The 5 Types of Language Learning Resources & How to Learn Best

Hey there. What kind of language resources are out there?

And which should you pick?

And how should you learn with ’em?

In this guide, I offer you no actual product recommendations. Instead, you’re going to find out about the types of resources. What they’re good for. How to use each one. And  how to squeeze the most value (learn a ton of language) out of each one.

But first, let’s start with these points in mind:

  • No one language learning resource will bring you to fluency
  • All resources require time and focus. If you think you can learn while multi-tasking (such as browsing the internet while you listen), you’re misguided.
  • All resources require review (and practice). Unless you’re a genius, you won’t remember things on the first or second try.
  • (Almost) all resources can teach you some of the language… if you use them properly.
  • And even the best resources in the world will teach you nothing… if you don’t use them consistently.

language learning resources

1) Language Audio Lessons (and AudioBooks)

Most audio lessons and audiobooks have you listen to a native speaker or two teaching you words, grammar, conversation and maybe a bit of culture. In the past, you’d have CD programs but nowadays, you can just download and/or stream, and listen on your phone. Or you can buy an Audiobook.

So, what’s the deal with audio lessons? What are they good for?

  • Easy to consume. All you have to do is press play and listen.
  • Good for listening practice.
  • Good for memorization if you repeat the audio.
    • So, if a lesson teaches a conversation, you could put that on repeat and memorize it.
  • Good for overall exposure. With any language, you will need to be exposed to all kinds of conversations, so you can handle all kinds of conversations when you’re out in real life.
  • Good for speaking IF… you repeat what you hear.
  • You can learn anywhere: at home on your computer, or on a walk with your phone.

Bad points:

  • If it’s above your level, it won’t be very productive. You won’t get much out of it.
  • Can be too passive. If you’re just listening without engaging with the lessons (not repeating, for example), you may not get much out of it.

How to learn with Audio Lessons

  1. Download the lessons to your device and review the same lesson again and again. The repetition will drill the words and rules into your brain.
  2. Repeat what you hear. That way, you’ll remember better and practice speaking at the same time.
  3. Write down key words and phrases into a notebook.
  4. Don’t be passive. Don’t just listen. Unless you’re reviewing what you already know.
  5. Re-listen to the audio at a slower speed to hear the language better.

2. Video Lessons

Then you have video lessons. You could either watch these on YouTube or via other learning programs.

Good points:

  • Like Audio, Video is easy to consume. Just watch and listen.
  • You can learn anywhere: on your computer or on your smartphone.
  • Video, like audio, is also good listening practice. You get to hear native speakers
  • Good for listening practice.
  • Good for speaking practice, if you repeat out loud.
  • May be good for reading practice the video shows text as well. That is, assuming you know the alphabet for your specific language.
  • As with reading, you can “see” the language on-screen.
    • This is good if you’re learning grammar rules. If you can see rules explained on-screen, it’s a lot easier to understand them. For example, you can see a simple sentence structure and see how the noun, verb and other parts arranged in a sentence.
  • You can repeat and re-watch videos as much as you want.

Bad points:

  • If it’s too entertaining (i.e. you’re watching for fun), you won’t learn much.
    • Shouldn’t learning be fun? To an extent, sure. But if you’re caught up in some video because you’re attracted to the teacher, you won’t learn much. Maybe a few words, but not enough to get good.
    • A good measure of “if you’re learning” is… are you rewinding and noting words down in a notebook? If you’re not… then you’re not there to do work or learn, even if you think you are.
  • Like audio, learning with video can be too passive. Again, unless you’re writing words down, rewinding and repeating, you’re only going to remember one or two measly words.
  • If you’re learning on YouTube, you WILL get distracted and you will lose focus.

How to learn with Video Lessons

  1. Download the lessons to your device and review the same lesson again and again.
  2. Repeat what you hear.
  3. Write down key words and phrases into a notebook.
  4. Replay the video at a slower speed to hear the words slower.
  5. Don’t be passive. Unless you know it all and are reviewing, you need to engage with the lessons. How? See the points above.

3) Language Learning Books

There are plenty of language learning books. Textbooks. Phrasebooks. Grammar books. Let’s jump in.

A) Language Textbooks

Good points:

  • Great as a first step. You’ll learn plenty of words, grammar rules, phrases and dialogues.
  • You’ll learn what’s necessary for your level. If you’re a beginner you’ll learn enough of what “beginners” need to know. Same with intermediate and advanced level textbooks.
  • You’ll learn to read and write.
  • You can (somewhat) practice speaking IF you read out loud.
  • Contain a ton of lessons and will keep you busy for a while.
  • Great for staying focused and will strengthen your attention/focus the longer you stick with it.
  • May contain exercises which is good to test your learning progress.

Bad points:

  • Textbooks can get pretty boring.
  • If it’s too academic, you’ll be learning a lot of language that’s “polite” but not really used in casual situations.
  • Takes a while to finish. You may get tired or realize just how much work learning a language requires.

How to learn with Textbooks

  1. Just follow the pages, from 1 to 100, or whenever it ends and don’t quit.
  2. Do the exercises.
  3. Write out the words, sentences and grammar rules multiple times to make them stick.
  4. Say things out loud as you write them. Engaging multiple senses can help you remember things better.
  5. Write out sentences and dialogues as writing practice.
  6. Re-read dialogues and sentences. Start out by reading slowly. Then read a bit faster. The faster you can read, the better.
  7. Review and re-read as much as possible.
  8. Don’t just read without taking action (copying things out or saying out loud.) Consuming information is lazy. Acting on information is where you actually learn.
  9. Make sure to finish the entire book.

B) Workbooks

Language workbooks are a lot more fun because they require your engagement. But with a workbook. you’re also expected to know enough to start answering questions.

Good points:

  • Good for testing yourself on the words, phrases and grammar.
  • Good because you get challenged. Most resources don’t challenge you, they just feed you info.
  • Highly engaging.
  • You get to see the “right answers.” With other materials, sure you can learn but you won’t know what mistakes you’ll ultimately end up making. Here, you get the answer key so you can know what’s actually right.

Bad points:

  • May not offer explanations for what you got wrong.
  • May not offer explanations for the things you get quizzed on.

How to learn with Workbooks

  1. Do the exercises.
  2. Make sure to finish the entire book.
  3. If you got some questions wrong, review why.
  4. Re-take the quizzes if possible.
  5. Write out the examples, sentences and anything you think is worth remembering.
  6. Review the book on occasion.

C) Dictionaries & Reference Books (Phrase Books, Vocabulary Books & Grammar Books) 

Now, the thing about these books is… that they’re meant for reference, for looking things up and reviewing. Not for fun reading. So, don’t complain when you find your dictionary boring.

Good points:

  • Easy to review. You don’t have to read the whole thing at once. Just look up what you need.
  • Tons of info. Whether you’re looking for words, phrases, or grammar, you should be able to get-a-plenty.
  • Good for improving your vocabulary and grammar.
  • May be good for reading if you read through.
  • You don’t have to read the whole thing at once.

Bad points:

  • Dead boring if you try to read these for fun. But that goes without saying.

How to learn with them:

  1. Look up just what you need. (Duh.)
  2. Make up a list of things you want to know and look them up.
  3. Write ’em out – whether rules, words, or phrases – in a notebook.
  4. Review as much as possible.
  5. Set aside 5-20 minutes and just read through. Set a time limit so you know when to stop and so you don’t get bored.
  6. Write ’em onto flashcards.

Now, speaking of flashcards…

4) Flashcards

Flashcards fall under 2 categories: physical and digital.

Physical Flashcards

I’ll get into the digital kind down in the Apps section. But with physical flashcards…

Good points:

  • Great way to remember words, phrases and grammar rules.
  • You can create your own. Or possibly buy ready-made ones.
  • Much easier to use than digital ones. Just run through the cards.
  • You can learn with these anywhere, anytime. Although it’s not as easy as playing with your phone if you’re walking.

Bad points:

  • Requires work. You have to write them out, unless you buy ready-made ones.

How to learn with flashcards:

  1. Set aside a time limit – say 5 or 10 minutes – and drill through. That way it won’t be so bad.
  2. Drill consistently – every day. It’s hard to learn words by themselves but with consistency, you can get them stuck in your head.
  3. Study phrases and sentences over words. Again, learning words by themselves doesn’t really tell you how to use them. But, when you see them used in sentences, you have a better idea.
  4. Pass them to someone else when you’re done. Save them the work of making their own and donate physical flashcards.

5) Language Apps & Software

There are different kinds of language learning apps and software out there. And I’m going to bundle apps and downloadable software together since both are similar.

A) Quiz Apps. These will feed you translation quizzes, matching games, fill-in-the-blanks, and more, to get you practicing a language.

Good points:

  • Good for practicing words and phrases.
  • Good for memory retention.
  • They keep things fun and motivating.
  • Beginner friendly.
  • You can learn anywhere: whether at home with your computer or on a walk with your smartphone.

Bad points:

  • You’ll only learn words. You’ll never come away knowing conversations and speaking at an advanced level.
  • You’ll get easily distracted. Whether you’re on a computer or your phone, you’ll get other notifications coming at you. Plus, you have the temptation of other websites, apps, and everything else on the internet .

How to use them properly:

  1. Be consistent. Set a time limit of 5-10 minutes a day.
  2. Write down the words you have trouble with.

B) Chat Apps. With these, you can chat with native speakers and try and do language exchange.

The good points:

  • You get to practice and get corrected by natives.
  • You can get explanations from native speakers.
  • You can build friendships.
  • You get to practice reading and writing. And maybe a bit of speaking if you say things out loud or send voice messages.

Bad points:

  • No structure. Unless you’re dealing with a professional teacher, learning with a friendly native won’t help you go “all-the-way.” They don’t know how to teach you.
  • Language exchange can get uneven. Usually, one person gets more out of it than another.
  • You’ll get easily distracted.

How to use them:

  1. Make sure you set an even exchange with your language partner. For example, for 5 minutes both of you talk in their language, and then for 5 minutes both of you talk in your language.
  2. Ask for the most natural ways to say things. The problem with us learners is that we don’t know. So, always ask how to say things. And before your next session, you may as well make a list of things to ask about.
  3. Practice daily conversations like talking about your plans, how you’ve been doing, and such. Talk about anything you already talk about in your native language.
  4. Take notes and review what you’ve learned from them. Copy out the text from the chat window if possible.

C) Flashcard Apps & Software. Most flashcard apps out there are based on a “spaced repetition system,” or SRS for short. The way SRS works is, you see a word, you mark whether you know it or not, and then based on your answer, the system quizzes you accordingly.

So, if you knew the word, you’ll see it again in 2 days, then in 4 days, then in 8 days, then in 16 days. SRS spaces the words out but repeats them so you don’t forget.

If you get a word wrong or if you don’t know it, you will see it again and again, until you get it right.

The good points?

  • Good for learning words and phrases.
  • Good for grammar IF that’s what you’re learning via flashcards.
  • Great for long term memorization.
  • You can learn anywhere: at home on a computer, or on your phone.
  • Doesn’t require much “set up.” You can get flashcard decks based on your needs. With physical cards, you’d have to write them out… unless you buy ready-made ones.

Bad points:

  • Terribly boring.
  • With most flashcard applications, you have to tap or click a few times before moving on to the next word. A bit too much work.
  • You’ll get easily distracted. Some more fun app or website will steal your attention away.

How to use them properly:

  1. Set aside a time limit – say 5 or 10 minutes – and drill through. That way it won’t be so bad.
  2. Drill consistently – every day. It’s hard to learn words by themselves but with consistency, you can get them stuck in your head.
  3. Study phrases and sentences over words. Again, learning words by themselves doesn’t really tell you how to use them. But, when you see them used in sentences, you have a better idea.


Now that you’ve finished reading about language learning resources…

…here’s what you need to remember:

There is no magic resource that will take you to fluency. All of these require time, effort, consistency, repetition, and review. Reading language learning advice is cool and all but will not help you become better. Millions of people read millions of self-books a year and nothing happens. Things only happen when you take action. Action and acting upon the advice is what makes you better.

So, now that you’re done reading, put some of these to use.

And even better, if you have ideas on how to use some resources better, leave a comment.

– The Main Junkie

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