Have you ever dreamed about roaming the streets of Barcelona, speaking Spanish and Catalan with the people you see?
You just book yourself an Airbnb and you immerse with the locals, having the experience of your life. Now that’s a dream worth living for.
Before you get to that point, however, you have to learn the foundations of the language. Bummer! Foreign languages are tough, especially if you have no basis whatsoever.
And how do you gain that foundation?
The first idea that comes to your mind is quite attractive: just travel to the country of your choice and learn from the natives.
Immersion is a great thing, but it doesn’t work quite well when you’re a complete beginner. Imagine yourself surrounded by people who don’t speak your language, and you understand zero of the language they speak. That simply won’t work.
When it comes to acquiring foundational knowledge of a foreign language, textbooks are the traditional method. Oops!
They are used in every language course in the world, so maybe they are good, after all. Should you just follow this traditional method and try to learn the language by using a textbook?
Maybe this is an outdated learning method and you should ditch it once and for all? Maybe total immersion from the very beginning works, after all?
Let’s discuss the textbook issue, shall we?
Reasons to Ditch Textbooks Once and For All
If you’re wondering if you could learn a language without using any kind of textbook, the answer is yes.
Yes; you could learn a language without getting a single textbook. Maybe that’s the right way for you to learn since textbooks are way overrated.
Here are few reasons why you shouldn’t base the language learning process on textbooks:
- You Want to Focus on Understanding and Speaking
When you’re trying to learn a language for practical use, you don’t bother much with learning and writing. If, for example, you need this foreign language because you’re going to travel, you won’t have to write much.
You’ll just need the phrases that help you order food, buy things, book a room, ask for directions, or make small talk.
A textbook will force you to go through reading and writing exercises, as well as through more grammar than you actually need for the casual use of the language.
In usual communication, you’ll deal with present, past, and future tense. That’s it.
A textbook will push you through several past, present, and future tenses. Plus passive. I mean, we’re trying to use less passive voice in English, and now you have to learn passive in a foreign language? No. Just, no!
- Fluency Is Built through Practice… Period!
Many textbook learners are really good at solving grammar and vocabulary but are still not fluent in the language.
When you put these learners in the natural environment of the language, they will be very slow at understanding and listening.
You know who we’re talking about, right? – Those students who do really well on tests, but mess everything up when they try to speak. They still need to go through the process of real immersion, so they can become fluent.
The single most effective way to become fluent is to start speaking the language. Yes; a textbook gives you the foundation for developing speaking skills, but it does not fully encourage you to speak up.
- Textbooks Are Outdated
Do you know who loves textbooks? – Teachers who don’t want to change.
Language learners constantly remind publishers that they don’t want boring textbooks focused on tenses and phrases they don’t need. Those “comic book” style conversations are silly and useless. Still, textbook publishers ignore these requests and continue creating materials that language teachers are used to.
If they publish textbooks that encourage an educational reform, only a few teachers will be willing to use them. Do you want to guess the reason why we’re not getting such revolutionary textbooks?
- Only Listening Exposes You to Native Speech
When you use a textbook to learn a language, the process is usually accompanied by listening to native speakers in various conversations. That’s when you’re lucky enough to get a CD along with your textbook.
Even when you do get such audio material, you’ll solely be listening to the literary language of the country, which is standardized for used in writing and in news. You won’t be exposed to dialects.
When you don’t get a CD along with the textbook, you’re left even without the dry dialogues.
If you’re learning French through a textbook, you’ll be very surprised when you visit La Provence and you realize that the people there speak a dialect you can’t even understand. Guess what: they will probably label you as a snob for using all those fancy words and advanced grammar.
Dialects are one of the major challenges for language learners. Textbooks do not expose them to dialects, so they are completely unprepared when they immerse.
- Instead of Engaging You, Textbooks Force You to Memorize Words and Facts
Here are few facts for you to consider:
- Textbooks are usually written in the standardized language, which you won’t really use if you intend to be a casual speaker. When you communicate with speakers of a dialect, this language makes you look silly.
- The illustrations are far from engaging.
- The possibility of typos is always present.
In addition to these disadvantages, there’s one main argument that goes in favor of the “ditch the textbook” movement:
The layout of the content does not engage you in specific topics but forces you to memorize things. You memorize words and grammar rules, so you can solve the tests properly. This kind of memorization does give you a foundation for becoming fluent, but it’s not the best learning technique. It’s extremely boring.
- A Good App Can Replace an Average Textbook
Let’s say you start using a language learning app on a daily basis. What will this app provide you with?
If you ever used this kind of app, you probably notice there’s some grammar and vocabulary learning involved. Still, apps make the process more fun for you. They also remind you to engage in learning. Daily push notifications prompt you to stay committed.
A daily lesson will take only 10-20 minutes when you use an app. It takes way longer with a textbook, right?
You may even have to go to class, and that alone takes more than 20 minutes. If you’re learning on your own, you’ll need to use a dictionary to understand some aspects of the instructions. An app gives you translations on the go. Simple.
Reasons to Keep Your Textbooks
Yes; you can learn a language through total immersion. Before you get to the point of total immersion, however, you need to learn the basics.
That’s when the textbook may be useful. You can’t simply book your ticket and start talking to people if you know nothing about the language!
In case you need to learn the standardized language, then you absolutely need a textbook. If you’re learning this language because you’re about to start making international business connections, then don’t ditch the textbook.
If you’re a student in a foreign language and you have to start writing papers, then don’t even think about going through the language mastering process without using a textbook. It’s your best friend. No kidding!
The good thing about a textbook is that it offers new content on a progressive basis, so you can move towards higher level levels as you carry on with the learning process.
Michael Bodecci, a career advisor at ResumesPlanet, explains:
When someone wants to master the standardized form of a foreign language, textbooks are absolutely necessary. Total immersion works only if you want to get comfortable in communication with natives. If you have higher intentions, then you have to learn how to read and write. Grammar will be an inseparable part of the learning process. Maybe it’s not time to ditch the textbook, after all.
Yes; a good language learning app could replace the textbook when it comes to learning grammar.
However, the app is a kind of textbook, too. It also guides you through grammar and vocabulary lessons, and it gives you tests just like a textbook would do.
If you don’t like textbooks, the least you could do is replace them with an app that guides you through the progressive process of mastering a language.
But hey; a textbook does make you look like and feel like a more serious learner. You just need to find a good one!
What’s the Right Way to Learn a Language, Anyway?
The simplest way to start learning a language does not revolve around a textbook as its focus.
First of all, you should get familiar with the sounds of the language. You can do that by watching YouTube videos and TV shows, or by listening to music with lyrics in your target language.
Then, start by memorizing words that are frequently used in daily communication. This is where a textbook can help. Textbooks often start the vocabulary building process with these words.
You can also use a travel phrasebook, which is cheaper than a textbook and still provides you with enough vocabulary to learn at the start.
If you want to speak the language casually, the following step is total immersion. You may go to the country of your choice and start speaking, or you may start communicating with native speakers through various online channels.
If, however, your intentions are focused on the proficient use of the language, you’ll have to master its grammar. That’s when a textbook is really useful.
The most important thing to remember is that language learning is an individual process. The ultimate direction is progress, so you should find a technique that leads you towards that direction.