How to Choose Language Learning Resources 4

How to choose language learning resources

You want to start learning a new language and you’re wondering where to start.

Or maybe you’re already learning but would like to move up a level and need some resources which are more challenging. I’m sure we’ve all been there before.

I recently started learning Japanese and I was in this exact same situation – I needed some resources!

There’s a sea of resources out there – both paid and free – and it’s difficult to choose what’s best for you, especially when you don’t have any experience of learning the language you need resources for. Let alone if you don’t have any experience of learning languages at all!

But fear not – there are some things you can do to determine what type of resources will be right for you and you’ll soon be on the right track towards success.

Determine your goal

The first thing I want you to do is something I love talking about – goals. What are your goals for the language you want to learn?

You shouldn’t even go to a language bookshop before you ask yourself and attempt to answer this question. No matter how tempting browsing language resources may seem!

I know it can be tempting and I’ve made this mistake before myself. I’ve gone into bookshops and bought books and courses that I never really used because they weren’t right for the goals I was trying to achieve.

So, you need to start with the end in mind. Start with your goal.

Are you learning because you’ve got a business trip coming up? Or maybe it’s because you’re going on holiday and just want to get by in restaurants and hotels? Or maybe you’re going to university and would like to practise writing essays in a foreign language?

I’ve written about setting SMART goals before so check out my article if you’re not sure how to determine your goals.

Define the tools that match your goals

Once you’ve got your big goals, you want to have a think about what you’re going to do to meet them. The more specific you were when setting your goals, the easier you will find it to define the tools that will help you get there.

For example, if your goal is to improve your knowledge of business English because you’re going on a work-related trip, spending money on an online conversation class may not be the best use of your money. You may decide that a resource that actually lists examples of business English along with some examples of sentences is a better tool for your goal.

Decide what you favourite learning style is

Everyone has their preferred learning style and responds to learning activities differently.

Some people find it incredibly boring to read grammar rules while for others it’s impossible to move forward if they haven’t read the rules.

Some people like apps and others hate them.

Some people memorise vocabulary as they go along and others need a structured vocabulary learning routine.

Once you’ve got a good idea what your goals are and what type of tools might work for you, I want you to try and decide how you like to learn.

The first thing you might find useful is to do a general learning questionnaire. Just google ‘learning questionnaire’ – there are plenty of them you can take for free online, and the results will give you some indication of the type of learner you are.

The next step is about looking at your own experiences of what you’ve enjoyed or found helpful in the past, as well as trying out new things to see whether it’s something for you.

At this exploratory stage, it’s probably best to stick to free resources, rather than buying lots of books and language products just to see which one works best.

If you haven’t tried language learning apps before, download Duolingo and do a few lessons to see whether it’s something you enjoy. If you do, there might be a product or resource (such as an online self-study course) that will work well for you. If not, you might choose a more traditional resource later on.

how to choose language learning resources

Do your research and ask questions

Now, it’s time to look at what resources are available out there. The first thing I usually do to find out what’s available is I ask the community.

If you’re a member of a Facebook group, for example, ask learners of your language for recommendations. You can also check your favourite blogs for recommendations or product reviews.

These can be very useful starting points. I did this when I first started learning Japanese and got some very useful suggestions from my contacts.

When asking for recommendations, it’s useful to tell people what your goal is. That way, their advice is likely to be more tailored – for example, they might say you should try this app for learning some basic vocabulary but if you’re already pretty advanced then you should try this book, etc.

The other thing I would recommend you do is ask questions. If you’ve narrowed it down to five online products you’d like to get, email the people who made them and ask them questions about whether their product is right for your needs. I know I personally don’t mind replying to those emails because I want my students to be happy with what they’re getting! 

Choose the right level of challenge

A mistake language learners often make is using resources which are either too easy or too difficult for them.

Choosing the right level of challenge is paramount but it can be difficult. If it’s too easy, you risk being stuck at the same level for too long. If it’s too difficult, you risk getting frustrated and giving up!

So, how do you know the level of challenge is right for you?

It all goes back to your goals.

If you notice you’re not moving forward even though you’ve been doing the work consistently, it’s time to re-evaluate the resources you’re using. You’re either going over the same material that’s way too easy, or you’re struggling to make progress because the material is too challenging.

One thing to bear in mind is that you will find it hard to find a resource that has exactly the right level of challenge. There will definitely be some information in every resource that you’re already familiar with and that’s OK! There are some benefits of going over familiar information again. However, for it to be worth it, make sure that the majority of the material in your chosen resource is new information that you’re not familiar with yet.

I hope these tips have helped you decide how to choose language learning resources that will really support you in working towards your goals.

Good luck!



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  • this really misses examples

    • Emmanuel

      The article does have examples; there are many of them, actually.

  • Ron Arnett

    This is an excellent article.

    I use a wide variety of language learning resources. Each one does a different thing.

    I used French and German resources that provided reading skills. These are based on translation exercises. Start simple and add layers to advance. Great for what I wanted. The translation exercises couldn’t help but introduce grammar concepts. After one year I watched a French language movie. I didn’t understand a single word. I was a little surprised but not concerned since I was focused entirely on reading the languages.

    I also used vocabulary building sites that had absolutely no grammar except what ever might creep in by accident.

    I stayed away from sites and books that were all about grammar almost exclusively and which chose leaving actually learning some of the language to other resources.

    Now that I am starting Russian my choice of tools is changing. That is because I want to learn to speak and understand the language with reading it as an added bonus. It requires a completely different approach.

    But my favorite tools are those that have introduced me to new ways of learning with learning a language being something that demonstrates how effective they are.

    Needless to say other people have other objectives and should be using tools with a different focus than the ones I use. And they would be well advised to figure out what their focus is before making choices about how they plan to go about learning a foreign language.

  • Natalia

    Great article! I found a learning questionnaire online, found out that my strong side is read/write, so I bought myself a self-study book containing articles, dialogues and vocabulary. I find it difficult enough to be a challenge, but easy enough, because the book I’ve been learning from at language school was a wrong choice, but gave me the basics…