Technology has made it possible to go beyond lugging heavy textbooks around.
No need to stuff those 100 must-read books into your poor, tired backpack.
Well, e-books are way more than just convenient—they’ve proven themselves to be great tools for learning a foreign language.
First, you get quantity. With e-books, you can tote several great language learning books around at once and interact with diverse multimedia content. Oh, and all of this valuable digital content is cheaper than what’s in print.
You also get quality. Some e-books out there are absolutely ideal for learning a foreign language.
In my years as an English and ESL teacher, I realized that a surprising amount of students had never heard of books that teach language learning strategies (and not just languages themselves). Too many students go straight for the workbooks and language DVDs, skipping over the foundational approaches that are actually essential to learning any language successfully.
The 5 Best Polyglot E-books for Anyone Who Dreams of Becoming Multilingual
Consider these e-books “life hacks” for learning a new language. Whether it’s your first or your third language that you’re studying, you’ve got to recognize that training your brain to think a certain way helps immensely when you’re taking on such a big project.
You need to get yourself in the language learning zone. What should you expect? What problems may crop up? What are the best learning methods for you? All these questions and many, many more are explored in the following books.
“Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It”
“Fluent Forever” is the lengthiest book on this list at a whopping 336 pages, but this in-depth guide is well worth the time it takes to read. At 36 years old, the book’s author, Gabriel Wyner, speaks six languages—all self-taught. In this book, Wyner introduces the strategies he’s mastered through learning languages on his own.
The overall focus is to help you formulate a faster way of acquiring a new language, which Wyner does by showing you how to divide and conquer all the aspects of learning a language. For example, flashcards are a common learning strategy—but what’s the most efficient way to make and use flashcards for studying? You’ll find out here.
The book also stresses memory tactics, since the idea of remembering all the grammar and vocabulary that makes one fluent in a language can easily seem overwhelming.
“Fluent Forever” starts with pronunciation and moves on to repetition techniques and exercises, which are based on the spaced repetition learning system (SRS). You’ll learn tricks that will help you associate sounds and spelling with images. You’ll really get into the right frame of mind for thinking in a language, rather than thinking first in your native language and then translating into your target language.
FluentU uses the SRS method for all of its language lessons.
Wyner makes a big promises: With his methodologies, you can learn 100 words in a month (that’s more than three words a day!) and this is all laid out for you from the get-go in a chapter on setting your vocabulary goals.
Outside of learning strategies, the book also includes a useful FAQ section about language learning, such as how quickly one can realistically expect to become fluent in a language (spoiler: it depends) and what kind of books and resources you’ll need to move ahead (think workbooks and language groups).
One of the greatest things about this guide is that the writing has a humorous and relatable edge. Wyner begins the book with an anecdote about how he had joined the fencing team in high school to get out of gym class. After that, you feel like you really know and can trust the guy—and you’ll need to trust him to let his great methods get to work on your brain.
In addition to Amazon, this book is available on VitalSource, a place where you can rent or buy e-books and access them on the Bookshelf app (for Kindle, iPad, Android and Chromebook). Their World Languages section is quite robust, so it’s an excellent resource for dedicated language learners to check out.
“31 Steps to Learn a New Language”
Check availability: Amazon’s Kindle
The whole title of the book is actually “31 Steps to Learn a New Language: Fun, Fast & Easy Steps Learn Any New & Foreign Language You Want,” and fast it is: In just 44 pages, this motivating book proves to be a great tool for those who want to learn a language for the first time.
Author Philip Veng is like a lesser-known version of do-it-quick, do-it-smart Tim Ferriss (author of “The Four Hour Work Week”), writing about quick routes to accomplishments that are seemingly impossible to the everyday person.
“31 Steps” will help you tackle things like setting goals, making a study schedule and determining your learning style. It lists some great resources for everyday learning (like listening to foreign radio stations and reading children’s books) that you may not have thought of.
Each chapter is quite short—averaging a page and a half—which makes it very digestible for those not looking to read a huge, in-depth book.
“The True Polyglot Guide: How to Learn Any Foreign Language Fast and for Free”
Check availability: Amazon’s Kindle
This 24-page guide is chock full of language learning methods and secrets that are ideal for those who want to add a second (or third!) language to their arsenal but aren’t sure how to start.
Author Ryan Lair clearly understands the unique challenges of learning multiple languages (like mixing up vocabulary for similar languages). If you’re not sure what language you want to tackle yet, this book offers tips that will help you determine what the easiest language for you to study might be based on your learning style.
The book covers the stages of language learning, like spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary, and outlines learning strategies unique to each of them.
Lair doesn’t leave out the motivational factor that’s so crucial to the serious commitment of language learning, either. His book promotes the many, many benefits of being multilingual, issuing encouraging claims such as improved mental alertness and increased personal confidence.
“Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language From Anywhere in the World”
Some scientific studies have shown that the ability to learn a foreign language dips significantly after the age of 30, and this 256-page book does a pretty good job of disproving that theory.
Yes, the book’s title certainly sounds like a big promise—but with dedicated effort many language learners have found this book to be true to its word.
If you need proof, consider this: Author Benny Lewis was named a 2013 “Traveler of the Year” by National Geographic Traveler magazine, and is a self-taught polyglot who speaks over 10 languages (he knew just one of them in 2003). For that reason, this e-book offers the advantages of someone who has actually accomplished learning numerous languages at a relatively older age.
The book is divided into two parts: The first goes over how to begin learning a foreign language, and the second part covers how to move into the intermediate and advanced levels.
The beginner section doesn’t scare you away with the more technical aspects of language learning. Instead, it hones in on what you need to learn for your particular situation (are you a tourist or are you moving there for a job?) and gets you talking as a soon as possible. The second section stresses grammar mastery and immersion through multimedia, which Lewis believes are better saved for when you’re more comfortable with your new tongue.
Like “The True Polygot,” Lewis’s e-book also does a good job of pep-talking you through learning a foreign language and debunks common myths, which makes this a great resource for true beginners.
“Learn World Calligraphy”
This is the best e-book I’ve found for taking foreign language learning way beyond speaking—where the emphasis so often lies—and moving it into writing, a key part of learning a language that doesn’t share the same alphabet as your native tongue. It’s also a sure way to impress others, if nothing else—you can learn to write lesser-known scripts like Celtic, Ethiopian and Mongolian. You’ll also find Greek, Russian, Chinese and Arabic, among others.
This beautifully laid out full-color book, which consists of 192 pages of gorgeous calligraphy and step-by-step instructions, is perfect for those who learn visually and by doing.
In addition to teaching you how to write in a foreign language, it also provides a history of each language that brings a new appreciation to why scripts have ended up looking the way they do.
Since e-books can be limiting when it comes to writing, one extra plus to this book is that you can print out free practice sheets on the author’s site.
There’s something for everyone in these e-books, so shop around—read some previews and ratings, and get a feel for what will work best for you!
Jane K. Callahan is a former teacher turned writer who has traveled to over 30 countries across six continents. She has lived in Ireland, Thailand, Italy, Hawaii and New York City. You can follower her on Twitter at @JaneKCall.
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by natives speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.