Modern Language Learning Aids

Modern language learning aids – a review

Before I start, I would like to say that although the focus is on English, most of what I say could apply to any language.

When I think back to when I first started learning German, there wasn’t much in the way of learning material. Specifically, there was:

  • no internet
  • no smart phones
  • expensive international telephone calls
  • VHS cassettes only in one language

These days, there are many more options, some of which you might not expect.


Reading

modern language learning aids - reading

Yes, reading – it’s a great way to learn a language. This can be physical books, kindle or other e-books. To a large extent, it doesn’t matter what you read, as long as it’s well-written. Any genre, author etc. will help. Check out this post for a great way to get your hands on lots of discounted and free e-books.

Ideally, you should read something that you find enjoyable – that way, the learning comes for free. If you find a word or expression that you don’t know, take the time to find out what it means – don’t just carry on.

If you’re new to the language and find reading difficult, then see if you can find children’s books. I’m serious. This will give you the practice that you need, at a level that is sensible. Don’t worry about the fact that you have a children’s book in your hands. What matters is that you have found material that helps you progress.

For advanced learners (and bearing in mind that this site has a Business English slant), try reading newspapers or magazines with business-related topics. Not only will this help with the language, but you will be better informed about the business world in general.


DVD / BluRay

modern language learning aids - dvd

The film really needs to be in the language you’re learning. I would avoid translated films, as dubbing makes it unnatural to watch as a learner. If you’re learning English, then you have a huge amount of material at your disposal.

Modern films on a digital format are wonderful learning resources. You can pause, replay, change the language, change / enable subtitles etc. at the push of a button. It doesn’t get much easier than this.

This is my suggestion to making the most of this wonderful learning resource.

  • choose a film that you really like and know well
  • switch to the original language (i.e. the one you’re learning)
  • watch the film, repeating and/or pausing as necessary
  • switch to your native language as a last resort, then back, once you understand

As in the reading above, if you hear a word or phrase that you don’t know, pause the film and take the time to look it up.


A word about dictionaries

modern language learning aids - dictionary

A couple of times, I said that words should be looked up if the meaning is unclear. I recommend using an old-fashioned paper-based dictionary – you know, that thing gathering dust on the shelf.

If you use an electronic dictionary or online tool, you get the answer too quickly. This has the unfortunate effect of being forgotten, equally as quickly. If you’re looking the word up in a dictionary, it takes longer, but you remember it longer. Obviously, if you’re on the move and you’re missing a word for the taxi driver, then by all means, use an electronic dictionary. The paper dictionary recommendation is for learning purposes.


The internet

modern language learning aids - internet

There are many sites, both paid and free, that offer learning resources. However, the quality is very diverse and if in doubt, ask a native speaker to have a look for you. I looked at online courses in detail in this post. A special mention must be made for YouTube videos. There is a wide range of videos available in many languages, but again, ask a native speaker for check if you have any doubts as to the quality and correctness.


Online games

modern language learning aids - mmorpg

Yep, you read that right – online games. Even if the game is available in your native language, play it in the language you’re learning. You will get lots of reading and listening practice.

Pro tip for any younger people reading this: when your parents shout up the stairs, asking what you’re doing, just tell them you’re practising English 😉

If you’re playing an MMORPG, such as World of Warcrack, you will most likely be in a guild. Try joining one that speaks the language you’re learning. Join them on TeamSpeak, Ventrilo, Mumble, Skype etc. You will get good practice at listening to different voices, as well as speaking. Because they’re your guildies, they won’t be unkind and will be more patient than 99% of the population. If this isn’t the case, then find a guild with better people.


Internet forums

modern language learning aids - forum

I mention this separately from the internet section above because internet forums are very hit and miss in terms of usefulness to a learner. One problem is the ‘kewl kidzz’ who think it’s hilarious to write in ‘1337 5p34k’ (leet speak), which won’t help you in the slightest. Another problem is the fact that a lot of non-native speakers are present, who might write poorly. Before you start screaming ‘racist’ at me, the problem is that you will see something written incorrectly, which start to look correct if you see it often enough. This isn’t good and once you form bad habits, they can be very hard to get rid of. At the risk of committing the same crime, people will write things like ‘if u wanna’ instead of ‘if you want to’.


Radio

modern language learning aids - radio

This is probably the worst resource for a learner. I’ve lost count of the number of times a student has come into the class and asked about the meaning of a song s/he heard on the radio.

Trying to understand song lyrics is usually a complete waste of time.

There are several reasons for this:

  • unclear diction
  • meaningless drivel
  • forced rhymes

The most important reason, though? The song wasn’t written with your learning requirements in mind. It was written to express something, usually an emotion or feeling. The term ‘artistic license’ springs to mind. A great number of ‘sins’ are committed in the name of artistic license. By all means, enjoy the song – just ignore it as a learning aid.

If you’re still not convinced, imagine this real-life scene, as witnessed by your humble servant.

The neighbour’s five-year-old son heard a song on the radio he liked and was seen running naked around the garden singing “I’m horny, so horny horny horny” at the top of his lungs. Priceless.


Conclusion

Today, there are many modern language learning aids available to anyone who wishes to learn a language. I hope this post has been helpful in deciding which to use and which to leave alone.

Is there anything missing from the list that you have found useful?

Do you have another way of using the resources mentioned?

Please let us know about it in the comments below.

12 Comments

  1. Hi Derek

    So many fun ways to encourage people to read. Reading and writing are becoming lost arts. Lots of people have no idea about spelling, word meaning or grammar. Everything is covered here in a way that’s not intimidating.

    I read a lot and from time to time cannot find books that I want to read. This is a great resource for searching for and obtaining books to read. There are probably lots of readers out there who just can’t afford to pay the going price for books.

  2. Derek, you took me back in time, when I first came to UK from sunny Italy with a basic school level English and learned ‘the lingo’ through every day life – exchanging a word with the shop assistant, listening to conversations on the train, and of course, when I finally found a job. I just loved it!!
    The learning never ends of course, as English will always be my adopted language, never my mother tongue. But when you mention looking up on the big dusty book for the meaning of unknown words, let me add a little trick if I may: every time you learn a new word, try using it as often as you can in your every day conversation. This will help memorising it for life!

  3. Lynne

    Some great ideas Derek! Learning a second language is important and this gives us an edge on how to do it more efficiently and effectively. I am interested in this, so reading this may help get me motivated.

    I made a feeble attempt to start my engines on getting back to the Spanish language, using a phone app. The problem is, the people on there are more interested in learning English and do not help as much with Spanish. One thing helped to reset my general settings and make my profile more clear, but I still had issues. Do you have any suggestions for this problem? Do you recommend using an app?

    Thanks, Lynne

    • Hi Lynne,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure what app you mean, but it doesn’t sound like something that is helping you.
      Have you considered looking on YouTube, or Udemy? I’ve checked Udemy and there is a range of courses available. Did you check out my post about Udemy?

  4. Hey Derek, thanks so much for this priceless information on learning another language.

    I have to admit, I have had the strong desire to learn another language before, but didn’t take the steps to do it. Part of that has been not knowing where to start, and not affording the other resources available that I did know about. This has been extremely helpful in knowing where to start.

    I especially like the tip about starting with children’s books in the language I desire to learn. That makes SO much sense!

    Now, what new language to start learning? So many to choose from.

    Thanks again!

  5. Actually, people say practice what you preach and I feel the exact same way as you about not getting in the habit of, for example; always using slang instead of correct usage of the word, or phrase. and I don’t know if you meant to write World of “Warcrack” on purpose or not but I thought I’d give you a heads up, and that was one of my favorite games a couple of years ago, and it really does teach you a lot. I enjoyed this post, very well thought out.

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