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Top tips for learning a language with textbooks

If you’re anything like me, you love a good textbook. Nothing brings me greater joy than receiving a shiny new textbook through the door after waiting 2 weeks for delivery (international shipping, ugh). We won’t be getting into any debates about the effectiveness of textbooks vs other resources or methods today, but I wanted to share with you all some tips to get the most out of your study sessions using your chosen textbook. These tips apply to those ‘all round’ textbooks rather than more reference style textbooks.

  1. Don't waste time on textbooks you don't enjoy

  2. Write in your textbooks

  3. Learn vocabulary first

  4. Make the most of dialogues and reading passages

  5. Make a playlist with the audio

  6. Do the practice questions!

  7. Don't rewrite the whole textbook

  8. Try not to rely on translations

Don’t waste your time with textbooks you don’t enjoy

Seriously. There will be some books you absolutely love working with, and others you just can’t make yourself work through. There’s no shame in reselling a textbook and moving on to another resource. I really tried with the Sogang books for Korean, but struggled with them as a self-studier. I got through the first chapter then called it quits. I’m using the Vitamin Korean series now and I love these books. I'm able to engage with them much better than I ever could with the Sogang books. Don’t get hung up and feel like you need to finish a textbook, just move on. 

Write in your textbooks

My studying changed drastically once I got over the fear of writing in my textbooks. When you’re a kid you’re always told to never write in any book ever. But honestly, as long as the book is yours, do what you want with it! I find it so much easier to really engage with the material when I allow myself to highlight and annotate all over everything. It can also save you from having to write everything out in a notebook. It will be scary at first, but it gets a lot easier once you’ve vandalised your first textbook. 

Learn the vocab for each chapter first

And really learn it. Don’t just read through it, write it down once and move on. Trust me, it will save you a whole lot of review if you just put in the time to learn the new words from the get go. It will also save you a lot of flipping back between pages because a new word appears in an example sentence and you don’t know what it means yet. Of course things like example sentences and dialogues will help enforce the new words in your memory, but you still need to learn them first. If you’re working through a chapter a week, for example, take the first day just to focus on learning the new words for the chapter. Most textbooks will have the main vocab at the start of the chapter, with any additional new words alongside reading passages or dialogues. Stick it all into a Quizlet set (not sponsored) and drill those words!

Make the most of any reading passages and/or dialogues

Reading through and listening to the audio once is all well and good, but you need to really engage with the material to get the most out of it. After you’ve listened to it, say it out loud yourself, or even try shadowing if you’re feeling brave! Annotate the heck out of those long reading passages. Underline grammar, highlight vocab, make notes in the margins. If you learn best through reading and writing, rewrite the passages if you’ve got the time (I always find I pick up on things I missed when I was just reading through it if I write it out, like oh yeah I do know that word). Leading on from this…

Make a playlist for the dialogue or reading passage audio

I wouldn’t bother adding the audio for any listening questions to this playlist, but having the longer spoken tracks will definitely be beneficial. Try and listen to it even when you’re not studying, like while you’re on your commute to work or school. It will get you used to hearing the language regularly and can test how much you understand from the chapter. If there’s something you don’t understand you can look it up and review it again. If you do understand everything, that’s amazing! Listening to the audio will help enforce what you’ve studied.

Do the practice exercises at the end of the chapter

Like, actually do them all to the best of your ability. Don’t just skim through the easy ones and call it a day (I’m definitely guilty of this…). Take the time to assess your understanding of what you’ve covered and give it a good go. If you make a mistake, you’ll learn from it. Really get yourself thinking about the content and make sure you know how to use the grammar and which words would be appropriate. If you want to leave some of the questions for review once you’ve finished the textbook that’s totally fine, but make sure you actually go back and do them. Don’t get lazy! 

Don’t rewrite the whole textbook

As someone who used to do this, it is a waste of time. Personally I do learn well through reading and writing, but copying everything word for word is pointless. If you prefer to make notes, I recommend writing down the vocab and brief grammar explanations with plenty of example sentences. Try to use your own words so you know you understand it all, and at least attempt to write your own example sentences. If you want you can also write the dialogues and reading passages out, but I wouldn’t bother with rewriting full explanations, the practice questions or even the translations (except for vocab). You only need brief notes for easy review, so don’t get caught up with writing absolutely everything down. You could spend that time doing something much more productive.

Try not to rely on translations too much

I know this won’t be so easy for complete beginners, but if you constantly rely on translations for example sentences or longer passages, you’ll become too dependent. Then when you reach the higher levels and the translations are dropped, you’ll have a much harder time understanding the material. If you’re making notes, I suggest dropping the full translations and just highlighting any words or grammar points you need extra help with. Think of translations like training wheels. You need them when you first start to ride a bike, but if you rely on them for too long you’ll never learn how to ride by yourself. If you can filter translations out from early on, you’ll have a much easier time in understanding your target language in the long run.

So there we have it! 8 tips to help you get the most out of your textbook study. Of course textbooks aren’t for everyone, but they’re my resource of choice and I know many of you use some form of textbook for your language studies. How do you get the most out of your textbooks during your studies? Let me know in the comments!


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