Nowadays, everyone who aims to learn a new language wants to know the answer to a single, insidious question:
Which language learning resource can I use to reach fluency in the shortest time possible?
This question is built on two incorrect assumptions:
- That there is one resource that will address all of your language learning needs.
- That once you reach fluency, (or whatever your end goal is), you won’t need language learning resources any longer.
Again, both of the above assumptions are false. Experienced language learners, when faced with the above question, will challenge these assumptions by revealing two key truths of language learning, namely the following:
- There is no single “magic resource” for language learning, there is only the combination of multiple resources that work best for you.
- Language learning is a marathon, not a sprint. As there is no one single moment in which a language is definitively “learned”, you will always need to rely on learning resources to increase your skill level.
If you want to become the type of learner who is prepared to take on the language learning marathon and eventually experience true success in language learning, then you must become a daily language learner who constantly and consistently learns from the right resources.
In this article, you will learn the three types of language learning resources that are essential for day-to-day success.
These are, in order of importance:
- The primary learning resource
- The portable learning resource
- The pleasurable learning resource
1. The Primary Learning Resource
The first, and arguably most important resource for any daily language learner is the primary learning resource.
Though this resource can take nearly any format, shape, or form, it must possess a number of key characteristics. It must be:
- Heavily aligned with both your current short-term and long-term language learning goals.
- It must be rich in information and depth, providing weeks, months, or more of useful language learning opportunities.
- It must be motivating enough to fuel 50% or more of your daily learning time for as long as you use the resource.
The primary learning resource should be the central focus around which your daily language learning activities operate. It should be the “main course” of your daily language consumption, and when possible, be given the highest daily priority of any activity you do in your target language.
When working with your primary resource, you should be sat in a quiet, distraction-free environment, and work with that particular resource until you’ve completed your allotted daily study time with that resource.
Here are some examples of primary learning resources:
- For beginners, the best primary learning resources are usually comprehensive language learning programs or courses, designed to give you a foundation in the language from day one of your learning. Good examples of such courses include Assimil, Teach Yourself, Colloquial, or LinguaCore’s own Bidirectional Translation.
- For intermediate learners, the best primary learning resource is usually a language exchange partner, or a well-trained coach or tutor. Since your foundational skills in the language have already been developed, working with a native speaker or advanced foreign learner of the language will help you grow accustomed to using the language to communicate, and get you ready to make the jump to native materials and more complex forms of communication.
- For advanced learners, the best primary learning resource is any complex resource that is 100% in your target language and that expands your language skills by regularly pushing you out of your comfort zone. Depending on your goals, advanced primary resources could be anything from reading full-length books, novels and newspapers, writing articles, stories, and technical essays, making speeches, and regularly consuming native films, music, podcasts, and television.
2. The Portable Learning Resource
The second essential resource for any daily language learning regimen is the portable learning resource.
As the name suggests, this resource is one that you can take with you wherever you go. As with the primary resource, it can take nearly any format, shape, or form, so long as it is:
- At least moderately aligned with your short- and long-term language learning goals.
- Small and/or portable enough to be carried with you at all times, or as often as possible.
- Simple and unintrusive enough to be used nearly anywhere, without disturbing those around you.
The portable learning resource should be the resource you turn to whenever you do not have access to your primary resource. If the primary resource is your “main course”, you can think of the portable resource as your “side dish”—adding variety without providing the bulk of your “learning meal”.
Ideally, your current portable resource should be used during your “dead time”, such as when you are waiting in line, using public transportation, or otherwise away from your primary learning resource with nothing productive to do.
Such portable resources also function as a safety net for your learning; if there is ever a day where you cannot use your primary resource at all, your portable resource will allow you to learn “on-the-go”, getting your time in without breaking your day-to-day learning streak.
Here are some examples of portable learning resources:
- For beginners, mobile apps and programs like Duolingo, LingoDeer, and LingQ are available for iOS and Android, and their content can be accessed either through a mobile data connection, or downloaded to your device for offline learning. If you do not have access to a smartphone or similar device, you can make your own flashcards and carry them with you for similar benefits.
- For intermediate learners, the best portable resources are ones that allow you to pick, choose, and organize your own language content. SRS programs like Anki and Memrise allow you to create your own flashcard decks. If on-the-go conversation is more your thing, then look into language exchange apps like HelloTalk and Tandem.
- For advanced learners, the best portable resources allow you to consume native materials 100% in the target language. For example, you could use the YouTube app to watch videos in your target language, use your mobile browser to read target language news and blog articles, and podcast apps to stream spoken language audio right to your phone, wherever you are. If you do not have smartphone access, buy a book or newspaper in your target language and carry it with you.
3. The Pleasurable Learning Resource
The third essential resource for the daily language learner is the pleasurable language resource.
Unlike the other two types of resources, which are meant to provide the bulk of your deliberate learning, pleasurable resources should be more passive, providing fun and entertainment while requiring much less of your focus and energy.
As with the primary and portable resource types, the pleasurable resource can take nearly any format, shape, or form, so long as it is:
- At least marginally aligned with your short- and long-term language goals.
- Enjoyable and entertaining to use for any length of time, with no added stress to your schedule.
- A reliable source of your target language that you can learn from even when using it passively.
Your pleasurable learning resource should be the resource you use to rest and recharge your language learning motivation. If the primary and portable resources are your “main course” and “side dish”, then the pleasurable resource is most certainly your “dessert”—the part of your daily language learning that you look forward to most, irrespective of its potential learning value.
In terms of daily priority, the pleasurable learning resource should come last; as a rule, you should turn to it only when you’ve already hit your daily learning targets with some combination of your primary and portable resources. Because of their low intrinsic learning value, pleasurable resources can be dropped if you’re short on time on any particular day.
Though the ability to drop pleasurable resources from your schedule gives you added flexibility on a tight schedule, it is not something that should be done often. This is because pleasurable resources are high in motivational value, and will help you “recharge your batteries” when your other resources have you feeling challenged, confused, or otherwise stressed out.
If you do not regularly use pleasurable resources to help you have fun and entertain yourself through the medium of the language, you run the risk of associating the language with exclusively with hard work and stress. Without pleasurable resources to help you let off steam while using the language, you may ultimately burn out, and give up your learning.
Here are some examples of pleasurable learning resources:
- For beginners, the most accessible pleasurable resources involve music in your target language. Music is something that language learners of any skill level can enjoy, and any songs that you find enjoyable can be used as useful learning tools as you gain proficiency in the language.
- For intermediate learners, the best pleasurable resources include target language films, movies, and television shows with optional target language subtitles. These media formats are both visually and auditorily engaging, and allow you to both witness and hear how native speakers talk and act in their native cultural context. The optional use of subtitles provides an added bonus, as you can use them to test your listening comprehension and vocabulary while you watch.
- For advanced learners, good pleasurable resources could be anything that allows you to have fun completely in the target language while still challenging your skills. Such resources can include casual, at-home activities like reading novels, watching the news, or playing video games, or public, group activities like concerts, meetups, classes, parties, lectures and more. Once you’ve reached the advanced level of proficiency, the sky’s the limit, so long as you’re having fun!
As you run your language learning marathon, you’ll find that there’s no one resource that you can rely on for the whole journey.
Some resources you’ll try, and hate. Others, you’ll try, and love. Others, you’ll try, and find that although you like them, they’re not appropriate for your skill level.
Even if you stick only with the resources you like, you’ll eventually grow tired of many of them, regardless of their quality. And that’s when you’ll have to move on to something else.
The ever-changing relationship between the language learner and the resources he or she uses is why the three “resources” named in this article are so essential; Instead of being certain, specific products, brands, or systems, they’re not actually resources at all—but key categories of resources.
As you can see from the examples above, learners of any language or skill level can find resources that belong to these categories: resources that provide focused learning, resources that provide on-the-go learning, and resources that allow you to have fun with the language.
If you master the distinctions between these resource categories, and use them to guide which specific resources you ultimately rely upon, you’ll ultimately be prepared to face any day of learning, in what is hopefully an endless streak of daily language learning success that will extend far into your future.