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Choosing language materials for independent study



Independent study materials vary from terrible to excellent. It is important to find out as much as you can about

  • when materials were developed and by whom
  • the methodology they use, and
  • the scope of the material.
  • Do not use courses based exclusively on grammatical explanations, vocabulary and translation to and from English or your own language.


    They give you no situational context and very little real comprehensible input.

  • If you have written materials, and no audio component, you will be unable to develop listening skills and have no model for correct pronunciation.


    Using a book by itself may help if you are only interested in developing reading (and perhaps writing) skills.

  • Use a phrase book and cassette tapes in combination with other materials. On their own, they are useful only if your ultimate goal is High Novice; enough to get around in a very limited way as a tourist. To go further you have to recognize the meaningful parts of the utterances and recombine them, rather than just memorizing phrases and sentences as wholes.
  • Provide an opportunity to work on comprehension and speaking skills.


    Some cassette and book courses (e.g. The Learnables, by Harris Winitz) are designed specifically to give you comprehension skills in a new language.

  • Check the dates of full-blown audio-lingual courses.


    Some commercial courses are quite dated, having been developed about 20 years ago. Older courses can be useful, but tend to rely on a lot of pattern practice and mimicry.

  • Provide a situational context.


    Some newer computer software programs claim to enable you to get to High Novice level in just a few weeks of full-time study. They are multimedia and interactive, and combine audio, video, and computer technology to give you immediate feedback and situational context. They tend to be quite expensive, but you might be able to find a copy at a university or at a public library.

  • Find materials interesting enough to hold your attention and to keep you motivated to use it long enough to make real progress.
  • Example:

    Some courses based on a continuing story line were developed by the British Broadcasting Company and by Public Broadcasting Stations in the United States. These programs, available on a series of videos, are both entertaining and pedagogically sound.

Context for this page:

Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 3.5, published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 1999. [Ordering information.]

Page content last modified: 21 March 1999

© 1999 SIL International