Review: Activities and Strategies for Everyday Language Learners

InterNations member Aaron Myers kindly provided us with a free PDF copy of his e-book Activities and Strategies for Everyday Language Learners. If you want to acquire this resource for yourself, we’ll tell you what you’ll get out of it.

A Blog Turned Book

The book is based on Aaron’s experience as an ESL teacher, language coach, and language learning blogger, as well as on his own journey in teaching himself Turkey when he moved to Istanbul five years ago. It includes a “best of” compilation of tips for language learners from his favorite blog entries, and the book’s origin in blogging does show – both in positive and negative ways.

Aaron’s book makes for a quick and easy read. As the individual chapters originate in blog posts, as mentioned above, they are clearly structured, as well as chatty and entertaining in style.

The PDF version might have benefitted from a more thorough and careful editing process, though. There were a few spelling and grammar mistakes that will not prevent anyone from understanding the advice; but in a book on language studies, of all things, I found them slightly distracting.

Also, since you usually read a book in a pretty short time rather than over weeks or months, like individual blog entries, the tips sometimes get a bit repetitive. Here it would have made sense to cut some chapters in favor of expanding on other advice and adding an overall structure from start to finish.

What’s an Everyday Language Learner Anyway?

The author also writes with a clear view of his target audience in mind: An everyday language learner is “someone who may not have a special love or excitement to learn another language, but who wants or needs to learn it nonetheless.”

This is a great help insofar as the tips address those who may be too busy to devote lots of time to their studies or who may not have that much confidence in their abilities. However, some tips are more suited to outgoing, sociable learners rather than to introverted grammar nerds with a more analytic approach.

Tips and Tricks for All Tongues

Among the dozens of different strategies he describes, there should be something for everyone. Beginners will profit from basic activities that every language learner has encountered sooner or later: learning new vocabulary with flashcards and the “spaced repetition” method; labeling everyday objects in your home with post-it notes; rereading your favorite children’s books in the target language, etc.

I think the book’s greatest strength lies in the various suggestions for enhancing conversations with a native speaker who has agreed to help you learn. It’s not easy at first to use such rich input in a methodical way and still have fun, but you can tell that this is probably Aaron’s favorite way of acquiring a new language.

You can practice by retelling a news story or the plot of a recent movie together; by learning about objects, colors, descriptive adjectives and prepositions from an IKEA catalogue; by playing the “sentence expansion” game; by simulating everyday activities like a taxi ride – or a job interview, and so on…

Three Truths about Language Learning

In short, the book may not be a 100% perfect resource for self-directed study, but it can be an inspiring one as well. Speaking for myself, I grew up in a mono-lingual environment (German) and am only fluent in one other language (English, obviously). I’ve tried to learn several other languages, too, to varying degrees of success.

Activities and Strategies for Everyday Language Learners has actually reminded me of three very important things. They might sound like truisms, but it’s far too easy to forget about them:

1) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Perfectionism is more of a hindrance rather than a help. Personally, I tend to get frustrated when I don’t make progress fast enough and then give up, instead of just plodding on with very imperfect language skills.

2) Perseverance is key when you hit a plateau. It’s easy to get comfortable at a certain level of proficiency, and leave it at that. (I guess that’s what happened to my high-school French.) But you need to push yourself further, slowly, but steadily. “Binge-learning” and crash courses are of limited value in the long run.

3) Find your destiny. Choose a language that has a purpose for you. If you don’t need to urgently learn it, then you have to love it, regardless of reason. A friend of mine now has an MA degree in Japanese studies – simply because she used to be a big fan of manga and anime in her teens. That love has long since died, but she is now familiar with the Japanese language and culture in general, lived in Tokyo for over a year, and has made several good friends in Japan. Language is about passion, and experience, and Aaron is obviously aware of that.

Interested in getting a copy of the e-book yourself? You can learn more about it on Aaron’s blog.

Have you ever learned a new language on your own? If so, what are your personal “best of” tips?

(Photo credits: 1) Aaron Myers 2) Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel, public domain 3) Picture of the artwork A translation from one language to another by Lawrence Weiner, image by Wikimedia Commons user brbbl)

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