Imagine for a second that you’re building a house.
You’ve got the plan in your head and the plot of land all ready for the build.
You know where everything is going to go. You’ve even left space for a large swimming pool and an outdoor patio where you’ll entertain friends and pass the hot summer nights.
It’s your dream home and it’s so close you can almost touch it.
That is until you realize that you’ve forgotten the most important part!
There’s no wood for the flooring, no concrete for the foundation and no bricks to build the fence.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
This is exactly what it’s like to learn a language without any learning resources.
Without the right books, apps, learning programs and more you’re simply left with an empty plan and idea of what you’d like to achieve.
Your resources are your framework that holds everything else up on your way to constructing language fluency.
So, let’s take a look at all the great resources that you’ll need to build your new language perfectly.
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How to Choose the Best Language Learning Resources in 6 Simple Steps
Here we’re going to explore some of the top ways that you can choose the best resources for your language learning needs.
Please consider this an introduction to the many different considerations that go into this decision.
What makes the “best” resource is a personal choice since what works for you depends largely on your learning style and approach to education. The following information can help you narrow down your options!
Consider the resource format
You’ll want to examine the way that the information is being presented to you and how this fits with your learning style.
For example, a student more adept at technology will be likely to opt for a device or be more comfortable with a computer-based learning program. Whereas, a learner with a more traditional approach may be more familiar and comfortable with physical books, printed resources and activity books.
You may want to consider options such as:
- in-person events and meetups
- classes and language schools
Decide on a budget
With regard to language learning resources, there’s a full spectrum of price points and payment options available to you.
- subscription-based resources
- one-off payment (i.e. course, ebook etc.)
While the price is definitely a key consideration be sure to also factor value into your assessment. Just because a resource is free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good. In the same way, if it means a drastic improvement in your learning and seeing real results, then paying for a resource shouldn’t be out of the question, either.
Choose level-appropriate resources
Some options are for general language learners while others are more specialized. This can be with regard to level or even a particular topic. For example, business English is a popular course style the world over and it’s quite specialized.
If you’re a beginner, then I also like to recommend a resource that encompasses a full spectrum of levels. In this way, as you become familiar with the resource you’ll be able to use it continuously and long-term without having to adjust to new resources.
Many great resources will also “learn with you” as they modify the activities to match your development with the language. FluentU is a great choice that covers both those criteria, but we’ll talk more about that in a bit!
Consider the resource teaching style
What are your learning outcomes and overall goals?
This consideration may affect the style of resource that you choose to learn with.
There are many different styles of resources that each use their own unique approaches and systems.
Some examples include:
- Cloze style: Exercises that present you with sentences or paragraphs with key words removed that require you to fill in the blanks.
- Trivia and word games: Basic learning games that require you to use vocabulary or answer trivia questions in your chosen language.
- Academic content: This refers to papers, studies and other academic style materials that are usually found in journals and online databases.
- Gamified learning: Points-based games that require you to use the language in a game-style app or program.
- Reading/writing/listening/speaking-based: Any of the key language skill resources that are specific to the chosen capability.
- Collaborative games: Online-based games that allow you to connect with other learners and collaborate on your learning effort or play competitively.
- Verb conjugations: These allow you to see the conjugation of verbs in your chosen language and sometimes play a type of review style game.
- Native content: This is any content that is enjoyed by native speakers of the language such as film, TV or music.
Keep your language goal in mind
Similarly to reviewing the resources style, when choosing a language style there are particular considerations that you must keep in mind. For example, are you learning for fun or do you have an academic outcome that you’d like to achieve?
Check out some of the different language styles below to see if any align with your language learning goals!
- Conversational: Requires an everyday handle of the language and an ability to maintain basic conversations in the language.
- Colloquial: Similar to a conversation level because you are required to use everyday language forms however, colloquial is marked with idioms, slang and native expressions.
- Fluent (native level): The ability to speak with native speakers of your chosen language without any translation or breaks in fluency.
- Business: This is a specialized language form that requires an understanding of corporate language and language use in a professional setting.
- Academic: Speakers of this form use high-level and formal vocabulary to a standard of research and academics.
- Different dialects (e.g. Egyptian Arabic, Moroccan Arabic): Refers to the variations of the same language across varying regions of the speakers.
The reason why this is important is that it’ll affect the direction in which you take your language learning journey. For example, if you’re after a conversational level in your chosen language then you may want to focus on slang and expressions whereas an academic learner may work more on formal language modes.
Ask your friends (or strangers)
A great way to choose learning resources is to reach out to friends (or strangers) and ask about their personal experiences. If you know someone who has learned a second or additional language then ask them if they could tell you about their experiences and approach.
To replicate this situation, you can also watch language learners online, search through forums such as Reddit or check if there are any YouTubers that create content in your desired language.
Of course, in today’s language learning world, apps are a standard and hugely popular resource. The range, accessibility and content make them an invaluable option for many modern learners.
But sometimes, there’s more than meets the eye (or app store) when it comes to these convenient sources of language practice.
Let’s dive in and explore the good, the bad and the not too bad.
Pros and cons of using language learning apps
There are heaps of benefits to using apps as a source of language learning potential. Let’s take a look at a few below. Of course, with any resource, there’ll also be some drawbacks that are also examined below.
Pros of learning a language with apps
- the accessibility and usability in many cases are first class as apps are designed to be easily managed with user-friendly interfaces
- the range of options is relatively vast and there is a wide choice of apps
- many apps offer leveled content that’ll match your language skills with ease
- some offer a “shorter lesson” style which you can use to fill in the downtime
- apps are one of the easiest ways to inject some fun into your study routine
- many apps feature some form of points/rewards system encouraging you to continue with your development and performance
Cons of learning a language with apps
- apps can sometimes be a bit buggy and often rely on advertisements which can lead to frustration and distraction
- apps are quite limited in the skills they cover, so it can be difficult to find an app that covers a number of different learning areas (speaking, listening, vocabulary, etc.)
- many apps lack native content
- it’s much easier to become distracted and procrastinate when using your phone or apps on a technological device
What to look for in an app
There are a few key considerations that you must keep in mind when choosing a great learning app. Some of these points are highlighted below.
- the size of the user base
- the number of reviews and the general sentiment of users
- whether it’ll fit well into your current study routine or desired approach
- if the app covers a number of different difficulties
- whether the app can keep you focused on your learning outcomes
How to choose the right app for you
When choosing the right app, a great strategy is to start with a wide or general idea of what you’re after and then narrow it down.
Remember to also factor in your own learning circumstances and the style in which you best learn.
Follow the short quick-start guide below to find a great app to help boost your language skills:
1. Start with the language you’d like to acquire or are acquiring.
2. Consider any specific areas you’d like to improve.
3. Decide on whether you want a study program/gamified app or other (see below).
4. Check that the app matches your level.
5. Does it cover some of your personal interests?
6. Will it keep you engaged and focused?
7. Does it include native content and comprehensible input?
If you’re after an app that covers all of the key learning outcomes mentioned above then be sure to check out the FluentU app.
If you ever find yourself losing motivation or unable to stick to a particular app, then you’ll love the videos from the FluentU library.
They’re super addictive plus the spaced repetition system allows you to solidify your knowledge and build language listening and speaking confidence with ease.
For example, rather than listen to a lecture about the conversational forms of your language you can study real-world videos and fun clips from film and TV to practice this style in a natural way. Try FluentU with a free trial to see if it’s the best language-learning resource for you!
Types of learning apps
There are heaps of different learning apps available for you to discover.
Some of the most popular options include:
- language learning program apps
- social media learning apps
- conversation and language exchange apps
- dictionary and translator apps
- vocabulary building apps and games
- general learning games and activities
Language courses are on the rise and are one of the top ways that students can access a structured and content-dense resource with ease.
Pros and cons of using language learning courses
Similar to the checklists above, we’re going to take a look at some of the pros and cons of language learning courses and what they can do for your language learning.
Pros of learning a language with courses
- language learning courses are normally very well structured and provide a solid framework in which you can acquire a language
- there are communities/forums and discussion groups to help with collaboration
- there’s a large variety of course options and cost structures
- the flexibility of being able to study from anywhere and anytime (online)
- both in-person and online options are available to you
- many courses are very affordable and when looking online and there are even free courses to explore
Cons of learning a language with courses
- you may be taught in a specific form of the language e.g. formal or a more regional style
- it’s possible to slip into a more passive studying regime
- online courses can be quite limited in the types of tasks you can do
- difficulties with communication can arise in online courses due to the use of technology, time zones etc.
- you might find that there is a lack of regulation meaning a range in the quality of course options
- difficult to learn the specifics of a language
What to look for in an online course
First and foremost you must consider your own learning goals and desired outcomes.
From this, you may be able to create your own unique criteria and checklist from which you can locate your own resource.
Consider how best you learn and which type of learner you’d like to be. Would you prefer to learn in a conversational-based course or a more academic-style resource with reading resources?
A few general steps for your convenience are listed below:
- read the description of the course and the offerings
- check comments and reviews from ex-students
- double-check comments on blogs and review sites
- check if the course follows a particular learning method
As a special note, be sure to consider the difference between an online learning website and a course. An online learning website is a page that generally offers a range of different learning materials and options. You’ll find that a learning website doesn’t generally follow the same structure as an online course.
An online course has clear and specific learning targets that the student must complete.
How to choose a style of course that works for you
There are many different course styles that are available to the language learner ranging from entirely conversation-based all the way to more academic or business-style courses.
After following the outlined steps above you should also consider what you’d like to get out of the course.
For example, you might want to investigate if the course offers some form of accreditation or certificate at the completion of the course.
You also want to factor in the flexibility of the course. If you’re busy with work then you might want to choose a course with more flexible deadlines and schedules. Conversely, you may want to opt for a more “intensive” option if you’re wanting to acquire your chosen language in a shorter amount of time.
Some additional considerations may include whether you wish to study online or in-person as well as in your home country or abroad.
Choosing a language course is about balancing your learning goals and desires against your current commitments and daily routine.
Remember that house we’re building?
Well, here you’ll find all the tools you need to help you on your language learning journey.
Just like a big construction job, when learning a new language you must equip yourself with a full range of different learning resources and tools that can target specific areas of your language learning.
And most importantly, get the job done!
What to look for in a language learning tool
When choosing a language learning tool there are several considerations that’ll come into play.
First and foremost, you must consider whether the tool is physical or digital. Of course, as a general recommendation, a good spread of both resource styles is a favorable approach.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular language-learning tools and their benefits:
- Videos: Video content is one of the top resources when it comes to comprehensible input. This means that the combination of context, body language as well as the spoken language will all contribute to a deeper understanding and familiarity with the language. In addition to this, videos provide a key way to learn more about the cultural aspects of your chosen language.
- Music: Similarly to video, music is also a deeply cultural resource and a great reflection of the language. Music provides many opportunities for language study such as the use of lyrics or practicing your pronunciation and tone!
- Podcasts: Podcasts are a hugely popular choice and their capacity as a language resource is equally large. You can choose language learning podcasts to help you practice your speaking and comprehension skills or even take it to the next level and listen to some podcasts that are popular with native speakers of your chosen language. The power of podcasts lies in their versatility.
- Social media: Social media promotes and facilitates real interactions. With this tool, you’ll be able to join language learning communities, interact with content and even speak with native speakers of your chosen language. Additional benefits include discovering new sources of entertainment and interacting with other language learners.
- Flashcards: Flashcards have long been a language learning staple! First and foremost because they’re a customizable tool that’ll help you target specific learning outcomes that you may have. In addition to this, there are many online options available for you to learn with interactive flashcards.
- Dictionaries and translators: These tools are recommended for all language learners as they provide a key and basic function which is translations! In my experience, dictionaries and translators are a massive help in a pinch plus they offer a sense of confidence and security when learning.
Whatever your language learning goals may be, resources are without a doubt the most significant tool at your disposal. Be sure to clearly outline your goals, do a personal assessment of your learning style and always remember to have a bit of fun!
What are some of your favorite language learning resources and how do you decide which resource is right for you? Let us know and good luck with your own language learning objectives!
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