No More Hoarding! How to Organize All Your Language Learning Resources

Ever heard of resource overload? Most language lovers I know can't get enough of new books, courses, and blogs to inspire them...but there's a dark side!

Language resources can be overwhelming. You might wonder which ones are worth your time, or what you really need to get started in a language.

Over the years, I've amassed a huge pile of language learning resources, and in today's post I want to introduce you to a few of my favourites and explain four categories of resources that you should have when you're teaching yourself a language.

For instant organisation, you can find a Resource Organiser worksheet in the Language Habit Toolkit, available in the Fluent Online School.

1) Guiding Resources: Language Textbooks and Language Courses

organising resources.png

The first resource I believe you should have is what I call a guiding resource. This can be a book, a CD set, a video course, or even a night class. For any resource to be considered a guiding resource in my mind, it must fulfil the following criteria:

Great Structure

Never compromise on structure. Look out for units, chapters, steps. There is none that is best for everyone, so ensure that your guiding resource follows a path that you will find interesting. You don't want something that just throws a lot of information at you, and you don’t want to be yawning by chapter 3.

The resource should have lessons that move you from one level to the next level. For example, in Benny Lewis' Teach Yourself book, there are different units and they tell you what it is you are going to learn - units such as talking about yourself, asking about other people, talking about family, and describing things.

Having a structure to follow is very important for independent language learners, so be sure to check out the curriculum before you buy.

Designed for Your Situation

When you buy a textbook, make sure you check if your choice might be designed for group classes (for example, Façon de Parler). This doesn't make such textbooks bad resources, but the way they are written, a lot of the exercises are usually not designed for you to do by yourself. The text will say something like: "Find a partner in your group and then practice these sentences with them," or "In the group, have a discussion of this image." The textbooks just assume that you're in a group class. If you're teaching yourself, this is not always helpful.

Multimedia

Third, there should be a multimedia component. This means that you want more than just a book or audio. You want the book unit to be accompanied by audio, worksheets, or video. Online courses in languages are getting better and better, but check that there’s offline access if you need it.

My preferred structure for a guiding resource is this:

Start with a story or dialogue, then an explanation of what was new, and finish with a chance for you as the learner to practice what you’ve learnt.

Good examples of guiding resources are

2) Input Resources: Enjoyable and Comprehensible Input

Input resources are very easy to find…the internet is a total treasure trove of them! I also call them supplementary resources, as they supplement all other learning.

You can have as many as you want. You never have too many input resources. With these resources, you can follow any story or video for some time, drop it, and then get back to it weeks later. Most YouTube videos in the language that you're learning are going to fall into this category. Music and TV shows also fall into this category.

Your input resources must be understandable, but not too easy and not too hard. You need to be able to sense that you're learning as you're following it; so, there should be a little bit of a challenge. But at the same time, you don't want them to be so easy that you know exactly what's coming.

If it’s fun, it works

Input resources also must be enjoyable. They must be fun, so feel very free to toss out what doesn’t interest you. If you don't enjoy them, you aren't going to engage with them. At Langfest in Montreal, I met the famous applied linguist Dr Stephen Krashen, whose belief in comprehensible input is all about these resources. This is where the magic happens. You need input, it needs to be fun, you need to understand it, and you need lots of it.

Good examples of input resources include

3) Reference Resources: Dictionaries, Grammar Guides, Phrasebooks

In a journey as epic as learning a new language, you’re going to get lost and waste lots of time without a map, and that’s what the reference resource can be for you.

Accessible Language Materials

First, the resource must be accessible. Obviously, they should be there for you to touch or open, but more importantly, they must be easy to understand. Second, the resource must be accessible in the sense that you should have it around. It should be there when you want it because the whole idea of a reference resource is you don't follow it as a course.

Dip in and out

Nobody ever learned a language by reading a dictionary. Instead of following reference resources as a course, you just have them around for when you have a question. At the start of language learning, I think reference resources are good to help you answer the question for yourself: Where am I going to look this up?

Many video courses fit right into the reference category. For example, the Fluent courses on German pronunciation and on grammar cross over between guiding and reference resources. My dream for my German courses is that somebody follows it, gains a lot from it the first time, but knows that they can dip in and watch every video individually.

Good examples of reference resources include

The three core reference resources you need are


So those are the three key categories of resources you should have somewhere in your personal language library. To re-cap:

  1. Guiding Resources give your studies shape and help you know your progress. You want these to be structured.
  2. Input Resources make language learning effective and enjoyable. You want these to be fun and right for your level.
  3. Reference Resources are on hand when you have specific questions and need a quick answer. You want these to be easy to access and understand.

If you don't have these three areas covered on your (virtual or IRL) bookshelf, it's easy to feel lost when learning a new language, to miss things, and even to lose yourself and think you're better than you are or worse than you are.

4. Self-Teacher's Resources

Are you learning a language by yourself? You need one more: the self-teacher's resources, which are all about how to organise yourself. This category contains language learning blogs, podcasts, books to help you master the learning process.

The self-teacher's resources are awesome because they

  1. keep you motivated and accountable
  2. help you adopt great study techniques.

For a practical, action-focused take on this resource that will set you up for inevitable success, check out the Language Habit Toolkit, your language coach in a box.

What are your favourite resources? Want recommendations for a resource in your target language or feel you're lacking something?

No problem! Leave me a comment below or say hi in the Fluent Language Learners Facebook group.

The Story of Bilingual German-English Live Training

One of the worst moments I've ever experienced in German teaching was the time I tried to introduce a class of lunchtime learners to the Akkusativ case. Armed with whiteboard and sample sentences, I walked into the class, and I felt so ready and so excited to be teaching this (what I thought) awesome system in grammar.

"So when you have an object in your sentence, here's what happens..", I explained to them, with colour-coded underlining to illustrate. I thought I was doing well..until I saw everyone's face. In this classroom, at 12:45, in the middle of a busy workday, something clearly wasn't working.

That's when I realised that language teaching and language learning are not the same thing. And even worse, that what I was explaining didn't make sense to half of these people and they didn't care either.

Relevant Teaching

I came out of that class feeling absolutely defeated. I think I even cried, feeling like I'm failing myself and my students. And the experience always stuck with me and built part of the philosophy that is behind my actions now: The LEARNER is in charge of learning a language. And the learner, that's you right there reading these words.

When you're taking classes with me, you can get the solid and important explanations at your own pace in my online courses, but in live lessons I avoid explainers and I never lead with them.

Instead, the key to the Fluent Language method is relevant teaching.

For you as a German learner, that means experiencing language immersion at a good pace, making your own conclusions, and answering questions regularly. It's important to speak or write early, but it's also important that you're learning relevant and well.

Action: Bilingual Live Training

In my most recent teaching venture, I created a bilingual webinar - the first one I ever taught, and a successful one too.

Thank you so much if you were among the lovely people watching on Saturday. It was a challenge for me to teach in this way, but an incredibly rewarding experience to know that the viewers were following along, answering questions, and understanding the immersion concept.

Do you want to try it out? Catch up with the webinar today, and make sure you also download your worksheet and follow along. Click here and find all you need at the webinar live page.

Did you watch the webinar? Did you learn something new and use the worksheet?

Tell me how you enjoyed it in the comments below, and make sure you sign up for my newsletter to learn about the next one.

Podcast Episode 31: Watching TV in a Foreign Language

 

Welcome to Episode 31, where Lindsay and I took a deep dive into revealing our TV watching habits and how they aid our language learning. Plus: Listener feedback and over 20 show recommendations.

language learning with tv

We are sponsored today by Savvy Brand Academy, a mastermind & brand course for onlinte teachers, as part of our "podcasters are doin' it for themselves month".

1) What type of TV do you watch?

  • Listener Colin likes to watch with the whole family
  • Chris Stewart who likes watching reality tv like “Come dine with me”
  • For me: Serials
  • For Lindsay: youtube as part of a routine
  • My student Randy: Tagesschau

2) HOW do you watch?

  • Is there such a thing as guilty learning vs. not-guilty learning?

  • Should you watch with subtitles or without? Subtitles in your own language or the other language? Immersion or full understand mode?

  • Big debate: How can TV count as "deliberate study time"?

  • Where can you find shows that are appropriate for your level?

  • What makes TV for kids a good choice?

3) Where can you find cool things to watch? (Big Link Collection)

YouTube and Yabla:

TV Apps and Websites Where You Can Find International TV

Shows Kerstin Loves (75% contains crime)

I've added links for UK and US audiences - comment if you need a link for another region.

  • Welsh Language: 
  • French Language:
  • French and Flemish Language:
    • Salamander (Netflix, DVD in the UK and USA)
  • German Language:
    • Deutschland 83 (live on Channel 4 UK, iTunes, DVD in the UK and USA)
    • Films: Good Bye Lenin! (DVD in the UK and USA), The Edukators (DVD in the UK and USA)
  • Danish and Swedish Language
    • The Bridge (Cable by Xfinity, Hulu Plus, streaming on Amazon UK, DVD in the UK and USA)
  • Danish Language
    • The Killing (streaming on VUDU, DVD in the UK)
    • Borgen (DVD in the UK and USA)
  • Korean Language
    • Boys Over Flowers (streaming on Viki, Hulu, DVD in the UK and in the USA)

THE TAKEAWAY

If you have not done this already, catch an episode of 1980s German spy show Deutschland 83 - here it is on Amazon.comand here it is on All 4 in the UK

7 of the Best Language Learning Rules Ever

best language rules

Today I want to go a little bit deeper into the content of all our Language Book Club interviews from 30 January. As you saw last week, the event was truly epic and delivered some wisdom from no fewer than 11 multilingual people (polyglots! yes they are!).

Between me and Chris Broholm from Actual Fluency, we had the chance to interview a great bunch of people about writing, language learning and challenges on the day, so here are the most important things that Language Book Club taught us:

1) Forget Fluency

Fluency is not a word that most polyglots or language teachers love. Yes, we all call our blogs after it, but fluency is truly a concept that you need to define in more detail. It certainly doesn't help when you are working on your goals. Instead of aiming to define fluency, try setting short-term goals such as reading a certain book in the next month. I admit that I’m pretty pleased with myself for my own definition, which goes a bit like “if you can avoid communication breakdown and keep a conversation flowing, you’re pretty fluent."

2) Learn Vocabulary in Context

Flashcards and vocab are hot property, but there are lots of different ways of doing them. From detailed Anki interaction to paper-based systems like my simple Write-Look-Cover-Repeat system, the biggest key is in creating a rich context for whatever you are learning. In fact, you can develop this all the way to creating language memory palaces. Anthony Metivier believes that the memory palace is great for simple grammar principles and vocabulary, and emphasises that it is the most fundamental way of developing your memory (read here for my own mini palace attempt).

3) Don't get hung up on Accents

No matter where you go and speak a native language kinda badly, you'll still be welcome and accepted. this message was reinforced by Jared Romey and the girls from Russian Step by Step. Jared talked about how easy it can be to become disoriented even within the same language as he recounted his experiences of embarrassing Puerto Rican shopgirls. You might be feeling self-conscious or embarrassed when you step off the plane and have to open your mouth and “talk foreign” for the first time. But Jared says: “The most important thing is that you learn Spanish. Afterwards, you can adjust it, but don’t let dialects stop you."

4) Appreciate how big the World is

Language learning is not just about remembering words and grammar structures. It's about a whole different world view. Becky Morales shared the story of American high schoolers who met their first Mexican in their teenage years and enquired whether she had ever seen an orange. When you learn a language, she said, you become a world citizen and that's what really enriches your life.

5) Look Beyond the Idea of Hacking

There is no language hack and no single method of making language learning easier for all. From Benny Lewis and the emphasis on speaking and communication, to Gabriel Wyner's intense pronunciation focus, no polyglot can promise you the answer to getting things entirely right. Many share what works for them, and all of us hope that it will work for you too. In that sense keep trying, because you're not getting things wrong any time soon. Looking for a shortcut to better language skills is fine, but every one of our experts on the day has been a language learner for many years. The tips that you get are honed through years of experience, discipline and habit-building. What is the key to good language learning? Enjoy the journey!

6) See and Believe the Impossible

It's all right to be a fan boy! In Teatime with Chris, my Co-host Chris Broholm talked about his own journey of self-development and finding a purpose. It’s a pretty inspiring story and really does stand out as proof of how language learning as a personal challenge can help with even the biggest challenges. Chris started his own podcast as a means of learning from the people he admired. He says “It’s been such a big motivation for me when I see people doing things that didn’t even seem possible to me, and once you see what you think is impossible then it becomes possible."

7) Chill out at least some of the Time

When you feel overwhelmed, it's fine to slow down. Instead of trying every method of language learning all at once, just chill out and reconnect with your own preferences. Language learning is about what you do best. It has to be in sync with your own learning style. Not only did I discuss this as part of my own hour of Language Book Club Live, but I actually built this principle into the entire concept of The Vocab Cookbook. It's a cookbook: a collection of recipes to inspire and inform. Like with every other collection and every other blog, I want you to try out the ones that sound nice. You'll still get your time's worth.

Join Language Book Club

You can join Language Book Club on Facebook to stay up to date with news and discussions around language learning and books, and of course the updates on our next event when we make it happen later in 2015!

Get 50% Off the Fluent Box Set

If you haven't yet got a copy of The Vocab Cookbook on the day, don't forget that you can get the set of my 2 language learning guides, Fluency Made Achievable and The Vocab Cookbook together now.

These books are quick reads with a big impact, helping you boost your language learning skills instantly.

For you as a book club fan, I have created the special coupon code BOOKCLUB to give you my box set worth $20 for just $10. Get the huge discount right here - 100% Money Back Guaranteed of course. I just know you will love these.

Lean Back and Enjoy our Language Book Club Videos (Plus: Free T-Shirt!)

Even though it seems like only yesterday, our Language Book Club event is now already two weeks ago and I haven't even had the time to thank all of you who watched and interacted with us. Language Book Club was an 11-hour long live event featuring language book discounts, interviews with authors, live video chats and extra giveaways. Both co-host Chris Broholm and I had a full but fascinating and amazing day.

The Vocab Cookbook Freebies

I want to thank each of the 255 (yay!) people who downloaded a copy of The Vocab Cookbook, my book which I had made available for free on the day.

Don't forget that you can claim your free action-focused worksheets for Vocab Cookbook readers simply by submitting an Amazon review and letting me know about it. I am also giving away a pretty cute "I love Languages" t-shirt. You must enter by the end of February for a chance win this.

What I Learnt on the Day

In the course of our day, Chris and I produced a cool total of 9 interviews with our guests. From textbook authors to published bloggers, I think I enjoyed every single conversation that I had. Without further ado, I want you guys to immerse yourself in all these chats, so all you need to do is check this out and press Play.

What surprised me about these video conversations was the format. In the run-up to Language Book Club, Chris had brought in the idea of video interviews. He envisaged this epic live feed session that allowed our viewers almost non-stop interaction. And I must admit that this just sounded crazy to me. I thought no one was going to watch and that this was a waste of time! 

While we didn't manage to pull off 11 straight hours of video, we did come pretty close. Every hour, our audience members got to meet a new author and most were able to join us live on Hangouts on Air. I had not anticipated how well this was going to go. You guys were nothing but fantastic, asking questions on Facebook and interacting with the guests. I hadn't expected video interviews to be so much fun. So the lesson for me is to keep trying out new things and pushing myself out of the comfort zone, both here on the Fluent blog and in my books and courses. I have Chris to thank for that.

Did you follow Language Book Club and grab a book on the day? What were your impressions? Which videos did you enjoy the most?

Authentic German Words We Learnt on Our Holidays

Happy new year, everyone! I hope that you have been able to enjoy a Christmas break that was restful and you're feeling ready to tackle the challenges that 2015 will bring.

Stuttgart and German Regions

Personally, I have had the luxury of taking two weeks off and travelling around in Germany. It was great to visit Stuttgart as a tourist for the first time, and to walk the snowy streets imagining that this country is where we could live one day. And of course my fiancé made great progress as a German learner!

If you have never been to Germany before, you may not be familiar with the idea of Lokalkolorit, the local flavour of each region. With a country as diverse as ours, this extends to the languages and dialects spoken in particular. For example, Stuttgart is the capital of Schwaben, a region known for its frugal mentality and delicious Spätzle (OM NOM NOM). It is also the home of Mercedes, Porsche, and Äffle und Pferdle. This the cutest German cartoon classic, complete in Schwabian dialect.

Are you a Bananen or a Hafer person?

Words You Just Don't Learn in German Class

For your enjoyment, here are a few local words and observations from Stuttgart and the Mosel Valley. You can read more about these here.

  1. In Schwabia, anything that is a -chen (a little thing) in other German regions is now a -le. For example, Häuschen is Häusle.
  2. The German word for weak coffee? Or even worse, barley cup? Muckefuck (masculine). No really.
  3. When you've put on a few pounds because you have been very indulgent, Germans call this Hüftengold (neuter). The closest English equivalent we could find was "love handles".
  4. I have no idea why my father would have possibly taught the next word to my fiancé, but just in case you're ever in the Moselle and want to call a woman a nagger, call her en Geij (pronounced "ern Guy"). This means "a violin" (eine Geige) in our local dialect.
img ©christian cable

img ©christian cable

I wish you all a great start into 2015, and here on Fluent I want you to look out for two awesome things coming up soon: The Italki Challenge and the Language Book Club!