5 practical reasons I advocate using textbooks for language learning

Yesterday I showed you how I use a textbook to learn vocabulary. But not everyone is a fan of usig textbooks. I’ve come across many people that don’t like using books for several reasons:

“They contain too much grammar”

“They don’t teach you the real language that people speak”

“You don’t learn to speak with them”

“I prefer learning with videos”

“The exercises are boring and I cannot concentrate”

There are other complaints but these are the most common ones that came to my mind. However, I’m a firm advocate of using books, specifically textbooks, for learning and my success speaks for itself. That’s why in this post I’m going to share 5 practical reasons for using a book to learn. In the end I’ll also rebut the criticism I mentioned and why you should still use a book.

1. A book gives you structure

One of the first requests that I often hear from learners is “I need someone to structure my learning process”. To which I reply that I’ll be happy to do it but it’s really not rocket science, just use a book.

Textbooks are designed by experts with the goal of facilitating and structuring your learning process. Why then would you want to be a smartass and do something else instead of going down the beaten (and proven) path? If someone is a legitimate polyglot and found an alternative working method, fair enough. But for most normal people buying a book and working through it is the quickest way to success.

A good book, and most modern textbooks are good, presents you with the right vocabulary and the right grammar at the right time. You learn what you should learn and when you should learn it. Using an alternative source like video or apps will be much less structured. You’ll end up guessing what is important to remember and what isn’t (in the beginning everything’s important).

Lastly, a book makes sure to re-use vocabulary and grammar from earlier units. It integrates spaced repetition without you even noticing it. That’s not the case if you use an app or something else. Those will constantly throw new material at you, but you have to make sure you revise the old stuff by yourself.

In short, not using a book is unnecessarily overcomplicating things.

2. Its material and exercises are of appropriate difficulty

Let’s imagine you start learning with something like Easy German. An excellent Youtube channel that I wholeheartedly recommend as complementary material. How do you go about your learning process?

You’d probably jump right into the Beginner playlist and watch the linked video. Thanks to the English subs, you understand everything that’s said. But then what?

You’ll likely subscribe to their Patreon to do the exercises. But what if you don’t understand something? Or if something is too difficult? Do you need to know 20 different sentences with the verb “to go”?

A textbook offers you the right type of exercise with the right level of difficulty. Think about how you consume content in your own language. You don’t just listen/read/watch something without a purpose behind it. You do that to receive new information and then share that info and your opinion about it with other people. That’s the whole foundation of social media.

Books give you the exercises to learn to do exactly that in a new language. You learn how to read properly, how to listen and to speak, and everything is introduced to you at the right time and the right level of difficulty for you. You’re essentially back to being a child and learning to speak again. This is the framework you do it in and complementary material, like the video, is there to satisfy your curiosity for what else is out there.

3. Different topics keep you entertained

I don’t know about you but I don’t enjoy learning a language in the first few months. You cannot communicate properly, you are confined to the same old boring topics and you feel like an idiot. About the only good thing is that progress in the beginning comes faster. That’s why, in my opinion, it doesn’t really matter which book you use in the beginning. They’ll all teach you the same basic concepts.

As we established though, you learn faster with books. Plus once you’ve gotten over the initial hump to be able to communicate, you’ll be surprised how well-designed and interesting the topics in textbooks are. Pick a modern B1 book for any language and I am sure you will find different units that converge with some of your interests. The book makes sure to throw different communicative tasks at you. One time you’ll have to discuss something, another time you might present and yet another time you might have to promote something. In doing this, it simulates reality well, because that is how we communicate in reality: we are exposed to different types of language and have to adapt on the fly. This is hard to practice without a book.

4. You have a finishing line in sight

This is a massive plus in my opinion. With a book you have a very clear understanding of how much you still need to do to reach level X. You might not yet speak at the desired level even when you finish your book, but the mere process of going through it and doing the work will put you very close to it. If you learn randomly with different sources, it can be hard to understand what your level is and how long you will need to reach your target. You also don’t have the rewarding feeling of being able to tick off levels or types of language as learned.

I specifically learn with the goal of finishing a book and passing an exam so I know I really have the level that I wanted to achieve. That gives me an extra boost of confidence in terms of communicating and sharing my knowledge and methods with others.

5. You can revise things

One of my learning principles is that it’s better to revise something that you have already done than trying to learn it from a different source. I had to go over different things in Russian many times before I understood them. Only after a few revisions, I tried myself at new material. That’s easier to do with a book because you can actually see the work that you did at an earlier point. You see your mistakes and might understand why you made them the first time. That way you can review grammar and vocabulary in a much more targeted way than if you learn from a hodgepodge of different resources.

What I would say to someone that doesn’t believe in books…

I’ll wrap it up with my answers to non-believers in books:

They contain too much grammar”

Modern books aren’t grammar-heavy at all. They all have one piece of grammar per unit, not more. Even if you don’t want to do exercises, you have to learn some grammar to be able to speak above caveman level. A book shows you grammar in an easy-to-understand way.

“They don’t teach you the real language that people speak”

At A1-B1 level they probably don’t. The problem is that until B1 you won’t be able to understand the “real language” anyway. The language needs to be dumbed down for you to understand. Later you can and should complement with other material, although books also touch on things like slang and colloquial language.

“You don’t learn to speak with them”

Quite the opposite, you don’t learn to speak if you don’t use a book. Every book has multiple communicative exercises per unit that help you to apply what you just learned without asking you to do too much.

“I prefer learning with videos”

That’s fine, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Consistency is more important than the source material and you can definitely learn with videos as well.

“The exercises are boring and I cannot concentrate”

In modern books there are many different types of exercises so there will be something that’s not boring. I also don’t do every single exercise in a book. In terms of concentration, I think learning without a screen is better for keeping focus.

Conclusion

Pick up a book (a lot can be found as PDF online) and try it out for a week. If it doesn’t work for you that’s fine as well. I’ve had great success with them but everyone learns in a different way.

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