Review - How to Learn a Foreign Language by Graham Fuller



How to Learn a Foreign Language by Graham Fuller is a book for beginning language learners, either those who have never studied a foreign language before or those who have but had a bad experience with it. The author states this right at the very beginning of the introduction of the book, so there is no doubt about who the book is for or what it's goals are. In fact, Fuller himself refers to the book as a 'handbook', the kind you stick in your back pocket and refer to from time to time as you begin a project.

Mr. Fullers book is simple and straightforward with effective and positive language learning tips and ideas for the novice, but no revolutionary ideas for the experienced language enthusiast. The book is short, only about a hundred pages (I believe there are updated and ammended versions, mine is quite old), but the techniques are tried and true. While the book does not go into the same depth as Barry Farber's , he clearly doesn't intend to. Simply put, this guide is a summary of language learning techniques, most useful for a beginner, but even those with some experience studying languages can sometimes gain from a new perspective. The word for this book - practical.

Fuller is always enthusiastic and positive, stressing the need to have fun while learning a language, but never failing to mention the most important point - it takes lots of hard work to learn a language. Even with all the tips and tricks, learning a new language will always require some personal discipline.

He steers the reader toward looking out for familiar vocabulary, cognates or easily recognizable patterns in spelling and grammar that the learner can latch onto, leveraging his learning time while studying 'real' grammar. He points out some advantages of using more than one method and particularly stresses the need for using tapes or other audio. He says - "you can't do without tapes if you're on your own. You just can't."

With passages on word groupings, language families, regional accents, jokes, idioms and the use of profanity, Mr. Fuller covers a wide variety of topics the learner needs to be aware of while learning a new language.

One of the passages I found most helpful was the chapter on plateaus and how to deal with them. Sometimes when we are learning something new we have plateaus where we feel like we aren't going anywhere, like we're stagnating. Fuller acknowledges this and alerts the reader to this inevitability. There were one or two points that he phrased in a way that gave me some insight into my own learning and studying habits.

The single best idea that I got from this book was that when learning a language you are an actor playing a part. He recommends 'hamming it up' when imitating the sounds of the new language. He gives suggestions and ideas on this throughout the book, a sure way to make learning a language more fun.

I found this book to be straightforward and practical. While there was nothing revolutionary for me, I still found some of his suggestions to be helpful, and it is always a good idea to gain a new perspective from time to time. Sometimes we need to hear things a few different ways before it finally clicks or sinks in. The beginner will no doubt find this handbook to be a good starting point, and I'm sure a few not-quite-beginners will benefit from the fresh viewpoint this inexpensive book can provide.

Note : this book is no longer in print. Used copies can be found online or in used bookstores.


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"Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it will certainly help you in languages."

- Graham Fuller