Resources for beginners in language learning

Learning a language is one of the most common resolutions in the beginning of the year. And, I always get emails from people asking for advice. To help these people to learn a language in 2016, here are the resources I recommend.


Aslogoassimilanimesimil is always the first course feature on my list; Assimil took the first place on my list after I finished the French course, see the review here. The course is simple; the lessons are short and progressive. Grammar is explained, but it is not the focus of the course and the vocabulary is fairly extensive.


All FSI courses are alike, but some are better than others. They are old, some more fitted to diplomatic situations. The courses are dense, sometimes difficult and boring. Take a look at my review of the FSI French course here and decide whether to use it or not. For me, is the perfect complement to Assimil. Here you can find the courses for free.

Grammar book

Grammar is part of a language, and to speak and write well you need to know at least the basics. There is a wide range of books; I made a post about the books that I know here. But don’t overdo it. One grammar book is often enough.

Language partner


There are several websites that offer linguistic exchanges. The most famous of them is italkiVladimir Skultety who was interviewed here, created another option the website SharedLingo.

Vocabulary & Writing

Use an application for learning vocabulary, as Duolingo, Anki or Memrise. Each has its own style and you can customize your own phrases with photos, audio, etc. Moreover, what about to train your new vocabulary writing a bit? Two good options are Lang-8 and again, Italki.

There are many more resources. But to get start and achieve a good level (B1, maybe B2) these resources are more than enough.

About Nathalia

Polyglot Nerd creator, love foreign cultures and learning languages. Speak: English, Portuguese and Spanish. Learning: French
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  1. >Vladimir Skultety who was interviewed here, created another option the website SharedLingo.

    That is not true, SharedLingo has been created by another person.

  2. I find Assimil quite terrible:

    1. Audio is molasses in pace. It does not sound natural. It will not teach you to speak in a manner that sounds natural. It stays too slow for about 80% of the course.

    2. The format of the book is awkward. I find the presence of translations “right there” to be a massive distraction. Overtime you cannot infer something, you get the urge to look. Even if you cover it up, you still know it’s there. That barely helps. If you turn the page and glance it you can end up with translations in your short-term memory which make it very difficult to actually work through the lesson, because you start thinking in too much English as a result.

    3. Almost no decent coverage of grammar. Very shallow Grammar appendix (compared to, say, Cortina’s Conversational French book).

    4. Completely worthless exercises, inserted for no reason than to say “we have them.”

    5. The course is not worth what they’re selling it for (yes, I bought it, because I read polyglots raving about it).

    6. I found most of the dialogs to be way too short and unengaging. Can easily get bored with the material.

    7. Bonus: The [very] vast majority of people who rave about Assimil, do not use it in the way they prescribe it to be used. They basically take the material simply because the audio is more convenient (don’t have to cut out any English, etc.) and devise their own system for using it. So, you will never find any consistent “guidance” on the use of the course.

    — —

    I prefer Colloquial’s books to Assimil. The Audio is free, so you can save cash by getting the eBooks from Kindle/Nook (no discounts on iBooks, unfortunately) and make an Audiobook out of the Audio (trivial to do in iTunes), which allows you to slow down the speech pace where necessary. I prefer this to the built-in molasses pace of Assimil’s audio. Welcome to 2016…

    I found TYS books to be terrible. I have both “Complete” and “Perfect Your French” and cannot recommend them.

    “Easy Step-By-Step” is cheap and I’d recommend it as a supplement to another “course” – particularly because I think the structure of the book lends itself well for being used as a sort of syllabus around which you can structure the use of other self-study materials. The pace is very logical. It’s < $15, and can be cheaper if you use eBooks. It's a no-brainer, IMO.

    — —

    So, for French, I'd recommend:

    Colloquial I & II – Download Audio from their Website

    Easy French Step-By-Step -or- French Demystified (which is similar to S-B-S)

    Easy French Reader

    Better French Reading

    Essential French Grammar

    Barron's 501 French Verbs

    Collin's Beginner's French Dictionary

    — If you want some "work" to go along with that (some people need work to be stay motivated)

    Practice Makes Perfect: Complete French Grammar, French Vocabulary, and French Conversation

    French in Action: Free Video on Demand if you're in the USA. 52 30-minute episodes that follow a story.

    ^- Those workbooks are good, and very affordable.

    — —

    So basically, you use the Colloquial Materials as prescribed, and then use the Step by Step or Demystified book to work through grammar topics and exercises, and supplement that further with exercises on those topics in the workbook.

    Essential French Grammar is no-nonsense and only gives the bare essentials, you can refer to that on an as-needed basis (it costs < $5), and the Verb Book is good for writing or looking things up when you're practicing speaking or writing

    The readers are good to get vocabulary and get more exposure to how the language is used. They're for beginners, so after a few weeks you will understand the vast majority of the early parts of them, and can then progress further as you improve.

    Watch French in Action videos. They're entertaining and they're all in French. You will learn from them.

    ^– This is a good, nicely organized system. The materials don't cost much more than an Assimil Course.

    If you want something "audio-based" then you can get Paul Noble's French stuff off iTunes for ~ $20. It's not amazing, but it explains some things that can help you, and he uses a Native French speaker.

    Too many people waste too much time wondering what to use. Too many "polyglots" waste too many people's time "reviewing products" (often for commission) which exacerbates the issue because you get such conflicting reviews depending on "what's in it" for the reviewer.

    • Additionally, Colloquial German is even better than their French Course, so I’d probably use them if I were to learn German in the future.

    • I do understand your point of view. I think all depends of your style of learning. I really like “text and audio-based” programs. Only reading just doesn’t work for me. I agree that the Colloquial Series are great and have more grammar. Maybe I just got used to Assimil. As the audio being slow, for me is only in the beginning and I think this is a good thing when we are getting used to a language. And, I really like the fact the translation is in the other side of the page. I don’t feel an urge to look at it. You’re totally right about the grammar part, but for me that is okay. I’m not a fan of the grammar-based approach, specially at the beginning. You´re also right about the lack of instructions and exercises. When I first used Assimil, I felt lost, but I just found a way that worked for me and used the FSI course for grammar drills (and it’s free). It’s funny because where you see flaws, I see some qualities, that is why I find important to discover how you learn the best, as I can see we have very different styles. Assimil helped me a lot, I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. Did you finish it?

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