What's the point in textbooks?

It seems to me that for most common languages, there’s more than enough content on the web for both listening/reading input and grammar information that nobody would ever need a book like Teach Yourself, Assimil, etc.

After all, the words are going to be the same no matter where you get the information. The grammar rules are going to be the same.
Everything is the same.

And yet I still see expensive programs like Teach Yourself, Assimil, etc promoted on this forum and others.

What am I missing?

I agree with you but it is also a matter of what people are used to, and convenience. Furthermore, a book is a handy thing to have. Even though I do most of language learning on LingQ, I also buy books.

Not all learners can have access to internet all the time, and after spending many hours in front of a computer, your eyes may get tired (mine certainly do).

Teach Yourself and Assimil are good-quality methods addressing to different kinds of learners. I could learn Spanish very well just with Assimil, but the Assimil courses for other, more complex, languages (Slavic languages, Finnish, etc.) weren’t enough. So, I also bought a TY method for Polish and Romanian (after using one for Bulgarian last year). The problem with TY is that I soon get bored with it, so I’m happy that I can study Polish on LingQ too.

Anyway, Teach Yourself and Assimil are not expensive. Assimil courses cost 60-70 euros (if you buy them in or from France) and it takes 5-6 months to complete one, so the average monthly price is close to a Basic subscription at LingQ. Teach Yourself courses can be even cheaper.

People learn in different ways. It’s probably a mixture of habit and personality. My experience shows that I simply feel more comfortable starting to learn in a particular way (globally). At a later stage, I become more flexible, but it’s still my preference.

There is the global type, where people prefer the ambiguity of seeing the language as a whole. They start deducing what is going on through exposure and some hints here and there which helps them to broaden that holistic picture of the language. LingQ, Assimil and immersion works best here.

Next is the detail orientated. They like to see the nuts and bolts early on. These people prefer to start with reference grammars, teach yourself books, etc, building a scaffold upon which the experience of the language itself can be rested on.

Lastly are those who prefer to do. They love to do drills, exercises, etc. For this are things like FSI courses.

I’ve tried to start learning languages with a non-global approach and I really just can’t do it. Especially the drilling method falls drastically short for me and people who prefer it baffle me. I need to start with Assimil, Linguaphone, shadowing, immersion, etc. When I don’t have one of those available to me, I’ll take the dialogues from courses like TY, Colloquial and such to make a PDF out of them, then listen and read while looking up vocabulary. In that way, I’m fitting them into my preference. Later on, however, I can use the detail orientated approach to refine my knowledge. This is when I read/write out grammar, tables, etc, to see what I’ve missed. However, I never am able to do drills and exercises.

Mikebond, I get bored with the TY too! Unless I’ve done input with the dialogues, then go back to quickly learn the grammar (no exercises). I also agree that Assimil is cheap. It’s very cheap for the great quality and its ability to hold my interest so well.

So, all in all, I think that textbooks are very useful, you’ve just got to know how YOU can make the best of them. Trying to fit yourself into a learning style which isn’t for you, is a big cause of language learning failures, in my opinion.

P.S. Steve, I know you don’t believe that learning styles exist, but you do show all the hallmarks of a global learner who just happens to be opinionated. Said by a fellow opinionated human being. :slight_smile:

I don’t like textbooks, but Prof. Alexander Arguelles swears by them. See his YouTube videos here for instance:


If you can watch more than 5 minutes without shouting at him you are doing better than me!

Although I cannot speak for Steve I think that perhaps when he talks about not believing in “learning styles” he means the idea that everyone’s brain is configured so that there is a very certain style of informational uptake that is best for each person on a cognitive basis, e.g. that some people are visual learners and therefore should learn through reading and watching, some are auditory learners and therefore should focus on learning through listening etc. However, recent studies have cast a lot of doubt on these theories.

Instead it seems that it is just personal preference. A person might find themselves more engaged in something if they hear about it rather than read about it and therefore learn it better but it is the fact they were engaged with the content which made the difference rather than a cognitive bias and if something could be presented in a more engaging way through a different medium, it could overturn the relative efficiency previously experienced by the learner when they learned through the style they liked the most.

Here is an article from the NY Times on the subject which links to studies showing that the idea of people having certain “learning styles” is flawed: The New York Times - Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos

“If you can watch more than 5 minutes without shouting at him you are doing better than me!”

Five minutes - no problem. I watched his 55 minute long (!) shadowing clip yesterday.

Textbook, mp3 player, grammar book, pen and paper, dictionary, internet - any tool has its merits. I’m not connected to “internet” while taking a walk, but I can listen to something on my mp3 player. When I’m working on the computer, there’s no room for textbooks. I don’t learn to write Chinese characters better than trying them out for “real” with a pen and paper. And so on. People have learned languages way before computers were as common as they are today (I know people whose German or French they learned some 50 years ago is more accurate than the average youth’s English - how about that!).

Related topic:

The best thing is to be open to several sources of information and several tools, and for me, Assimil, Linguaphone etc. are definitely among those tools.

@ishikawa87: Stephen Krashen says he doesn’t believe people have different learning styles with foreign languages. I can’t remember which video he said it in now.

Thanks for the input. I’ve been thinking on this for a while.

I think it must really come down to preference. Even though your average person I meet is used to spending a great deal of time “plugged in”, I can certainly imagine situations where that might not be the case.

Plus, maybe it’s easier to get a ready made program than to have to hunt down different sites with the information you need.

Still, when someone asks how to start learning X language, the answer is usually to get a Teach Yourself, Assimil, or Pimsleur book as if that were the only way. I wonder if sometimes that makes people decide not to learn a language due to cost. I suppose that would be difficult to prove.

jeff_lindqvist - Well, I certainly believe that people learned languages better than me even before the invention of the internet and other useful tools.

I also believe that Isaac Newton had a better grasp of physics than me even though he lacked a lot of the technology that I use to understand it. (Graphing calculator, computer simulations, etc.) I don’t really see how that is relevant, but it is interesting.

Also, my whole point is that I don’t see any tools in a book that aren’t available freely to anyone with internet access.
If it’s just a matter of preference, then okay. But otherwise, what kind of tool does something like Assimil have that you can’t get for free elsewhere?

Also, I find that HTLAL post a little silly.

Is it really that hard to control yourself? I can manage to get work done on the computer without being distracted and I think anyone else could if they gave themselves a good kick in the backside.

I agree with you Frangipani that the HTLAL contained a lot of unsubstantiated generalities.

We have learning styles only in the sense that we prefer different activities, in my view. I believe that we all learn in essentially the same way, in so far as the functioning of the brain is concerned.

In countries with a lot of exposure to English in the media, everyone or most people learn English very easily. No distinctions are made between kinetic, aural, visual or other kinds of learners, as far as I can tell. They mostly learn through exposure.

Further re text books, I think they are not worth the price. I buy the cheapest I can find, which is usually TY. The reason is that they contain very little in the way of dialogue or text. Most of the explanations are not necessary, or freely available elsewhere. At any rate there is no need to have essentially the same information in so many different books, as Frangipani says. The language is the language.

It is convenient to have one of these around to refer to from time to time, to go over the basics, while in bed, or on the toilet, or waiting somewhere, or when we are tired of the computer or the iPad. I used to buy several of these beginner books in order to cover the same ground from different sources, but now I just use LingQ.

I do not spend 6 months on Assimil. One month max. I just treat it as input material. Most of the explanations are superfluous, and I don’t like referring to translations past the first few lessons. 60 lessons of less then one minute each is not a lot of content. LingQ is unlimited in this regard. I have read over 130,000 words just on LingQ in the last two months or so. That is a lot more than is found in an Assimil or TY course.

Another problem with text books or starter books is that I have to refer to vocab lists, which is less efficient, at least for me, than LingQing. We have been trying to get Assimil or TY to sell their lessons through LingQ and integrated with our system. So far without success, but there will be some news on the horizon re third party text books, stay tuned.

Also most language courses for beginners contain only about a thousand words, which is only a very small fraction of the vocabulary a learner is going to need. I have a Russian course (two thick volumes) which explains the gerund in about lesson 12, but the word “baby” is nowhere to be found.

If those courses had much more than that they would not be for beginners anymore. I agree with Frangipani, today you can find all that on the Internet, but some people just find convenient to buy a complete course and stick to it before they put any effort into looking for content.
A funny bit by Eddie Izzard on this topic:

There are good textbooks and there are bad textbooks. There are expensive ones, and reasonably cheap ones. I wouldn’t place Assimil in the “not worth the price” category, since a course first of all is relatively cheap (I’ve paid about ~€35 for each course), and secondly has more content than any other (pre-made) material (a book+4CDs with only the target language is quite rare these days). By the way, last time I checked, Assimil didn’t have vocab lists, but rather a rough translation on the right-hand page. I’m not here to convert people to Arguelles’ Shadowing method, but anybody who already has an Assimil course might want to have a look at his video clips (especially the 55 minute long video).

Of course internet is full of information; grammar explanations, dictionaries and so on. We’re free to choose any (combination of) language sources we like.

Thanks, skyblueteapot, for the ref. to the Arguelles videos. Like jeff_lindqvist I had no trouble listening to the videos–although you’re right, the one you indicated is not pleasant to listen to, as he seems very nervous. The videos have lots of good recommendations.

I’ve learned a lot from Prof. Arguelles’ videos, and have no real reason to dispute what he says.

I suppose what annoys me about his videos is that I expect them to be like lectures, where he explains different models and gives you a reading list. Instead he says “I think this, I believe this, in my opinion this”. That’s when I start heckling him and getting very funny looks from the other pedestrians.


If Prof A. were really laying down the law and saying things like: “here is the right way - everything else is wrong!”, then I guess people who disagree might want to start heckling him! But as long as he is just putting out his own personal opinions…well…where exactly is the problem? Those people who see things differently always have the option of just ignoring his advice, don’t they?

BTW I personally found that his latest video was a little weak.The idea that you can bridge the gap between 2000 and 7000 word families just by buying a few graded readers and advanced textbooks seems rather facile to me…

I like him even though I don’t use his methods pretty much at all.

It’s hard to explain.

Rank, you’ve left out a few things. Here is his list:

Further textbook work.
Other grammatical work.
Primers and readers.
Bilingual texts and translations.
Immersion stay (optional).
Dictionary work.
Specific vocabulary work. (not something he uses but does say to use it if it works for you).
Extensive reading.

What is wrong with the idea? He seems to have achieved this many times, so I don’t see what’s ‘facile’ about it.