Sorting through all the available language learning methods can be a daunting proposition. But if you're going to learn a new language you're going to need a good method. So, how do you start? How do you go about choosing between all those language learning methods? There are endless books, tapes, software packages, schools and tutors, but which method is the best? Where can you buy language learning products? Will they work for you?
First, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
How much time do you have? How much money can you spend? What are your study habits like?
Time. This is self-explanatory. If you can set aside at least a half-hour of uninterrupted quiet time to study every day then you are in good shape. But what if you can't? Your dream of speaking another language is not necessarily crushed. There are several high-quality audio-only language learning methods that you can listen to and use while doing laundry or housecleaning, or taking your morning walk with a walkman. And what about all that time you spend driving to work? What difference does it make how much time I spend in the car? - you may ask. It may make plenty. If you use a method with an audio component, tapes or cd's that is, you can use that time to your advantage. Rather than waste that time staring at traffic and listening to the same songs on the radio, you can do something constructive, like learn a new language! The bottom line is, the more time you can spend learning, the better. But don't overlook those lost minutes in a day. The Language Learning Tips page has a number of suggestions to use the time you have more effectively, and even to recapture time you thought was lost!
Money. This is also self-explanatory. Is a $500 dollar language method really that much better than a $10 one? Probably. The old saying 'You get what you pay for' is basically true here too. But that is definitely not the only factor. Motivation and a passion for learning will get you pretty far too, even with an inexpensive, but good, method. Especially if you supplement it with a few other well-chosen resources. Keep that in mind as you narrow down your choices. As a rule of thumb I ignore the highest end and lowest end products. Anything under $10 that claims to teach you a language is probably going to come up very short of the mark. It may be ok as a supplement, but I wouldn't rely on it as my primary language learning method. Even some software language learning methods are little more than cutesy games that teach you some vocabulary and little else. Anything over $1000 probably works great but is out of the realistic price range for most people.
Study habits. Almost everyone has good language learning skills, even if you don't realize it. After all, if you're reading this then you learned English pretty well didn't you? Imagine learning your new language nearly as well. You have the innate ability to do it. Having good study habits will help as well. Can you study at a regular time, everyday, without being distracted or without letting your mind wander. Were you a good student in school? If you do have such 'bookish' skills, use them. Make sure you choose a method with a good book or text component. If you're using computers all the time, consider a software method. If you are a talkative person, go with a method heavy on audio, with drills or conversational practice. Use your own abilities to your own advantage. Don't expect the method to do all the work for you. Maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
What other factors make a language learning method good?
Audio. An audio component is absolutely essential to learning a new language. Language is primarily a spoken form of communication. We learn our native language as children by hearing the spoken language and then imitating it. This is something often overlooked. Isn't it common sense that learning a new language with it's different sounds, vowels, consonants, and rhythms must include an audio component? In fact, I believe that the most successful language learning methods are more audio-based than otherwise. We can't ignore the importance of reading, but clearly the most fundamental aspect of communicating in a language is speaking and listening. One thing we must also keep in mind is that we as adults can actually learn much faster than we did as children. A good method has all this factored in already.
The 'Method'. Is it a 'method' or is it a glorified phrasebook? The word 'method' is thrown around a little too often. Companies know how to package a product to make it sound great, even if it isn't. Unfortunately, many so-called methods really don't teach very much. Others, like the Living Language series (my favorite inexpensive 'method'), don't waste time making false claims, but rather intelligently package a very solid instructional course for the cost. Pimsleur and Tell Me More claim a lot and deliver on it, but you must pay for that quality - these methods are noticably more expensive.
Convenience. Can you take it with you? Some method components, like books or tapes, can travel with you, so you can use them when you get a chance. This will help you maximize your time. Others, like a software package, don't travel as easily - you need a computer or laptop with you. Consider this factor as well.
Choosing the right language learning method is essential to success in learning a new language. The decision to learn a new language is very exciting, but all too often we lose our focus or get discouraged while looking around for the right method, or even worse, waste time or money working with the wrong method. Understanding how we learn and how a program will be teaching can make a big difference in how much success we have in this new endeavor.
Let's take a good look at some language learning methods and determine the strong points and weak points of each. Compare this with what you know about yourself, your time, money, study habits etc. to come up with the best kind of method for you. Everyone is different. Everyone has different resources, strengths and needs. Balance what you have with a kind of method that will get you better results. Then you can go to the language learning page of your target language where you will find a few top recommendations and also suggestions for each type of method in several price ranges. As you finalize your choice, don't forget to take a look at the Language Learning Tips page to pick up some suggestions on how to best go about using your chosen method and even supplementing it with other resources. Remember, although your chosen method is the core of your language study, I would recommend to anyone using any language learning method that they supplement it with other complementary books, tapes and resources to really get a good foundation in your new language.
Now, on to the methods ...
"A special kind of beauty exists which is born in language, of language, and for language"