If you are serious about learning a new language, there are plenty of self-study books out there that will help you with your studies. Here are some useful tips on how to find the best language self-study books for your level:
Self-study language books
Self-study is one of the most effective ways to learn a language. But how do you know if a particular book will help you? Generally, self-study books come in two flavors: grammar books and phrase books.
Either type can be useful, but they are quite different in what they offer. Here’s how to pick the right type of book for you.
Which type of self-study book?
A self-study grammar book will help you structure your new language. It’ll contain tables of all the verbs, tenses, and other forms of the language.
It might also contain mini-tutorials on the language’s major features and quirks; for example, German articles don’t have a fixed form and must be learned for each noun separately.
Self-study phrasebooks are designed to help you communicate in your new language. They contain common expressions and basic phrases, as well as pronunciation notes.
Self-study books can be useful if they’re carefully chosen. But they can also be a trap if you don’t pick the right sort of book. Here’s how to ensure you get the most out of your self-study efforts.
A good grammar book
A good grammar book will focus on the language’s major features. It will be written for learners and try to explain the major quirks and unusual features of your language.
It will not just list forms. Instead, it will explain why those forms are used and what they are used for. A good grammar book will also contain exercises that allow you to use the grammar you’ve learned in realistic contexts.
It will encourage you to apply what you’ve learned to new situations and won’t just quiz you on the language’s rules. A good grammar book will also be up to date.
Languages are always changing, and their grammar evolves. A grammar book that focuses on the grammar of the 1980s is not likely to be helpful in the 21st century.
A bad grammar book
A bad grammar book will list forms and rules without really explaining them. It’ll be written for students who are just learning the language and won’t make any effort to be helpful to someone who already knows another language.
A bad grammar book will be a translation table and a list of rules. And it will be easy to get the wrong impression from a translation table.
You might think that “Bonjour” means “Hello” when it means “Good day”. A bad grammar book will also have no exercises or other interactive features.
It might contain a few short sentences for you to translate from your new language into your native one. But that’s about it.
A good phrasebook
A good phrasebook will be carefully selected to include only the most common and useful language expressions. It will focus on the words and expressions you are most likely to need when traveling or communicating with natives of your new language.
A good phrase book will also be organized to make it easy to find the expressions you need. It might list the expressions by the situation where you are likely to use them or by the people you are likely to talk to (e.g. taxi drivers, hotel staff, etc.).
While a bad phrase book will be a random collection of expressions and words, haphazardly organized. It will be full of expressions you are very unlikely to need and include very few of the expressions you need.
A bad phrase book might list expressions by the situation but will include very few of the expressions relevant to the situations you are likely to encounter. It will also contain dubious or outdated expressions.
It will include expressions that are no longer used or have changed their meaning.
What to look for in a good self-study language book
A good self-study book will be written for actual learners. It will focus on the main features of the language and not just the grammar rules.
It will not be written for students who want to take an exam and have very different needs. A good self-study book will be up to date.
Languages change over time, and an old textbook will not likely be helpful. A good self-study book will also be based on real-life situations.
Most textbooks, by their nature, focus on language used in schools or books. Actual conversation, however, differs in several ways.
How to use a dictionary and a self-study book together
When you read a dictionary, you effectively read a self-study book in miniature. You’re reading about the words and phrases in your new language as if they were in a book.
To get the most out of your dictionary and your self-study book, you should use them together. When you come across a word or phrase in your self-study book that you don’t understand, you can then look it up in your dictionary.
Words and expressions to look up in lexicography
If you’re using a dictionary, there are some words and phrases that you should look up in lexicography – an encyclopedia or a dictionary. These words have a few different meanings or are used in specialized contexts.
They are words that you should look up in a dictionary and an encyclopedia because each type of book has a different focus. When you encounter a word or phrase you don’t understand, check the dictionary for an explanation.
If you don’t find the meaning, you can look it up in an encyclopedia. Words for which there are 2 or more meanings are often the ones that trip up language learners.
These are words that you should check in an encyclopedia (e.g. “inn” in the context of a “night at an inn” versus a “hotel”).
Self-study is one of the most effective ways to learn a new language. But it’s important to choose the right book type and use your dictionary and your self-study book together.
There are many types of self-study books, but the best ones will clearly explain grammar and focus on useful everyday expressions.