I’ve been noticing that we’ve got several people either currently learning a language or thinking about starting to learn a language, both formally and informally. Learning a language without formal classes can be tricky, and keeping it fun and staying motivated can be hard. So as someone who’s been on the language journey for 15ish years now, I figured it might be nice to have a place to share resources and encourage each other!
So to kick it off: My native language is English (American), and I also speak Chinese (Mandarin). I’m tryin’ my best to learn French, and I’ll do an occasional lesson of Gaelic too. For each of these languages, I have differing levels of resource suggestions…so:
Starting with Gaelic: Duolingo (I know…groundbreaking)! This one is tricky because I don’t know anyone personally that speaks it and I don’t think there are any resources in the language department here. I did a project on Gaelic way way waaaaay back in middle school, where I looked at textbooks and dictionaries for words, grammar, and basic pronounciation. It’s a little better now with Duolingo, but I find the lessons on the app a bit sparse in the features that would be most helpful. There isn’t audio for all of the words in the lessons, and I find that I don’t predict the pronounciations very well yet. Also, I’m pretty sure there’s no speaking questions yet, so I’m sure my accent is trash. I keep hoping they bulk this out a little more on the app, but for now that’s the situation.
French: I started self-studying French to prepare for a trip in 2016. Initially, I started with a textbook, but at the time I really needed to be able to build my listening comprehension quickly so…surprise, more Duolingo! This course is pretty built up, with a more complete audio library and speaking questions. I’ve used Duolingo on and off since then, but I’ve also branched out to other media. I listen to music in French occasionally, and it’s pretty easy to find YouTube videos in French. In particular, I love Shut Up and Go - they primarily do content in English, but will do videos in any language they’re learning (so far I think that covers Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, and maybe German?). I also have a friend who speaks French who will
overwhelm me with write to me in French every once and a while. I’ve also picked up a couple books/magazines at different difficulty levels to start reading.
Chinese: The big one! And also the only one that I’ve had formal language classes for! I’ve had textbooks from probably 5 different publishers and I’ve figured some things out about what to look for in a textbook if you’re self-studying.
- Something that comes with a separate workbook! This was standard with every textbook that I was assigned, so maybe that’s just A Thing, but it really helped to have as much practice material as possible
- Textbooks designed to “build fluency” or that have a focus on conversation. I’ve had textbooks that were structured really well for a class but the lessons were on topics that weren’t practical for outside-the-classroom. I’ve also had really fantastic books, where the goal is preparing you to speak with real live native speakers. The topics were more practical and there was more vocabulary included, but we still got to the complex grammar patterns too.
- Something with additional media - audio, documentary/drama clips, etc. I had one textbook where the publisher produced essentially a TV series that followed along with the book. The characters encountered situations that would introduce the new vocabulary naturally, and the grammar patterns would subtly show up as the show progressed. It was really well done and was probably the most helpful tool to build natural language skills.
Other than that, it’s mostly finding ways to get authentic examples of the language. Sometimes I’ll look for news and articles in my target languages, or watch TV shows (with subtitles, but the goal of looking at them as little as possible). I am also a huge advocate for getting real life conversation experience. Look for community centers or university departments that host casual language practice hours and try to make it a part of your schedule. If not, there are language buddy apps where you can send audio messages - I’ve used HelloTalk in the past. It’s a little more hit-or-miss, but it’s better than nothing.
So language learners…what’s worked for you? Do you have tips or books or resources that you swear by?