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Language Learning Books


  10:54:49 am, by Nimble   , 464 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Languages

Language Learning Books

I love languages. I love learning languages. So it will come as no surprise that I own quite a few language-learning books.

It's a very uneven field of quality and helpfulness out there. Sometimes you can weed them out by thumbing through them in the stores, sometimes it's a book-and-tape-only combination that you have to take a chance on, and sometimes, you only find out about the problems when you've gone a few chapters into the books.

Even having one good language book in a series doesn't guarantee others by that company will be good. The "Teach Yourself Language Complete Courses" (e.g. Teach Yourself Swahili) are all over the board - some excellent, some astoundingly lacking).

There is, however, often a common "philosophy" that each group has. Hugo, one of my favourites (I actually finished one of their coursebooks - a total rarity for me!), has a relatively simplistic-looking well-paced style that is easy to read if you know your grammar. Living Language actually has a couple of series/philosophies. They have small books which are intense drills through the language (the Japanese book is quite good, although it is completely romanized, i.e. spelled out with English letters and no Japanese characters), and their new Ultimate series which are bigger books, an easier pace with tables, cultural notes, and good rules-of-thumb in them.

One of the biggest complaints I have about language books in general is their lack of quality assurance. Specifically, missing definitions. Sometimes it's only that the mini-dictionaries at the back don't have the words in question (which is annoying in itself), but sometimes, there are words which simply aren't defined. Often, you will get the sense that the book wasn't even tried out on new language learners before it was published.

Sometimes, books take the training wheels away too quickly. Books on learning Hindi-and-area languages really take the cake on this. Romanized equivalents of words are really helpful for language learners, especially when there are ambiguous-looking words. Apparently, you are supposed to have memorized the 100+ 'no-vowel-between' character combinations.

Sometimes, books are sold separately from the audio (which is great by me, because I hardly have a working cassette player in the house... why is it that cassettes are still the de facto standard for language books??), but they are written in such a manner that they require them. Thanks a lot. Particularly nasty when they make no attempt at a pronuncation guide (hello, Teach Yourself Vietnamese!).

My favourite particular volumes (some of which may not exist any more):

  • Hugo: Dutch in Three Months by Jane Fenhoulhet
  • Teach Yourself Spanish by Juan Kattan Ibarra
  • Teach Yourself Arabic - I've forgotten the author, but their description of the pronunciation of ":" (as it is romanized), is priceless
  • Living Language Japanese
  • Living Language Ultimate Russian (Beginner-Intermediate)

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