No matter what you are using to help you in learning a language, you are most likely going to pick up a book during the process. There are a number of types of books you may use, and among those, the quality will vary greatly.
If you are studying by taking a course with other people or even having a personal tutor, you are probably going to be using a textbook. Textbooks are usually the most formal types of books you could use because they are designed to be used by teachers in a professional capacity. They are also usually considered to be the most boring, since it is their job to present you with the information. It is the role of the teacher to explain further what they are telling you and make it interesting.
Textbooks are broken into many lessons with each lesson divided further into rules, examples, and exercises. A teacher would go over the lesson with the students during the class, work some of the examples with them, then assign them some of the exercises to be done by the students outside the classroom. These exercises might be collected later and graded by the teacher, adding to the overall grade for each student for the language course.
Textbooks are also usually very expensive, compared to other learning books, because a student is forced to buy specific books for a course and can't choose a cheaper one. Everyone uses the same textbook for the course.
While studying a language, you are most probably going to pick up some kind of book or printed material to aid you.
The most common kind of book used for self-study is a "teach yourself" book. These books are aimed at the individual reader and will try to make the content easy and interesting, since it now has to be both the teacher and the source of information. The method the books uses will vary between series. Some may focus on teaching by using conversations, another by using readings, and others might focus entirely on grammar as the primary format. In general, these books will offer rules, examples and exercises, like a textbook does, but in a more entertaining and informal way. We will look at a few of these common series.
One of the most common and most successful series is the Teach Yourself one. The name is sometimes confusing, since people refer to the entire kind of book as "teach yourself", so the title is often shortened to "TY". These books have been around for decades. The modern variety are large paperbacks and may have accompanying grammar books and dictionaries. They may also have an audio aspect in the form of cassettes or CDs.
The common format for these lessons is to start with a conversation along with vocabulary for the newest words and phrases used in the dialogue. Some simple questions might be asked for the reader to make them think about what they read. The lesson will then give grammar explanations of some parts of the conversation, followed by another conversation or some exercises. The answers to the exercises are given in the back of the book. There may also be a reading to help the learner practice their new vocabulary and grammar understanding.
These books are popular for their simple approach using situations backed up by grammar rules. The books also will usually contain simple line drawings to represent some things. They are a good size for travel as well, being larger than "pocket size" but not the burden of a full-sized textbook.
Made Simple Books
The Made Simple series is like a teach yourself / textbook hybrid. These books are paperback and textbook sized, but thinner than a normal textbook. They are titled with the name of the language, like "Italian Made Simple", but there are Made Simple books for many other subjects.
The language branch of these books are similar to the Teach Yourself series in their method, using a conversation or reading followed by vocabulary, grammar explanations and exercises. However, they present the material flatly, without really trying to engage the reader. They could probably be considered the "lite" version of a textbook, being much cheaper, which makes them popular among students who want the textbook approach without the textbook price.
Berlitz is one of the big names in languages, providing products such as teach yourself books, audio courses, full classroom courses, software and phrasebooks. It is their phrasebooks which are perhaps the best known product, being both very concise as well as colourful.
The Berlitz self-teaching books focus more on vocabulary and phrase learning, giving only a few grammar rules and questions. They also have a small dictionary in the back. This format is used because the Berlitz line of products are aimed mainly at the travel aspect of languages. They are the books you would pick up when you are planning to travel to another country and want to learn enough to get around, not necessarily to become fluent.
If you are using a grammar book as your main source of self-study, then a dictionary becomes essential.
The Living Language series is essentially a grammar guide with phrases and audio. The normal setup is to have one book being the "conversational manual", which teaches the grammar and phrases and another book being the "common usage dictionary". Cassettes or CDs are likely to come with these to provide the student with an audio to go along with the readings. The books also contain exercises. These books are probably the thinnest among the series discussed here, perhaps relying more on the audio to help guide the student, although one might wonder which is supposed to be supplementing the other. Living Language also produces online courses and apps.
There is a variety of self-study books I called "promising books". These are the kind that claim you will learn a language within a given amount of time or in a certain way. Such titles are Hindustani in Three Months, German in 32 Lessons and Japanese in 10 Minutes A Day. These books are promising the reader they will reach their goal (whatever that may be) within a given amount of time as long as they adhere to the methods given. The major problem with this approach is that it almost certainly will damage your self-esteem. While you may start using one of these books believing it will do just as it promises you, when you fail to master the language in the given time, you will feel like you have failed. These titles are made specifically to sell the book, not to teach you the language.
These books will use all kinds of methods of presenting the material, often claiming they have found a "new" and "advanced" method that will allow you to succeed as they promise. They are also the books you are most likely to see being ridiculed in the media by expanding what is to be learned while minimizing the time given, such as "Mastering Ancient Tibetan in 39 Seconds".
Young woman studying a phrasebook while traveling.
Believe it or not, phrasebooks are often used as self-study books because they present the reader with the essentials they will need for basic things while traveling as well as providing them with some pronunciation guides and vocabulary. For many, that is all they are trying to achieve in the language, not requiring full fluency. If they are going to be staying in another country for a long period of time, these books can provide the bridge to a natural immersion that they can't get from any book
For these reasons, some of the series we mentioned above, like Berlitz and Living Language, focus much more on learning phrases than grammar. There are also a large number of books that sound like they will be self-study books but are actually basic phrasebooks, and they are often not even good phrasebooks.
Italian in a Nutshell sounds like a it would be a good course book, but it is really a thin paperback which gives a pronunciation guide to the alphabet, a paragraph on sentence structure, then vocabulary and phrases for many situations. Pronunciation guides accompany all the phrases. At the end, there is some grammar, focusing mainly on forming verbs, then a short dictionary. It is pocket sized and obviously made for travellers.
Let's Study Japanese is a basic phrasebook with simple line drawings. There is no attempt to teach you grammar or even the alphabet, since everything is romanized. It has some "exercises" which are just phrases with blanks, no answers. At the end is a very small dictionary which is basically useless.
Just Enough Serbo-Croat is little better. It is all just phrases and vocabulary lists with basic pronunciation guides. At the end are eight pages of "Notes on the language".
Say It In Dutch is the same as the Just Enough books, except without the final pages of notes. Out of all of these books, only this one tells you it is a phrasebook. The others want to leave you with the impression that they will actually be teaching you something.
If you are wanting to get a phrasebook for learning or as a refresher, you are probably going to get the most out of the Berlitz series. They are the among the most compact and concise, providing the reader with colour coded sections, a large variety of phrases (usually having pronunciation guides) and vocabulary lists.
|Language Learning Methods - Books|
All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.
|Letter From The Editor - Truth in Advertising|
|Linear A & Linear B - Lost Minoan|
|Edward Sapir - Patterns of Language|
|At the Cinema - Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner|
|Word on the Streets - Norwegian Notables|
|Where Are You?|
|Celebrations - Valentine's Day|
|Languages in Peril - The Rhaeto-Romance Trio|
|Revisited - Proverbs|
|Linguistics Love Song|
|Language Learning Methods - Books|
|Sections - Recordings|
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Letter From The Editor - Nom de Plume • News Brief • Mark Your Calendar • Language Learning In The Globalization Era: - Translation, Culture And Power Relations • When Pigs Fly • Introducing Words R Us • Languages in Peril - The Good Language of Brazil • In Focus • At the Cinema - Un Sac de Billes • Language Puzzles • Where Are You? • Book Look - Aikainen lintu nappaa madon. Sananlaskuja läheltä ja kaukaa • Basic Guide to Croatian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - No Politics • Make Your Own Language Group • A History of Research in Study Abroad • Parrot Time on Patreon • Languages in Peril - Sayonara, Ainu • At the Cinema - La Coppia dei Campioni • Where Are You? • Book Look - The Bible of the Language Learners and Polyglots • Basic Guide to Romanian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Hope and Failing • Six Ways To Choose Which Languages To Learn • Learning Spanish - The trials, the tribulations and one triumphant learning hack • At the Cinema - The Last King (Birkebeinerne) • Celebrations - Birkebeinerrennet • Where Are You? • Book Look - Langenscheidt Dictionaries • Basic Guide to Swedish • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Culture and Language, Again • Learning A Language Is Learning Its Culture • Revisited - Early Bardic Literature in Ireland • Languages in Peril - Save Medan Hokkien! • In Others' Words - Ulrike and Peter Rettig • At the Cinema - Monster Hunt • Where Are You? • Book Look - Language Alter Ego • Basic Guide to Italian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - A Kind Word • Language and Power: The Hidden Struggle • 4 Ways To Learn Through Reading • Language Learning is for everyone! • Languages in Peril - The Decline of Sicilian • At the Cinema - The Host • Where Are You? • Book Look - Italian Short Stories for Beginners • Basic Guide to Hungarian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Making it Happen • Motivation - Expressing oneself and the expression of oneself in language learning • Motivation Killers in Learning a Language • Mixing Languages and Relationships • In Others' Words - Brian Powers • At the Cinema - Cutting Room Floor • Languages in Peril - Cyprus' Language Revival Approach Problem • Where Are You? • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - The Importance of Travel • Broadening The Mind Travels The World • The Secret Life of Diacritics • There Are No Wrong And Right Gestures, Only Cultural Differences • Google Translate Exposed: - The Truth Behind Everyone's Favorite Translator • At the Cinema - Queen • Book Look - The A to Z of Learning German • Where Are You? • Basic Guide to Papiamentu • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Free Things • The Cost of Free Language Resources • Review of Polyglot Workshops: Brazil • Easier Way to Learn Languages Fast • Dream, decide, do - tips from a polyglot • At the Cinema - Cambio de Ruta • Languages in Peril - Talysh • Where Are You? • App Rev - Tandem • Book Look - Language Master Key • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Studying in Summer • Polyglot Events All Around The World - You Are Not Alone • Playing Games with Language • Spanish E-training – The 'Big Bang' Investment • Can a Language Die? • At the Cinema - La Casa del Fin de los Tiempos • Languages in Peril - Scottish Gaelic • Words in Your Mouth - Apple • Celebrations - Nag Panchami • Where Are You? • Book Look - Fluency Made Achievable: The Fluent Guide to Core Language Skills • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Sounds Like • How Do You Say It? - A look at sound notation systems • Of Pidgins and Creoles - A look at how some languages are born • Who Are You To Learn A Language? • At the Cinema - Dil Chahta Hai • Languages in Peril - Yumans on the Edge • Words in Your Mouth - Egg • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Breaking with Tradition • Are You Wasting Your Money on Language Classes? • Chatting in Languages Online - Part 2: Voice Chats • Why English Is Different Than Any Other Language • The Digital Language Collective • At the Cinema - Viva La Libertà • Languages in Peril - The Tribes of the Tamil-Kannada • Words in Your Mouth - Rice • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Thirteen • Chatting in Languages Online - Part 1: Text Chats • Why Do People Learn Languages? • The Question Of Practice - An International Language Is Possible • At the Cinema - Chinese Puzzle • Celebrations - Fastelavn • Words in Your Mouth - Cheese • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Over Time • Which Language Is...? • The Ultimate Fate of Language Learning • 5 Funny Words In Afrikaans From My Perspective • At the Cinema - Everybody's Famous! • Word on the Streets - Why Writers are Important • Words in Your Mouth - Milk • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - World Ambassadors • Coming Home to Faroese - The Why and How of Learning a Small Language • Danish and Faroese: A Biography • At the Cinema - Ludo • Basic Guide to Faroese • Celebrations - The Faroese Festival Summer • Revisted - The Faroe Islands • Word on the Streets - Famous Faroe Islanders • Where Are You? • The Grind: Why the Faroese Hunt Whales • The Legend of the Scottish Princess • Faroese Ballads - Nornagest Ríma and Ormurin Langi
Letter From The Editor - Expansion • Religion in Culture • Languages in Peril - Decline of the Gallo-Italics • Language Learning and Translation • Word on the Streets - Italian Greats • Book Look • At the Cinema - Xingu • Celebrations - Hangul Day • Where Are You? • Words in Your Mouth - Bread
Letter From The Editor - Tracing Words • Constructed Languages - Making It All Up • Language Conflicts - Flemish vs. Walloon • Rohonc Codex - Hungarian Enigma • At the Cinema - Il Comandante e la Cicogna - Garibaldi's Lovers • Where Are You? • Words in Your Mouth - Sausage • Book Look • GlobTech - Using Locale
Letter From The Editor - Globalization • Speaking with Aliens • Celebrations - Esala Perahera - The Festival of the Tooth • Language Conflicts - Bokmål vs. Nynorsk • At the Cinema - Pane e Tulipani - Bread and Tulips • Revisited - Words Which Have Changed Their Meaning • Languages in Peril - Keeping Up With The Kartvelians • Where Are You? • Sections - Reviews • Word on the Streets - Indonesian Innovators • GlobTech - Google Translate Section
Letter From The Editor - The Highlander Condition • When Languages Meet • At the Cinema - Mal Día Para Pescar - Bad Day to Go Fishing • Celebrations - Tanabata - The Star Festival • Languages in Peril - The Romanian Relatives • Revisited - Words Made By Great Writers • Where Are You? • Language Learning Methods - Immersion • Sections - Links
Letter From The Editor - Price of Fame • Liber Linteus - Mummified Language • Pencak Silat • At the Cinema - Bombay • Celebrations - Inti Raymi - Festival of the Sun • Cracking the Code • Languages in Peril - The Chibchan Family • Revisited - Words From The Names Of Animals • Word on the Streets - Great German Authors • Where Are You? • Language Learning Methods - Internet • Sections - Neighborhood
Letter From The Editor - Why Polynesian? • Rongorongo - Island Chants • Otto Dempwolff - Islands of Language • At the Cinema - Whale Rider • Celebrations - Pasifika Festival • Special Feature - Avoiuli • Languages in Peril - The Island Invasion • Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui's Home • Word on the Streets - Malay Masters • Where Are You? • Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui Snaring the Sun
Letter From The Editor - Linguist or Polyglot • The Phaistos Disc - Puzzle of Crete • Otto Jespersen - Progress of Language • At the Cinema - Kukushka - The Cuckoo • Celebrations - Carnival • Languages in Peril - The Salish Tragedy • Word on the Streets - Kannada Writers • Where Are You? • Revisited - Stories In The Names Of Places • New Souls • Language Learning Methods - Software • Sections - Parleremo YouTube
Letter From The Editor - Freaking Out • The Voynich Script - Cryptic Codex • Benjamin Whorf - Relativity of Language • At the Cinema - Lost in Translation • Languages in Peril - The Polish Connection • Word on the Streets - Romanian Poets • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Holi • A Language Dream • Revisited - Words From National Character • Language Learning Methods - Classes • Sections - Language Exchange
Letter From The Editor - Truth in Advertising • Linear A & Linear B - Lost Minoan • Edward Sapir - Patterns of Language • At the Cinema - Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner • Word on the Streets - Norwegian Notables • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Valentine's Day • Languages in Peril - The Rhaeto-Romance Trio • Revisited - Proverbs • Linguistics Love Song • Language Learning Methods - Books • Sections - Recordings
Letter From The Editor - A New Parrot Time • The Rosetta Stone - Triple Cypher • Ferdinand de Saussure - Signs of Language • At the Cinema - L'auberge Espagnole • Languages in Peril - The Finno-Ugrics • Word on the Streets - The Russian Zone • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Day of the Dead • Revisited - Slang • We Are The Linguists • Language Learning Methods - Audio • Sections - Journals
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