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
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
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
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.