Learning a Language Part 2/3: Essential Resources

Welcome to part 2 of our 3 part summer series on learning a new language!  Part 2 covers some of the resources you should use to effectively learn a new language on your own.  You won’t see expensive courses like Rosetta Stone on this list–it’s designed for your average 20-something backpacker.  Like part 1, this guide was written by our guest, David Anthony. Look out for new installments on the last Sunday of every month. Enjoy! 

(Catch up with part 1 here)

PART 2:

Whew! So you’ve finally whittled down the language you want to learn. Let’s use Turkish as an example. You just love Turkish coffee, the language sounds beautiful, and you’re just dying to see Istanbul. Perfect! You have a specific passion about Turkish culture and the language. Now what the hell do you use to actually learn? Rosetta Stone? Textbooks? Passive listening of internet radio? I’m going to give you what you need to really get started, and it’s probably going to cost you less than 50 bucks.

For resources, I would recommend you start with 3 things: A phrasebook, a grammar book, and a dictionary. I also like to buy a textbook with audio when I can find a good one, as it gives you dialog examples you won’t usually find in the other three. Below I’ll list some examples of each, and where to get them.

PHRASEBOOKS

  • Berlitz: These are the best bang for your buck in my opinion. Packed with thousands of words and phrases that are organized by topic, they really are a good starting place. The best part: You can find them on Amazon for less than $5 used in most cases.
  • Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet has a better selection than Berlitz from what I’ve found. They have phrasebooks for smaller languages like Nepali, Thai, and Croatian. This makes them an invaluable resource when trying to pick up a less commonly taught language. These can also be found dirt cheap used on Amazon.

GRAMMAR BOOK

  • _________ An Essential Grammar: I like the essential grammar series because they present “conversational grammar.” Without getting bogged down in nuanced rules you’ll barely ever use, they just teach what’s necessary to make yourself understood. Short and to the point, they make learning grammar much easier than you remembered in school. I used this series for most of my languages with success.

DICTIONARY

  • Langenscheidt publishes easy to use, pocket sized dictionaries for a number of languages. Don’t be fooled by their size, these are serious references that you’ll be able to use at virtually all stages of the language learning process.
  • Hippocrene dictionaries are also an option for some less common languages. They can be a bit hit and miss, so look around until you find something that works for you.

Now, those three are really all you need if you’re looking to get away as cheap as possible. With the internet and a patient native speaker for practice, you can make an incredible amount of progress. Personally, I like to find a good “textbook” or course book with audio for extra practice, and it can also show you what real world conversations feel like and sound like.

TEXTBOOK

  • Personally, I’m a fan of Teach Yourself/Complete series. Some people love them, some people hate them. They have books for close to 30 languages, which vary widely in quality. Look carefully into the reviews and see if the Teach Yourself book for your language is any good. They often come with dialogs as well, which for me is one of the big pros. They’re easy enough to find on Amazon, just search “Teach Yourself _____” and they should come up. Pro tip: They were recently rebranded as “Complete ____,” but the older “Teach Yourself” editions are virtually identical. The older editions are much cheaper, so grabbing those can save you a bit of money.
  • The Colloquial series is another good choice. Colloquial is a well known resource with a surprising number of language options. Much of the same rules for the Teach Yourself/Complete series apply to Colloquial.
  • Assimil is an option I haven’t had the chance to try yet, but I’m very interested in doing so. Published in France, Assimil has the largest variety out of all the series I’ve talked about. They have offerings in 70 languages, including Creole, Ancient Greek, and even Egyptian Hieroglyphics! There’s two big downsides to Assimil: First off, getting them is often expensive. The courses are not cheap to start with, and they’re usually shipped from France. A friend who uses Assimil recommends ordering several at once to cut down on overall shipping price. The second downside (depending on how you see it) is many of their courses are published in French. If you speak French well enough to understand the instructions, it’s probably one of your best options. Don’t worry if you don’t, since they have about 14 courses published in English, most of which are for more popular languages.

DIGITAL

There’s thousands of digital resources you can use, but I’m gonna touch on three really quickly that I think are great

  • Duolingo is a completely free resource that’s great for getting a good base in a foreign language. Standing alone, it won’t do much to develop your conversational abilities. When mixed with other resources though, it’s a great introduction to another language. The general consensus is that finishing the entire course brings you to an A2ish level on the CEFR scale. They’re constantly adding new languages, so I only see Duolingo becoming more popular as time goes on. Give it a look.
  • Italki is another essential digital resource. Using it, you can find language partners to practice speaking with, which is 100% essential to learn anything beyond simple phrases. I’ll get more into how to learn a foreign language in a later post, but one thing you need to know right now: you will not learn a language unless you practice speaking with other people. There’s no way around it. Italki is great for finding a tutor to teacher if you choose that route (oftentimes you do have to pay them for this time, but the rates are reasonable). I find myself using Italki less nowadays, and focusing more on Hellotalk for language partners.
  • Hellotalk is a free app that is set up exclusively for finding language partners. It’s easy to use, and they go through a lot of effort to filter out spam. I personally like it better than Italki, because it’s less focused on getting you to pay for a teacher. It has an in-house messaging and search function, so you can be up and running in minutes. Check it out

This is just a 10,000 foot view of all the resources out there. I could write an entire book about everything that’s out there. Spend some time searching and asking around, and you’ll definitely find what you want. In the next post, I’ll start getting into how to actually put all this together and start learning and speaking quickly. Good luck!

Thanks for reading! Are you multilingual? What are some of your favorite resources? Tell us about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share it via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Disclaimer: if you follow the Amazon links in the body of this post and make purchases through them, I will receive a small compensation from Amazon.  This compensation comes from Amazon, not from you, and the price you see through my links is the same as the price you would see otherwise.  However I have no association with Duolingo, Berlitz, or any of the companies mentioned above.  In an attempt to bring you the best content, we linked to the sites that we felt were the most relevant, compensation notwithstanding.

Learning a Language Part 1/3: How to Pick A Language

Welcome to the first installment of a new summer series: Learning a New Language from our guest author, David Anthony.  David is a senior at North Carolina Central University, a novice computer programmer, rock-climber, and huge language nerd.  This series will explore the how-tos of learning a new language on your own, no college courses required.  The first of three articles will focus on choosing the right language for you.  Look out for new installments on the last Sunday of every month. Enjoy!

PART 1:

Want to know what you can do right now that will make you richer, smarter, and sexier? Fluently speaking a foreign language! I know a lot of millennials and travelers dream of being able to order in a Mexican restaurant in perfect Spanish, or debate Descartes in flawless French. While I can’t promise those results, this guide should help you get started on the path to fluency much faster than traditional methods. Nothing I’m mentioning is voodoo or snake oil, but it’s not obvious to most people when they’re trying to learn a foreign language. It sure wasn’t to me when I first started learning.

My name’s David, and I’ve been studying foreign languages for close to 9 years now. I’ve taken language classes in high school, as well as studying on my own using various methods. As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m also on my way to India with the Critical Language Scholarship. In terms of languages I know in descending order: English is my native language; I’m pretty comfortable in Swedish and Norwegian, conversational in German, and I used to be conversational in Russian and Serbian, although those have atrophied quite a bit. I’ve also casually studied at least a dozen others, including Urdu, Japanese, and Egyptian Arabic. Perhaps not an impressive list from a polyglot standpoint, but enough that I feel qualified to write up this 101 style how to guide.

So, I think the first question that needs to be answered is “Which language should I learn?” The answer: whichever one you are passionate about. Don’t get swept up in whatever “sounds beautiful” or will be most useful. The most useful language is the one you know well. Say you want to learn a language so you can be more competitive for a job in business. Chinese, Hindi, and German are all obvious ones that come to mind. But what if none of those interest you? What if you’re really interested in learning about Cambodian culture, and would rather study Khmer instead? That’s totally okay. If you’re truly passionate about it, you’ll make quick strides and will develop fluency much more quickly. Fluent Khmer is better than phrasebook Chinese on your resume. The same rule applies if you’re just learning for personal reasons. When you learn a language, you’re really learning a culture. Languages don’t exist in a vacuum. Find a specific, concrete reason to learn a language. Don’t be discouraged if it’s a smaller language. Using the Khmer example from earlier (and I’m betting you probably didn’t even know Khmer was a language), Khmer has 16 million native speakers. Even though it’s a “small” language, there’s absolutely no way you’ll ever run out of people to talk to. If you’re willing to work hard enough, any language is an attainable goal.

Next post, I’ll dig deeper into some resources you can use to get started. In the future, I’ll also start talking about some tactics for learning quickly. Hope you enjoyed the post!

Thanks for reading! Are you multilingual? What made you decide to learn another language? Tell us about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share it via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!