Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?
(As you can see, intensive language learning is taking its toll on me…)
People are always asking me which courses I use for my language learning projects, and what books I recommend, as if product choice is some huge determination in how successful you will be in learning your target language. What if it's really just throwing money at the problem?
The solution isn't to get as many courses as possible either – I ran a survey a while back, the results of which showed me that people who buy less materials are actually MORE successful in language learning!
Rather than spending time figuring out which courses work best for them, they just pick one, work with it and use it, while focusing much more on some kind of interaction with real natives (or native content) to improve their level. Your energy is better spent on doing something active with your language, not with your product/book research.
I've talked to language learners who do have vast libraries of language learning books, and they pretty much always tell me that most of the books have never been opened and do nothing but gather dust on their shelves and mock them for never having opened them.
In fact, I've made the same mistake myself once again and bought 7kg (over 15lb) of books for Japanese, and only ended up using a couple, after browsing through some for a few minutes and realizing they just aren't the right fit for me. It's why I wish more Amazon books implemented the digital browse feature, that you'd do in a physical bookshop, so you could test it out for 20 minutes, and then discard it if it doesn't feel right for you. Even if you read a raving review of how amazing a given book is, that says nothing about if it suits your style.
Stop hoarding stuff – focus on using the language with free or native materials
I am happy to say though, that as untouched as these books have remained over the last months, I have been putting effort into:
- Speaking on Skype every day and listening to streamed radio or podcasts, to get used to interacting with the language in a real way
- Studying Anki decks, and using Memrise consistently to increase my store of vocabulary outside of active interaction
- Finding that many online explanations (text or Youtube) of particular grammar or language features that I'm having trouble with, can explain them much better than even the most expensive book would.
And of course other ways of interacting with the language in some way that I tested briefly and confirmed works for me in the past.
Nearly all of these options are free or very affordable (my private Skype lessons with Japanese natives on italki are usually $5/hour!)
I definitely got some use out of books in this project, as I have in others, but having too many of them has been a distraction, and I shouldn't have bought so many. Ultimately just one or two actually made a difference (yes, I'll share my favourite Japanese resources later, but I hope you see that it's not the point of this post!)
Lucky for me, I don't have to worry about them mocking me for never really opening them more than once or twice because my minimalist lifestyle means that I have no choice but to get rid of them before I fly out of Spain in less than 2 weeks.
When I go to Japan in January, books weighing me down won't help me speak the language… total amount on receipts spent won't help me learn the language… having researched the one true best way to learn a language won't have helped me learn a language, and not even being in the country itself will help me learn the language. No – saying something, and doing something with my language will have ultimately helped me get something useful out of these last months.
Stop asking which books/courses you should buy, or what the best approach is. Research for an hour or two, and then experiment for a couple of days until you see something that produces results and then tweak it when problems arise. Get your head out of books, stop making this about studying and use your language now! 🙂