Today I’d like to talk about something that we’ve all probably experienced as language learners.
A lot of us – but not all – have the tendency to be resource collectors. We have hundreds of bookmarks in dozens of language learning books, but we have yet to actually work our way from cover to cover in any one of them.
I’m certainly guilty of this, and it’s not necessarily something you need to be ashamed of, but know that buying tons of language books only to let them collect dust on your shelves won’t do you any good.
You need to use the resources you have at your disposal and even if certain resources aren’t the “best” for you, there’s definitely a way to make almost any language learning tool help you work towards your goals.
It’s All About How You Use the Resources at Your Disposal
We all go through that phase – you know the one – where we start to pick up a language learning resource, but set it down after only a few lessons. Maybe it’s because we’re bored or it might even be because we’ve become disenchanted with the method.
But no matter the reason we decide to stop using a resource, it usually doesn’t happen right away.
We always start out with the best of intentions, doing a lesson or two out of the book as often as time permits. But then the novelty wears off, other things seem more shiny and new and exciting, and so you visit the resource you were working with less often.
As we continue to lose momentum, we begin to work through fewer pages of the book, or get distracted after only a few minutes of a podcast.
Suddenly, it feels as though we aren’t making any progress.
After a couple weeks, we decide that maybe this book isn’t working for us. So, we pick up another.
But then the same thing happens.
We then try one more time. But that book doesn’t seem to be the right language learning method either.
At this point, it’s normal to feel frustrated. You might even feel like, “this language learning thing isn’t for me.”
But that might not be the case at all!
“Shannon,” you say, “I haven’t found a single language learning resource that works for me despite all these other language learnings raving about the books that I’ve tried. It must mean that I don’t have a knack for language learning!”
And do you know what I’ll tell you?
“Nonsense,” is what I’ll tell you.
There are so many different language learning resources and methods out there on the market right now that I’m tempted to tell you that you haven’t tried looking hard enough to find the right thing. Trying out one or two books isn’t enough because maybe books aren’t what is going to work for you. Maybe you’d learn better using a Youtube video series or an audio podcast. The point is, there’s bound to be something out there that will work with you if you put a little work into it, too.
Give a little, get a little.
There’s no one resource that will seamlessly teach you a language. You need to put the hours in.
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It’s all about trying different language learning methods and seeing which sticks. But the point is: you have to try them!
Or maybe, it’s that you don’t know where to look. If this is the case, try working through this list of 60+ resources I’ve put together.
Or it might even be that your language learning goals aren’t clear enough and so you lack direction. Maybe you don’t know how to really use the resources at your disposal to get you where you want to be because you don’t know where that is.
Either way, there is something out there that is the right fit for you, even if it takes a little work on your part to make it the right fit. You might just need a little help from a shoehorn to squeeze yourself into it, but that doesn’t mean the shoe doesn’t fit.
So how you can make the language learning tools you already have work for you?
1) set clear language learning goals
The more specific your goals are, the more likely you are to achieve them. It’s great that you want to learn to speak ____ language fluently, but that’s a really vague goal that’s nearly impossible to measure.
“Fluent” is a difficult word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Spend the time to really sit down and think about just what it is that you want to get out of learning a language.
Do you want to be able to talk with family? Negotiate business deals? Navigate your way through a country with a language different than your own on an upcoming trip? Chat with people around the world online? Watch a television show or read a book in its original language?
Each of the above goals require unique study approaches and there are as many different reasons to learn a language as there are to go about studying one. Once you figure out what you want to do, it becomes a lot easier to map out what you need to do to accomplish your goals, and in turn, a lot more possible to get to the point where you can clear “learn _______ language” from your goal list.
2) work through an entire resource (or as much of it as you can stand)
If you keep starting over with new resources, you’re going to keep repeating the same beginning stage over and over each time you pick up something different. You won’t continue to progress in the language you’re learning. Rather, you’ll just review material that you’ve already learnt.
It’s okay to experiment with a few different learning tools, but you need to learn when to say enough is enough. If you spend more than the first month of your learning toying around with different books and strategies, then I would say you aren’t using your time wisely. Find something that works well enough for your learning style – there will never be an absolutely perfect resource out there – and stick with it.
I recommend resources that are both audio and text based like Assimil or the Colloquial series from Routledge to start out. Once you’ve had a bit of an introduction, you can expand out into using other resources, but I’d still stick with your original course book. It guarantees that you’ll keep advancing in the language.
3) study actively
Takes notes. Do the exercises. Read aloud. Listen to the accompanying audio while reading along in the book. Then listen to it again without the text in front of you.
Get creative with the ways you use the resources you already have. You’ll get more out of them by actively getting into them than you will by just motoring through them.
4) look for more information on the things you don’t understand
Not every resource is perfect at explaining every grammatical point or various uses of different words. If you find that your stuck at any point with a certain resource, look for more information on the aspects of the language that you don’t understand.
With the wealth of information available to us online, there’s a good chance that you’ll find more information on the subject that you’re stuck on. There’s also a really good chance that someone else has struggled with the same thing you’re struggling with now, so language forums can be a really great place to look. They’re also an awesome place to get support and connect with other language learners.
However, once you find the information you need, it’s important to return to the resource you were originally using and to avoid getting sucked into the endless abyss that is the Internet. It’s easy to get distracted by other tools or videos in the side column on Youtube and lose the momentum you had studying just a moment before. If you jump online (or over to another resource) to resolve a problem you’re having, find your answer and then close your browser. It’s important to stay focused!
5) seek ways to work on the aspects of language learning that aren’t covered by the resource you’re using
If the language learning tool you are using is audio based, look for another resource to supplement your studies with some reading and writing practice. Certain podcasts (and even Pimsleur) have transcriptions and supplemental guides to help you get rolling, but you can also try out a tool like Memrise just so you can get used to seeing the words in your target language.
If it’s text based, look for a way to work on your speaking and comprehension. There are websites where you can upload text and have it read to you by a native speaker, there’s also Lang-8 where you can have your text corrected by a native speaker, and HelloTalk where you can do text or audio language exchanges.
6) put what you learn into practice
To really level up your language learning and the work you’re doing with a certain resource, put what you’re studying into practice. Go out and practice the material in your course book or podcast with a native speaker (or fellow language learner). It will help you truly ingrain the material that you’re learning and make it your own.
While I think it’s important to work with a variety of resources to make sure that you’re getting a well-rounded language learning experience, I also think it’s important to work through the resources you’re using as fully as possible. Language learning resources are structured to help you progress through the language you’re studying in a natural way, and you’ll only get to the next level if you continue to challenge yourself with more advanced aspects of the language that you’re learning (rather than by working through the first chapter or two of several different books where you’re only reviewing what you already know).
If you really make a point of actively and thoroughly working with the resources that you already own (or that are available to you), you’ll find that you can make almost any resource work for you.
There may be resources out there that may work better for you than others, but as language learners, we need to take the responsibility of what we do as learners into our hands. Rather than relying on the tools we use to teach us a language, we need to more actively engage with the resources that we have to really learn a language. When we take responsibility for our learning – rather than making the book or resource responsible for it – we become better students and in result, have more effective language learning experiences.
That being said, if a resource really isn’t working for you, that’s okay, too. You don’t have to force it. Just don’t spend too much time playing around with dozens of language learning tools. You’ll only hold yourself back. Find something that works well enough and then stick with it. Don’t let the endless search for something newer or better keep you from moving forward with your language study!
What language resources have you found to really work for you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!