or offline dictionary (read my in-depth dictionary tips)
- a good grammar resource (read more tips on effective grammar study)
- and a good pronunciation guide.
So those are the three key categories of resources you should have somewhere in your personal language library. To re-cap:
- Guiding Resources give your studies shape and help you know your progress. You want these to be structured.
- Input Resources make language learning effective and enjoyable. You want these to be fun and right for your level.
- Reference Resources are on hand when you have specific questions and need a quick answer. You want these to be easy to access and understand.
If you don't have these three areas covered on your (virtual or IRL) bookshelf, it's easy to feel lost when learning a new language, to miss things, and even to lose yourself and think you're better than you are or worse than you are.
4. Self-Teacher's Resources
In fact, it can be helpful to consider a 4th type of resource: the self-teacher's resources, which are all about how to organise yourself. This category contains language learning blogs, podcasts, books to help you master the learning process.
The self-teacher's resources are awesome because they
- keep you motivated and accountable
- help you adopt great study techniques.
If you want to find out more about the self-teacher's resources I've created for you, check out the Learn Section.
Find out more about resource categories and books I love in video below.
What are your favourite resources? Want recommendations for a resource in your target language or feel you're lacking something?
No problem! Leave me a comment below or say hi in the Fluent Language Learners Facebook group.
This podcast episode is a bit like a Wundertüte - a lucky dip bag of interviews with wonderful people who made the 2017 Langfest event what it was. Thank you so much to all of these lovely people - Langfest was motivating, informative, energising, and of course very, very multilingual.
Here's a taste of what you'll find inside the episode:
Could you become a multilingual parent?
We've all seen the feats of Bella Devyatkina, who speaks 8 languages at age 5. But how does that work? In my interview with conference organizer Tetsu Young, we touched on the everyday actions that he and his wife create a multilingual environment for their three (!) kids.
Applying your outside skills to language learning
You might not know this, but all of us have hidden skills that help us learn languages. I interviewed Benny Lewis and Tim Pelletier to find out what theirs are.
Impressions of Québécois
From how to make those dipthong sounds to religious swearing, be a fly on the wall during our French-language lesson on the Québec dialect.
Learning in Your Coffee Break
In an interview with Mark Pentleton from Radio Lingua, we discussed how language learning can fit into anyone's busy life - and why doing a little bit less might just help you learn more.
A few words in Romanian
Listen to me try as hard as possible to get my Romanian pronunciation right with the kind help of presenter Mihai. Ooof!
Unconventional Motivational Techniques
Jana Fadness is a polyglot, translator, traveller, and introvert. She shares her insights on the most popular motivational techniques - and how she found her own unconventional ways of making things work. Jana's interview was amazing, her honesty stood out among the crowd.
I will share more about my talk with you as soon as the Langfest crew have put the finishing touches to their videos.
In the meantime, get the travel bug with me and check out 8 Life-Changing Language Learning Events Around the Globe.
- LangFest – Festival de Langues de Montréal | Montreal Language Festival
- Eurolinguiste - Shannon Kennedy
- Get into the 4 Tendencies with the Better App
- Adventures of the Directionally Challenged - Jana Fadness
- Radiolingua - the home of Coffee Break Podcasts
- To My Father – To My Father Film
- Emilie Wapnick's TED Talk on Multipotentialites -- not all of us are made to do just one thing in life
- LanguageCon – The Shanghai Language Learner’s Conference
- 4-year-old Bella from Moscow easily speaks 7 languages - YouTube
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