The essential language starter toolkit

It's great to get started on an endeavor. The inviting white pages of a notebook, wondrous things you didn't know before, impressed friends, the goals you can set just makes you want to get going, doesn't it? I believe that getting the tools right sets you up for a great job, so here are my absolute essentials every new language learner should get hold of.

  • Your Notebook
<3 my notebook

<3 my notebook

Expert hobbyist Ruth gets it very right when she says that new notebooks are practically hobby law. Even where information has moved online and you can get the greatest courses without a page of print, I still find that writing on paper helps the learning experience. There is a science behind this, as kinesthetic and tactile learning are recognised learning styles. Personally, I am a Moleskine* user as I love the paper and their solid look.

It's a good idea to create sections in your notebook for new vocabulary, grammar rules, exercises, tutor sessions and course notes. I use sticky tabs* for my sections because it allows me to make sections as big or small as I need them. If pen and paper definitely aren't your thing, you should create an audio note directory or perhaps draw on screen.

In addition, of course I have a big love of sticky notes*. Look up words, stick them up around your house - soon you won't be able to escape language progress.

  • Your Dictionary

No matter if you prefer looking words up online or on paper, your dictionary should always be on hand. There is no quicker way of getting past a block or understanding a song/film quote in your target language.

Good dictionaries I've used in the past have been Pons (in the UK they work with Collins*) and Oxford Hachette* ones, but whichever brand you choose you should make sure that the index makes sense to you. A good dictionary must tell you the word type, gender, pronunciation and give an indication of how to use the word.

Check the grammar and verb section. Good large dictionaries will include small sections on these so you can just look up things when you need them.

  • Audio Examples

Language is about saying things, so make sure you learn speaking as well as writing, reading and listening. Podcasts and audiobooks are particularly useful because they are portable and come in episodes that build on each other. Some of my favourites are Speaking Russian, Coffee Break French and German Pod101. In terms of Audiobooks, the Michel Thomas* courses have been popular with many of my fellow language students.

Once you've made sure you can hear the language, get talking too! Record yourself, get feedback and find an expert speaker. I believe working with a tutor is the best way of learning to talk, and when I worked on the European Day of Languages video, I found surprising amounts of kind people who would correct small batches of pronunciation when I sent them an audio file - all on Facebook and Twitter!

  • The Course

If you are beginner, choose your preferred method. Don't worry too much about what you choose, but at the same time buy the tools, not the whole toolshed (in other words, pace yourself).

The most popular options are group classes, private tutors, software kits and teach yourself books. I'll be providing more reviews on these individually in the future as it's too big a topic to cover in one post. Personally, I'm not a good off-screen learner and so I tend not to invest in Rosetta Stone etc. I believe working with a tutor is the best way of getting pushed without getting discouraged.

  • Your Attitude

Finally...don't be too concerned about getting everything perfectly right. As one of my students puts it very eloquently: "I don't think it is a matter of courage - I think it is more of a matter of motivation and sticking with it over a sustained period of time." If your method you chose feels dull, don't be afraid to experiment. Language learning is for life, so you are in this for the long haul, you can take the scenic route or the motorway, and you progress in the way that suits you.

*note that all starred links are affiliate links. some here lead to Office Supplies Supermarket, who will give you 10% off if you use the code VCPOR10