This chapter will show you how to find resources and help you think about which ones will work for you. After that, we’ll be looking at how you put them together to make a language method.
The following sections will first cover how to find resources. We will then move on to how to choose the best resources. The final part focuses on the three core classes of resource that you need, some examples, and what to look out for.
How to find resources
There are three good ways to find resources:
Language repositories—these will be explained next
Communities of learners that are learning your target language—often there will be lists of recommended resources or a popular post by a user
Google search for guides or articles about learning your target language
Every time you encounter a good guide or a resource you think you might like, bookmark it, then keep looking. Only go back to look at the best ones once you’ve spent some time searching.
Language repositories link or store a large number of language resources in one place. Well-curated repositories can be a great place to find useful resources for your language; however, non-curated repositories that simply list lots of resources without ranking them can be overwhelming and often include low-quality resources. The top two listed below are well-curated and recommended.
Some popular language resource repositories
|All Language Resources||A fantastic curated list of resources for lots of languages. Highly recommended.|
|Zero to Hero||A curated list of video content and useful resources in lots of languages.|
|r/languagelearning resources wiki||Useful repository with links to subreddits containing resources for many languages|
|So you want to learn a language||A website with lots of resources|
|Multilingual books||Another website with lots of resources|
|Open Culture||A website that lists free resources|
|Recommended resources from polyglot Lindie Botes||A website with resources for ten languages|
While repositories can be helpful, they aren’t always curated specifically for each language. For that reason, I recommend you also try to find communities and guides dedicated to the language you are learning. A great place to start is with Reddit. There are a number of communities dedicated to all of the commonly-learned languages. Links to them can be found here, which is itself also a repository. Use the sidebar to search for your language and look for the link to the subreddit. There will often be a wiki with resources there.
Another option is a simple Google search along the lines of “How to learn Japanese”. There are three pitfalls to avoid:
There are a lot of cookie-cutter, search-engine-optimised, low-effort articles out there. It’s not a universal rule, but my general experience is that better guides either have their own website or are written by individuals/groups on their own websites or on language learning communities.
Many guides out there are really trying to sell you something, and will try to give you the impression (usually without outright saying it) that the best way to learn a language is with their method/product. Ignore it; I’m giving you that info for free right here.
Some resources can be very prescriptive about what exercises you do in what order. Don’t feel like you need to follow them to the letter. Pick and choose what works for you.
Because there are many resources that only deal with one language, this guide does not represent the full range of high-quality resources available. Your own research should hopefully unearth more recommendations from other learners. If you don’t find anything, you’ll still have this chapter.
There are four key factors you should consider when assessing whether a resource is worth trying:
If it is recommended by other learners
How much you think you will enjoy using it
How well it fits the archetype of a good resource outlined in this chapter
There are many different types of resources. This guide splits them into three core classes, plus one additional class. The three core classes are:
A beginner course
A flashcard program
A beginner course is any kind of course that tries to teach you the fundamentals, such as the core grammar and basic vocabulary, in a structured manner.
A flashcard program helps you learn vocabulary and grammar by repeatedly showing you words or sentences and asking you to recollect their meaning.
Input is any piece of content produced in the language such as books, news, or movies.
The three core classes of resource are crucial for developing your method.
The final class of resource is Supplements. This is a catch-all term for the many other useful tools you need for your learning.
Next we will look at each of these types of resource and what to look for.
There are six basic types of beginner courses you can use. It will be up to you to choose which you prefer.
Online text, audio, or video explanations—websites, podcasts, or video series that explain the basics of your language
Teach-yourself books—books that provide explanations, exercises, and beginner input (highly popular)
Online courses—often websites and/or apps with their own methodology (also very popular)
Listen-and-repeat courses—courses that function by having you listen to phrases and then repeatedly prompting you to recall and say them out loud
Classes—teachers in a classroom
Some good examples of beginner courses
|Text, audio, or video explanations||YouTube videos
Free online lectures/courses such as listed here
Assimil (paid, audio)
BBC Languages (free)
Live Lingua Project (free resources)
FSI, DLI, and Peace Corps language courses
|Teach-yourself books||Colloquial series|
|Online courses||Duolingo (free)
Busuu (free with paid premium)
Mango Languages (paid)
StoryLearning (paid with a free 7 day trial)
|Listen-and-repeat courses||Language Transfer (free)
Coffee Break Languages (free)
What makes a good beginner course?
The course you choose should be one that you like and is recommended by other learners. Remember: There is plenty of room for personal preference. Choose something that you think works for you. You can change courses over the course of your learning.
A good course:
Focuses on teaching the language in context using input
Has interesting lessons or content
Uses interactive lessons
Covers all the bases: grammar, vocabulary, and the four skills
Allows you to follow your interest
Provides the appropriate amount of information to enable learning
A bad course:
Uses few examples or minimal content
Has boring content or presentation
Lets lessons be easily completed by passively reading or watching
Focuses too much on one aspect and/or ignores other aspects
Forces you to complete drills or activities before you can move on
Ignores grammar or does not provide any explanation when needed
No course is perfect, but the downsides of the course you use can be countered by the other components of your method. It is common for learners to use multiple courses where their relative strengths and weaknesses balance out. For example, you may use a tutor in addition to your course to practice speaking and get better explanations; or you might use a teach yourself book in addition to a listen-and-repeat course to help improve your vocabulary and listening.
The different types of courses I outlined also have their own advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages and disadvantages of each of the six types of beginner course
|Text, audio, or video explanations||Plenty of variety, usually free, and easy to use||Quality is variable and remembering what is taught is usually left to the learner|
|Teach-yourself books||Courses are usually complete and good quality||Sometimes rely on ineffective grammar exercises; not very interactive|
|Online courses||Often the highest quality, interactive, and can provide the full set of resources a learner needs||Often pricey and may require an ongoing subscription|
|Listen-and-repeat courses||Great for travellers, very good at helping you start to speak, get a feel for the language, and remember and use lots of useful phrases||Not well-rounded|
|Classes||Help students stay motivated; teachers can provide correction and language feedback.||Costly; can be a slow way of learning the language if lessons are not frequent|
|Tutors||Very powerful method; can provide correction and language feedback||Multiple lessons are very costly; often only used as a supplement for this reason|
Key tip: Change courses if you need to
Learners commonly change courses as they reach a point where their current one becomes boring or too easy. Switching is a valid choice if your new course still challenges you and helps you learn; however, I don’t advise you do so repeatedly.
Using listen-and-repeat courses
Listen-and-repeat courses are perfect for people who are travelling soon and need tourist phrases as well as anyone that doesn’t have a lot of time to study at their desk. They’re also great at building confidence speaking early-on.
If your focus is on communicating, listen-and-repeat courses are recommended. Because they are so specialised, I advise using them as a supplement. If you are less interested in communicating, consider them optional.
Tutors are one of the best supplementary resources as they can structure learning to your preference. Tutors are highly recommended for those who can afford them.
Since tutors can be expensive, using one simply to explain the basics to you is not the best use of your money. Any information they give you will also be freely available on YouTube or another website. It is generally a better use of your money to use tutors as a source of input, to identify errors, help you start speaking, and provide correction. Remember: learning is a fundamentally internal process—you still need to put in hard work regardless of the source of the information.
Budget is an important consideration for many people. There is no direct correlation between price and quality—many poor resources cost money, while many of the best resources on the internet are free. However, there is a general trend towards paid resources being better. Paying for something that is recommended by others and works for you can be a good investment.
If you prefer a cheaper option, a good path could be using text, audio, or video explanation or free online course in combination with a listen-and-repeat course. If you’re willing to spend a bit of money to make your life easier, you will likely find value in using a paid online course in combination with a personal tutor to help you practise and identify errors.
Flashcards are a powerful tool used primarily to learn new words and grammatical forms. While you can make them by hand, these days we have apps to make the process simpler and more convenient.
|Flashcard software||Description and links|
|Anki||iPhone app (paid)
Android app (free)
|Memrise||An online flashcard program that focuses on using mnemonics|
|Clozemaster||A flashcard program that teaches using fill-the-blank sentences that features a rather gamified interface|
|Quizlet||An online flashcard system|
|LearnWithOliver||Another online flashcard system|
What makes a good flashcard system?
The best flashcard programs use spaced repetition. This works by automatically spacing out your revision using something called the forgetting curve. When you first learn a word, you are shown it again at very short intervals. With each revision, the interval becomes longer and longer until the word is safe in your long-term memory.
The most popular flashcard software is Anki. Anki is popular due to its free desktop and android app, large community, functionality, customisability, and clean interface. The flipside is that there can be a fairly steep learning curve, depending on what you want to do with it.
Anki allows its users to export and share flashcard decks they make. There are many pre-made shared decks for you to use to get started here. If you’re a complete beginner, find a deck with words ordered by frequency. The best decks also have example sentences. Feel free to download multiple and try them out.
Anki has a large amount of settings to change the behaviour of the “again”, “hard”, “good” and “easy” options. If you’re overwhelmed by all the options, the defaults will be sufficient to get started. You can also find some clear video explanations here and here. This is the best settings overview I’ve found, and is enough to make you comfortable with the functionality.
You will find yourself confused by Anki at some point, so it is recommended to read the manual soon after you download it. You can find it in the table above and here.
Sometimes content will already be integrated into the course you are doing. Even if your lessons already include texts or audio, it will be useful to find your own that interest you. More content is always good.
Here are some examples of input you might use:
Dialogues for learners
What makes good input?
The best input is both comprehensible and interesting to you. This content is often intended specifically for adult beginners. As always, try to find recommendations from other learners. Here are the best resources you can find as a learner:
YouTube channels with conversation or dialogue intended for adult learners
Podcasts intended for learners
Short stories for learners, in books or online
Books for young teens
Websites with articles or news intended for learners
Anything with audio and a text transcript
Anything with naturalistic dialogues
A common method is to use content intended for children; however, the vocabulary is often not very useful nor the topics very interesting to an adult.
Content such as TV series, music, movies, and real news websites is generally made to be understood by adult native speakers. This content is usually too difficult for beginners to use effectively. I do not recommend you use them at the start.
Finding content as a beginner can be difficult, particularly for languages that are not as popular. If you’re starved for interesting content or just want to, feel free to try something outside of the typical beginner range—you can still learn with it.
Good sources of beginner content
|Easy Languages YouTube channel||Street interviews with dual-language subtitles—quality beginner content in lots of languages|
Language Reactor YouTube catalogue
|Catalogues of good subtitled YouTube videos/channels in lots of languages|
|Netflix||Great source of foreign language TV and movies with subtitles|
|Olingo||Shows you some good YouTube content for some of the most popular languages|
|r/languagelearning media section||A list of good media resources|
|Free public domain e-books|
|Gloss||Website with a lot of beginner content|
|The Fable Cottage||Dual-language fairy tales|
|Books by Olly Richards||Conversations and Short Stories series of books available on Amazon|
You can also use other learners’ guides online to find good input.
Key tip: Use a variety of different content
Make sure your content has a lot of variety in terms of the context and skills it uses. It is surprisingly difficult to translate your language ability from one skill into another without a lot of practice. For example, reading lots will help you learn a lot of words, but you will struggle to recognise these words when you hear them until you’ve done a lot of listening practice. One good heuristic is to look for content that contains at least some audio and some written. Starting with audio early will help your communication in the long run. In addition, using a range of resources will give you exposure to different vocabulary, accents, and degrees of formality that will help your overall ability.
Training the algorithm
Some services, such as YouTube and TikTok use algorithms to guess and suggest what you want to watch next. These can be extremely useful for helping you find more content. This is best done by creating separate accounts and liking content and subscribing to or following accounts you like. YouTube makes this surprisingly easy. This 5-minute video by the folks at Refold is enough to get you started.
Popular tools for input
There is a variety of useful tools to help you improve your learning with input. I recommend you check all of these out.
|Readlang||Import texts and get instant translations by clicking on words, has a built-in flashcard program|
|Lingq||A popular paid service similar to Readlang that provides lots of content and records and highlights known words|
|WordLab||Two fantastic chrome extensions, one for Netflix and one for YouTube, that give you more control over playback and subtitles—highly recommended for intermediate learners|
|Keyword lookup||Chrome tip to help you search dictionaries faster using the search bar|
|ImTranslator||Dictionary lookup addon|
Dictionaries aide your usage of input by helping you find definitions for specific words that are preventing your understanding. They are also useful as a general reference for your course.
The best dictionary to use depends on your language. Not all are listed here. An ideal dictionary will give you example sentences, an equivalent in your native language, and the correct pronunciation.
Here are a few dictionaries that offer translations for multiple languages:
Popular online dictionaries
|Linguee||Clean interface. translations are sorted by frequency|
|Wiktionary||A poplar dictionary with helpful pronunciation guides and support for a wide variety of languages|
|Bab.la||Great interface and lots of sample sentences. Has a built-in verb conjugator|
|Reverso||Useful example sentences|
|Tatoeba||Helps you find example sentences|
When you look at other guides and resources, you will encounter resources for your language that don’t fit with the three core classes, but are nonetheless important.
These are classed separately one or more of several reasons: Some are only important for a subset of languages, some people may not need them for their goals, learners may only need them for a limited period of time, or they can be easily interchanged with no impact on your learning. They still may be very important to you, so take the time to review the below sections.
Language exchange resources
Later in your learning, it will be useful to find ways to practise your language with others. These resources will help you find partners.
Popular language exchange resources
|The two largest language exchange apps|
My Language Exchange
|Websites for finding exchange partners. These sites are more basic than the apps, though many consider that an advantage.|
|LangCorrect||A community focused of submitting your writing and having it corrected by native speakers|
|Journaly||Service to help you write journals and get your writing corrected by others|
Some resources are designed to help you improve your pronunciation.
Popular online pronunciation aides
|Wiktionary||Mentioned as a dictionary, but also includes IPA pronunciation guides and audio|
|Forvo||Example sentences and pronunciation recordings|
|The Wikipedia IPA Charts||These contain the information on how every sound in every language is produced; You are unlikely to use this resource directly, rather good dictionaries such as Wiktionary will link you to the correct IPA symbol|
|YouGlish||Lets you input a word (supports lots of languages) and shows an example from YouTube of the word being used by native speakers|
Writing system resources
These come in to play for learners of languages with different writing systems. I usually avoid giving examples for specific languages, but I will make an exception here since there are a few commonly-learned languages with this requirement and no generic resources. These are popular examples, not recommendations.
Popular online writing resources
|Skritter||Chinese||An app to help you practice writing Hanzi|
|WaniKani||Japanese||A mnemonic-based method for learning Japanese Kanji|
For languages with different alphabets, these are more commonly taught within beginner courses or through simple charts and explanations, without the requirement for a specific tool.
Reference resources, as implied by the name, are there to help you look up some aspect of the language, usually grammar. There are too many to count and are typically only for a specific language, so I don’t have many examples.
|Cooljugator||Tables of verb conjugations for many languages|
Translation software can help you understand entire sentences. Avoid becoming over-reliant on translating whole sentences. Try to understand a sentence yourself first.
Popular translation software
|Google Translate||The most popular translation software on the web|
|DeepL||A powerful alternative to Google Translate|
Phrasebooks are optional, but phrases can help you get a feel for the language and greatly improve your communicative ability when travelling. A cautionary note: phrases cannot be learned simply by reading them. Learning needs to be supplemented with flashcards.
Here are some websites you might like to use:
|Book2||Phrasebooks in lots of languages|
|LanguageGuide||Interactive way of showing simple vocabulary|
Key tip: Use resources you enjoy
Studying languages is not always the most exciting activity, so choosing resources that you enjoy helps a lot. Keep in mind that there is plenty of room for individual preference for resources when it comes to what is the most effective way to learn. Use what you like and don’t worry too much about what others recommend. If you find yourself getting bored with a resource, feel free to change it.
Resources are worth very little on their own. Next we will cover how to use your resources together by building a method.