You’ve decided to learn a new language. Now the next question is, what resources are you going to use? In this article we compare the most popular learning resources for independent language learners.
What makes learning materials useful?
We think that you need to find good learning materials that teach you the most important words and phrases first. Learning from books that teach you difficult words and tricky grammar can be overwhelming, frustrating and time consuming, so don’t do that!
Instead: Learn the first things first!
Learning first things first is the key to quick progress in your new language.
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) basically states that you get 80% of the results from 20% of the work. This principle can be applicable in language learning as well.
Languages contain hundreds of thousands of words but only a fraction of them are used on a daily basis by native speakers and only a fraction of THOSE are words that you need for your first conversations.
Your first conversations in a new language will always be the same;
‘’What’s your name?’’, ‘’Where are you from?’’, ‘’What do you do here?’’, ‘’Do you live here?’’, ‘’For how long have you studied…..?’’.
To create your first sentences you need words like; I, you, to like, can, to do, today, to want, to be, expensive, big etc.
You will be surprised by how many things you will be able to say by knowing only 200 words and knowing how to use them. Of course your speech will be limited, but it’s a great way to start!
In order to help you to choose the resources to start your language learning journey with, we have made a list for you with reviews of some of the popular language learning materials.
The words do not in most cases include example sentences, word-by-word translations, audio and grammar notes. It’s almost like learning words from a dictionary and we won’t recommend anyone to do this as there are more effective ways to study.
Price: $0 Our rating: 1 / 5 *
They do include a few useful phrases but we think most of what they teach you is irrelevant for beginners. Phrasebooks often focus on very specific situations like that are useful if you’re traveling in the country (like repairing a car or visiting the doctor), but they fail to focus on the social interactions you are the most likely to encounter.
We believe that reaching a comfortable level in social interactions is the first step in successfully learning a language. Once you reach basic fluency it becomes easier to remember advanced words that you need for those specific situations.
You can learn useful words and phrases from a phrasebook but we find most of the content unuseful and we therefore do not consider them to be an effective resource.
Assimil language courses (books + audio) are very popular in Europe. They are also used by many accomplished polyglots. They come with interesting dialogues and good exercises. The quality of the courses varies as the content for each language is unique.
The dialogues are fun, and for some languages they also come with word-by-word (literal) translations, which helps you to understand how the language is constructed and what each individual word means.
Unfortunately they tend to include too many advanced words and phrases in the beginning. This can be overwhelming for a beginner and we would rather spend our time on learning easier and more useful words.
However, overall we think they do a good job. We use Assimil ourselves in addition to other materials and speaking sessions. We also recommend Assimil to our students.
Another method is to ask native speakers to translate words and phrases for you that you want to learn.
However, this can be very time consuming and costly. Besides, you might not have a very clear idea about what you want them to translate in order to learn unless you have already learned many languages in the past. Therefore, this won’t be the best option for most people.
Price: 100$ + Our rating: 2 / 5 *
Duolingo is a free language learning app that offers lessons for more than 16 languages now. It’s very easy to use the platform and it is nicely designed.
Jan studied Italian with DuoLingo until level 8. He found it a waste of time as he had to learn unuseful words for beginners such as, for example: skirt, socks, elephant, fork, bird, butter etc. You can learn hundreds of words like this but in the end you won’t be able to hold a decent conversation because you simply won’t need those words in your first conversations.
And if you are in a supermarket abroad and you need butter but you don’t know how to say it, then you can just look it up on your smartphone. You don’t need these words in order to become conversational.
So instead, we would focus on essential words that you need in order to make sentences like: to be, to have, to go, I, you, now, today, to speak, where etc.
DuoLingo also focuses a lot on writing which we don’t think is a very effective way of learning as a beginner. The focus should be on how to SPEAK the language first.
When you learned your native language you probably learned how to speak first and only when you could speak the language already you learned how to write. So why focus on writing first now?
They do teach you a few useful words but overall I find it a very ineffective way to start. The gamification is great though, it’s very interactive and it’s also free. You might try DuoLingo as it’s fun to use but don’t expect exceptional results.
We have never heard of an accomplished polyglot that uses Duolingo as their main resource but it can be fun way to experiment a bit with the language.
Michel Thomas was a polyglot and linguist who mastered ten languages. He became famous for teaching Hollywood stars, politicians and business leaders in the US using the method which he developed by himself; the Michel Thomas Method.
The Michel Thomas method focuses on audio input. You don’t need any books, they say that you should just relax and listen. We love Michel Thomas as he really builds it up. In his courses he teaches you the basics of the language step-by-step. You do not only learn basic vocabulary but you also learn how to use new words and grammar structures straight away.
The “virtual” classroom situation on the recording lets you learn with others. You, as the learner, become the third student and participate actively in the class.
The content of their courses is limited so you won’t learn to use a large amount of vocabulary.
The original courses don’t come with books which is a pity. We think it’s always better to hear AND see words. The more associations you get with a word, the easier it will be to memorize it.
Recently they announced on their website that their new courses come with interactive exercises on your PC as well though.
Overall though, we find the Michel Thomas courses to be some of the best resources for beginners to get started with!
Glossika is a language course developed by polyglot Mike Campbell. The course consists of 3000 sentences + audio in English and the translations in your target language. At the beginning the sentences are easy and short while more advanced vocabulary and grammar features are introduced as the course goes on.
Glossika makes use of spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned words and sentences.
We highly recommend Glossika for those who already have a basic understanding of the target language and want to become better (and faster) at making sentences.
This course of exciting PDF’s + audio has been specially designed for the purpose of teaching the first things first.
In this chapter we have mentioned a few good resources that you can use to learn another language but there are still a few issues with most of the resources that are out there at the moment.
– Many resources teach you words and phrases that are difficult for beginners.
– Many resources teach words and phrases that are notuseful for beginners.
Trying to learn difficult words that you don’t need at the beginners stage can be very frustrating and above all, a waste of time!
Therefore we’ve created a course which makes use of the Pareto principle (80-20 rule). We focus on the most important words and phrases that you need in order to hold conversations in your new language as soon as possible.
It’s the only resource out there in which you will learn the most important words in context with the aid of images, word by word translations, grammar notes and native audio.
The downside of the course?
Let’s be honest, we developed this course ourselves so let’s mention the downsides as well.
VocaBooster isn’t as interactive as DuoLingo.
It’s a course for serious language learners who have learned a language successfully already.
The course works better for those who speak a similar language already.
You won’t learn how to speak the language just with this course. You will also need speaking practice with a tutor to learn how to use what you’ve learned well.
If you are not sure if VocaBooster is the best choice for you, just click here, download our FREE samples and test it yourself!
Price: 59 $ Rating: 4 / 5 *
BONUS: How to study with Anki Flashcards
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