In this post, I have gathered all the important aspects you have to look at when you are buying a language study book. I base this list on my personal experiences as a language self-learner (or autodidact as we are called). And trust me, when it comes to study books, I have seen the best and worst of them. 🤓
If you plan to learn a language on your own, you might feel that you are doomed to a failure because you don’t have a teacher. This however, is not true. A dedicated self-learner can learn a language better and faster than when you have to follow classes that progress just as fast as the slowest student in the class room. So ineffective! Then again, when you are studying on your own, you have to be cautious: a good study book will make you fluent in no time, while a bad one will never let you blossom. 🙄
The first thing to look at are the chapters of a text book. A chapter should be a rather lengthy one, at least one page. The first chapter might be a bit shorter, though, because it’s usually about greeting and introducing oneself. However, if the second chapter is short as well, you can already toss the book. Why? Because we learn language best when we see it in use, the words need a context. And longer chapters give us just that, samples of the language in use.
For each chapter, there has to be a vocabulary. If the book provides you with full translations of the chapters, toss the book. You cannot learn the meaning of each individual word nor the syntactic structures if you just compare the original text with its translation. 🤦🏼♂️
The next thing to look at requires a bit more dedicated reading. The vocabulary of each chapter has to contain all the new words introduced in the chapter. Also, there has to be more information than just the translation (note: this depends on the language you are studying). For example, don’t buy a French study book that just states that chien = dog. This is because in French, nouns have genders, and such information should also be present in the vocabulary: chien (m.) [ʃjɛ̃] = dog. The letters in brackets are IPA which are used to write how a word is pronounced. For some languages, the pronunciation is straightforward and IPA is not needed (e.g. Spanish, Finnish, Japanese) but for some you do need the IPA (e.g English, French). 🐶
Many books have exercises such as connect the words to their translations and crossword puzzles. These might be fun, but frankly you won’t learn a thing when you just copy the answers from the vocabulary. I am not saying that this type of exercises should be avoided at all costs. But I am saying that there has to be more. The best type of exercises are the ones in which you have to produce language yourself. These are usually translation exercises.
The most difficult thing to look at in exercises is the following. Exercises should always require you to know the grammar rules you have learned in previous chapters. If you are practicing subjunctive in Spanish, for example, the exercises should have some parts that force you to recall how to use the past tenses you learned six chapters ago as well. Also, take a look at the number of exercises, the more the better. 😊
Finding a good study book might be tedious, but it pays off! Once you have found one, you will sure master the language in no time. The most important study book is the first one you will use, the one that introduces you to the world of the new language. ☺️ You might also be interested in reading my previous post about tips for language self-study.