About LLS:

Throughout my career, I have received thousands of questions regarding languages and I have finally decided to answer them objectively with no strings attached. If you have any questions or feedback, please leave your comments below.

Monday, January 14, 2013

How to really pick a good language text book?

If you have been a student as much as I have in your many years of pre-university studies, you have perhaps accumulated a pile of useless textbooks scribbled with notes and drawings showing just how much disinterest you had for foreign languages back then. Although you will never use them again, you can still picture the stack of foreign language books hidden away in an old cardboard box between clothes you don't wear and objects you don't need but keep anyway. Every time you sign up for a new semester to learn that language you could never speak fluently, whether you need a new textbook or not, you still feel stupid about at all the money and space wasted. You never had the courage to throw them away. You tried to give them away to family members and friends, but everyone seemed to have a textbook already. As years passed, that old box kept gathering dust. Every time its memory seems to cross your mind, you deeply hope that you would open it up and take full advantage of its wisdom.

Throw them away! 

Don't bother opening that box unless, you want to try to sell it online for a few bucks. The problem with most textbooks nowadays is that none is truly complete. What aggravates the situation is that I can't seem to understand why they keep producing new series of student books every year when in essence it’s all one and the same. If you take a closer look at your average students textbook, it’s always divided into the following units. You can't imagine how many textbooks I have seen which actually follow this exact pattern.

- Unit 1 - Communication
- Unit 2 - Travel
- Unit 3 - Transport
- Unit 4 - Sport
- Unit 5 - People
- etc.....

Publishing houses make lots of money from poor naive students. Private schools often have to select a book based on certain agreements. You can prepare yourself to add more books to your cardboard collection, since every semester is another useless book purchased. The worst is that they can't switch them halfway or make copies. Technically, making photocopies and using additional copied material is subjected to legal procedures. Hence, they have to stay with those crappy books until there is a major policy change. Nevertheless, it’s impossible for them to control everyone, so people still do as they please. Ultimately, it’s but another way for good business.

These books are begging to be put in a cardboard box.

What a good language text book should look like:

A proper and decent textbook should contain the following:
  • Plenty of diverse topics covering everyday things
If your book starts getting into specialized topics ranging from modern art to politics, it might be unwise to purchase such book. It could be useful, but then again, there are specialized books to cover those topics in depth. Unless you are an advanced student who wishes to cover bonus content, I wouldn't recommend it. Those topics would include: Nightlife, Dating, The Gym, The Office and things we tend to do during the week.
  • A concise list of vocabulary words that actively participate in the exercises
What irritates me the most is how neglected the vocabulary is. How can you give 15 words at the beginning of the unit and not see them again for the remainder of the book. It doesn't make sense! How is a student supposed to remember after a single exposure? At least have the decency to base the speaking, writing, reading and exercise parts on properly introduced vocabulary, and make sure that you repeat it often.
  • A grammar review
Students often have gaps between the many learning periods of their lives. A good book should have a proper review of the grammar before attempting to jump into the unknown. Such review should have an overlook of what was done before. Students often cover up their lacks of knowledge with grimes and smiles as to not appear worse than assessed. A good textbook should have extra pages for ample review time.
  • Grammar must be practiced orally
I hate books which just toss random topics across the book. If you can't stick to one idea, why bother wasting space? Most books make the mistake of placing questions about random topics without using the vocabulary and most importantly without grammar practice. If you introduce conditionals, put a speaking part so students can practice them.

  • Essential and well-balanced
There are thousands of expressions, slangs, grammar elements to be learned. As you progress towards proficiency, learning them all won't hurt, but many books make the mistake of presenting non-essential materials. If you take a language, there are probably 30 indispensable expressions without which one wouldn't be able to function properly. Stop playing roulette with the content and start putting the top 30 most used phrases, words, slangs, expressions and whatever else one should know.

Probably the most complete book i have ever seen.

What I do recommend:

I have found "Exam Books" to be the most complete of all. I can't vouch for all of them, but the ones I was the most satisfied with was the "Ready for FCE, CAE and CPE collection" (English text books). If you have the pleasure of learning English, I personally recommend taking a good look at how these books are designed. Another good reason why exam books are so great is that you can attempt to get a certificate at any stage of your life, either for work or for your own personal pleasure. Using a normal book will give you knowledge, but won't prepare you for what many institutions and workplaces consider a prerequisite. Keep in mind, that after completing such book, you can go to take the exam at any time in the future.

No matter how badly you speak, pieces of paper still run the world of today.


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LanguageLearningShortcuts! by Peter Masalski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://languagelearningshortcuts.blogspot.com/.
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