Language textbooks can really mess you up.
One minute, you’re just trying to learn Italian.
The next, it feels like the ground has flown out from under you.
All your money is gone, your whole body aches, you’re drifting in and out of consciousness and you’re not even sure what happened.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little dramatic.
But let’s be honest: Textbooks have a bad rap, and not an entirely undeserved one.
They can be heavy and a literal pain to lug around.
They can be dry, boring reads.
And, they can be incredibly pricey. Seriously—take a college course that requires you to purchase a nearly $500 book and that fact will haunt you whenever you gaze upon your meager bank balance.
But the overall reputation language textbooks have is not entirely justified. There are plenty of language learning guides out there that can fall under the general heading of “textbooks” and that won’t beat you up and steal your lunch money every day.
Select the best textbook for you, and that book can become one of the best and most versatile tools in your learning arsenal.
And that’s true no matter what language you’re learning. Russian textbooks, German textbooks, French textbooks, Spanish textbooks, Portuguese textbooks—there’s plenty out there to help you learn nearly any language you could imagine.
With modern technology, textbooks may seem unnecessary, but they still offer a lot of benefits. While textbooks can and should be used alongside other resources, they can still play an invaluable role in your learning process.
Today, we’re going to look at some manageable, affordable language textbooks that will challenge anyone’s negative opinions!
But first, why should you even consider using one?
Why Use a Textbook When There Are So Many Other Learning Options Out There?
First of all, textbooks are a convenient reference tool. Confused by a grammar rule? Check your textbook. Unsure of a conjugation? Your textbook has your back. While the internet can be handy for quick searches, you may find there’s something so much more concrete about being able to see an explanation printed on a page.
But even if you prefer your textbooks in e-book form, you can benefit by being protected from misinformation on the internet and feeling extra-assured that what you’re reading has been verified by experts.
Secondly, textbooks help you understand the underlying structure of a language. While learning a language through conversation, TV and movies are a handy and effective tool, but they’re unlikely to directly answer your questions about how the language works. At some point, you’re likely to encounter some tricky rule that you don’t know. Supplementing your learning with a textbook can help fill in any learning gaps and provide you with the skills you need to communicate even the most complex ideas.
With FluentU, you can even integrate the information in your textbook into learning with authentic media. FluentU takes real-world videos—like news, vlogs, cartoons, music videos and more—and turns them into personalized language lessons. With FluentU’s Plus plan, you can create your own vocab lists using words from, for example, a textbook chapter, and see them used in real-life content!
Finally, language textbooks provide you with a well-structured learning path. It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily need a traditional classroom textbook to guide you through learning. You may mainly need an overview of the language or an understanding of what to study next. More manageable, easier-to-read and less expensive options are widely available.
You can even find some of the books below (along with other quality options) on VitalSource, a site that lets you rent and buy e-textbooks for all kinds of subjects and access them through a convenient reading app.
Since textbooks are designed for learners, they provide a clear path. That means you don’t need to think about what topic you need to study next. Instead, you can just focus on learning.
So let’s focus on these better textbook options!
5 Budget-friendly Language Textbooks That Pack a Wallop
Dover Language Guides offers plenty of great textbook options, but the “Essential” series is a particularly useful and affordable one.
This series focuses on providing clear explanations of grammar rules—no fluff, no frills. It’s designed for busy adults, so don’t expect any long, pedantic explanations.
Simple phrases are used to illustrate how various grammar rules work, familiarizing you with some basic vocabulary as you go along. Rather than focusing on memorization, the “Essential” series focuses on functional comprehension.
Books in the “Essential” series can easily be used on their own or as an extra resource when taking a language course.
With a price tag around $6-$8 (and sometimes much less for e-book and used copies), it’s hard to find a more affordable option.
“Made Nice & Easy”
When it comes to affordably priced textbooks, there are often limited language options. “Made Nice & Easy,” however, offers textbooks for a whopping 17 different languages!
The “Made Nice & Easy” series is designed for beginners looking for a quick crash course in a language. While you won’t learn in-depth rules or difficult conjugations, you will learn common words and phrases you might need when abroad. For each phrase, you’ll see the English meaning, the phonetic pronunciation and the phrase in your target language. The book focuses primarily on memorization, though there are a handful of grammar rules staggered throughout.
The books also provide a quick introduction to the country where each language originates from to provide some cultural context along with your language education. There are also photos of major landmarks that you might use to plan your travels.
Word of warning: Reviews of this series do vary quite a bit between languages, so be sure to check that out before you order. Additionally, some texts are no longer in stock; however, most are at least available through other sellers.
Most books are just under $7, with used options even cheaper.
The “Made Simple” series aims to provide quick, easy instruction for beginning language students.
Each book includes a nice array of features for well-rounded learning. This includes some background information on the language.
The book on American Sign Language (ASL) includes grammar, illustrated vocabulary, a dictionary and more. Books on other languages include pronunciation guides, basic grammar lessons, vocabulary lists, exercises and dictionaries. Some books also offer an illustrated pronunciation guide early in the volume that shows you how to move your mouth in order to make particularly tricky sounds.
The “Made Simple” series provides instruction through a variety of scenarios, which is a helpful way to learn how a language works in context while picking up essential vocabulary and learning grammar.
Prices tend to fall between $10 and $16.
The “Everything” series
The “Everything” series comes in two main varieties: “Essential” and “Learning.”
The main differences between these varieties is depth and price. The “Learning” series tends to be longer and more in-depth. Each book comes with a CD. Books in the “Learning” series also have a slightly higher list price. However, with markdowns on Amazon, the price point winds up being quite similar for books in both the “Essential” and “Learning” series. Most languages have options for either series, so if the “Learning” book seems too spendy, look for an “Essential” option.
These books are designed for beginning students. In the “Learning” series, you’ll find alphabet and pronunciation lessons, basic grammar rules, common vocabulary/phrases, exercises, tests and a dictionary. Depending on the language, there are sometimes additional features like verb charts and idioms. The “Essential” series offers alphabet and pronunciation lessons, basic grammar rules and common vocabulary/phrases.
Prices vary from around $12-$17.
No, it’s not just a mainstay of your ’90s TGIF TV lineup! “Step-by-Step” is also a helpful series of language textbooks.
Designed for beginning students, the “Step-by-Step” series aims to teach you essential grammatical structures and common vocabulary words. The main grammar focus is “high-frequency grammar”—in other words, the grammar rules you’re most likely to need. In vocabulary, particular attention is paid to verbs, and some books promise 300 verbs.
The lessons provide a nice mixture of grammar rules, verb conjugations, vocabulary lists and exercises to keep you on your toes. The exercises get increasingly difficult over the course of the book to help you perfect your skills and ensure you’ve learned usable skills. Exercises include fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice activities. There are also plenty of dialogues to help you see how key words and phrases might be used in real-world contexts.
Prices vary between around $7 and $16.
Don’t believe the rumors. Language textbooks don’t need to be big, boring, expensive volumes that collect dust on your shelf.
Check out these five affordable options for textbooks you’ll actually want to study!
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