Foreign Language Resources

If you're learning a foreign language, you can't spend too much time familiarizing yourself with it. One's native tongue takes no effort, at least on a purely communicative level; acquiring a knowledge of French or Mandarin or Swahili requires not only that you learn an unfamiliar vocabulary and grammar, but that you think like native speakers. A language is a reflection of values and culture as much as words and sentences.

Many foreign language courses employ an immersion method, simply drowning students in the language until they begin to absorb it on their own. This is generally a good idea, but even the most comprehensive immersion program will leave gaps, and those are often best filled with supplemental resources and books designed for just that purpose.

For young kids, a lot of these are primarily introductory: picture books that identify familiar images (cars, apples, etc.) with foreign phrases (the Usborne First Thousand Words books come to mind), audio to guide pronunciation, workbooks, and the like. The highly visual nature of most of these resources draws kids in immediately, and starts them on the path to foreign language acquisition painlessly and almost without their knowledge.

As students get older, they'll need more grammar- and communication-oriented material. The 501.....Verbs series is a great place to learn conjugations and usage. Flippers offer quick reference both to basic vocabulary and common grammar issues. There are a plethora of books for Greek and Latin students, many of them worktexts designed for reinforcement.

At every stage, learners need to put their knowledge to practical use. Finding native speakers to converse with is always an excellent choice, but if none are available, reading stories or books in the new language is both challenging and highly rewarding. Many English-language classics are available in translation, or you can read foreign works in the original language.

It's important to remember that learning a new language isn't like riding a bicycle: if you don't practice frequently, you're likely to forget the skills and knowledge you've obtained. Many of the books you'll find in this section can help keep you sharp and in practice. A lot of resources are also available online, and often the level of interaction these provide is exactly what students need.

We'd also encourage you to browse our geography and history sections to find books, maps and other materials that provide deeper understanding of the culture and customs of the nations where the language you're studying is spoken. Language codifies many of the attitudes and beliefs of those who speak it, and understanding what those are can only deepen your understanding of the language itself.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.

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