What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. — Herbert Simon
Learning has never been made easier than now with the advent of the internet and various other technologies—apps, podcasts, movies, TV series, blogs, websites, radio shows, games, textbooks, software; all are now available at the click of a mouse. Yet this development has proved to be somewhat of a double-edged sword: such a wealth of information has, on the one hand, created a poverty of attention, and on the other, it has made it harder both to choose the kinds of resources that might work for you and keep you focused on what ultimately matters to become a successful language learner.
It’s not uncommon for people to get super excited when they begin learning a new language. They feel like buying every single book they can get their hands on, downloading every possible app, buying the latest and most expensive software, and reading every possible blog post that talks about the language. Spending time, effort and money on something often makes us feel good about ourselves. We pat ourselves on the back, and then go on about our daily business and somehow forget the initial purpose that all of this was supposed to have. Does this perhaps ring a bell?
Today, I’d like to propose a simple solution, and give you some guidance so as to ease your life and not make it as if you had to look for a needle in a haystack. Sounds like a good plan?
One Word: Focus
A while ago, I had a great interview with Luca Lampariello, a well-known polyglot with a tremendous amount of experience learning languages (over 12 in total) and lots of priceless advice. In the interview he gave two very important pieces of advice that I’d like to expand on a little bit here.
First, you need to be aware of the level at which you are at in in your language studies, i.e. beginner, intermediate, or advanced. This is important because the way you learn and practice your target language (L2) varies significantly depending upon which level you find yourself at. Somebody who has been learning French for 2 years and who can hold an everyday conversation in the language will (or at least, should!) approach its study/practice in a very different manner than an absolute beginner who can only say “bonjour” and “merci”. This sounds simple enough, but most people are totally unaware that they should change their approach to language learning as they progress through these stages.
Second, and in many ways this is tied to the first point, in the beginning stages you should focus on one or two textbooks/methods. It is simply a waste of money and attention to purchase/download more than two language learning methods when you just got yourself started on a particular language. Of course, if you find yourself totally unable to learn with a chosen resource because it’s either too boring or unsuitable to your learning style, by all means get something better. But don’t fall into the trap of buying a bunch of stuff before even opening any single page and ending up doing nothing with it (sounds familiar, anyone?). Having an amazing array of learning material at your disposition is highly unlikely to make you a better/faster learner, very much the opposite. As Herbert Simon has aptly said, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
Before we skip to the next section where I’ll actually give you some advice as to what kind of resources you might want to look for, keep in mind that once you reach an intermediate level in your target language (“B1 level” according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), you’ll definitely want to start diversifying the resources you use. That’s because reaching this kind of level naturally calls for diversification—you’ll be able to slowly start understanding native content, to a certain degree, such as simple books, TV series, music, movies, etc., which make learning languages so much more fun.
What to Choose?
Are you the type of person who is absolutely horrified at the prospect of learning any kind of grammatical rule? Do you like glossy paper and colorful pictures, or could you care less? Do you prefer learning through dialogues or through lists of words and drills? Are you too busy to spend any time learning at home? These are the types of questions that you might want to ask yourself.
To serve as an example, I’m a busy person and I don’t like, as a general rule, methods that focus too much on grammar and drills. Because of this, I usually focus my efforts, in the beginning stages, on two methods: Pimsleur, for when I’m on the road, either driving, taking the bus, or walking, and Assimil or Teach Yourself (depending on the language) when I’m at home or in a café and I have enough time to sit and read through a couple of pages and listen along with the CD. This works for me because I see Pimsleur and any of the other two methods as complementary: one is almost strictly audio and can be used during so-called “transition time,” and the other two are suitable when in a quiet and comfortable place such as home.
If you prefer straightforward and more “traditional” types of resources that cover grammar, lists of words, verb tables, and other such kind of things, I would say go for Colloquial or Living Language. If you prefer learning in an “inductive” manner, without much grammar and lists of words, go for Assimil. If you’re a fan of audio-only methods and you like memory aides such as mnemonics, go for Michel Thomas. If you’re an intermediate learner, you want to take your skills to the next level, and you’re looking for a good, thorough overview of the language, go for the “A Guide to Contemporary Usage” series. If you have a younger child who might find any of this either too dry, hard, or boring, try a software such as Rosetta Stone.
The point is, find the resource(s) that is as likely to be the best fit for you, and stick with it. Develop a routine, be consistent, and go through the whole thing. If you’re interested in learning more about the resources I’ve listed above, feel free to visit the “Reviews” page on this website. But once again, don’t get sucked into the idea that purchasing a whole bunch of resources will somehow make you learn the language magically. It won’t.
I hope you’ve found some of the information I’ve provided here useful, and I’d truly love to hear from your experiences and hear whether you agree/disagree with any of what’s been said in this post. Have you had the experience of buying a whole bunch of resources that ended up mostly collecting dust on your bookshelf? Have you been able to focus and get past through the beginning stage of language learning?
Share your experiences with the rest of us, ultimately this is what will make us learn from each other and become better learners. And don’t forget to visit Lingholic’s Facebook Page and follow me on Twitter!