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Why you shouldn’t buy language learning books

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

Every one of us have used language learning books - either in schools, language classes or together with personal tutors -, but have you ever thought about questions like, is it actually a good idea to use language learning books in the first place? And if not, then why? 🤔

As you might know by now, Speakly is using a unique approach that teaches words and sentences based on their real-life relevance. In case you don’t have a good idea yet about how it works and why it’s better, check out THIS blog post about the Speakly methodology as it’s closely linked with the following ideas and understanding it helps you see why language learning books are actually super inefficient.

How many words do you actually need?

First let me ask you a question: how do you know that all the words and sentences that are in a language learning book are really important for you, so that you could speak, write and understand a foreign language? And even more so, how do you know that the methodology that the books are constructed upon, is efficient?

The first thought that might pop to your mind is that “it must be reasonable how language learning books teach me the language, because experts have created its content”. And yes, it sounds like a super logical rationale. But let me challenge that…😎

First imagine opening a random language learning book from the middle. Let’s say it’s a beginner level French book for example. You will now have two pages of pictures and text in front of you. Now let’s imagine that we would analyse these two pages from the perspective of which words and sentences are actually the most useful for you, to survive in as many real-life conversations as possible.

It might be surprising to you if I say that most probably we would find out that around 60% of the words and sentences on these two pages are out of place and unnecessary at this specific time and on your specific level.

What do I mean by that? Mainly two things:

  1. They are not statistically the most relevant words and sentences that you should study right now, to boost your language skills most optimally.

  2. Because of that you actually study things that don’t give you the most benefit - and this makes you feel that the language learning process itself is slow.

But why haven’t those experts who have created these language learning manuals, thought about which words and sentences are the most important to learn? 🤔

The truth about language learning books

The answer here is actually quite simple - in education there are things that have been done for centuries, and even today, the large majority of us learn and teach languages exactly the same way - based on topics. Learning based on topics means that you will study vocabulary needed for talking about your family, traveling, weather and so forth. But studying the language based on topics is several times less efficient than studying it based on real-life statistical relevance.

So, it actually all boils down to a very simple question - what is really useful and what is not? You would always need to ask yourself - am I learning things that give me the most results with absolute minimal effort. You would do that in every other aspect of your life. So why not with learning a language? That’s the secret key to success of Speakly users. 😉

NB! In case you’re wondering how do we know which words and sentences are the most “valuable” in a language? We have studied this topic over 5 years, analysing thousands of real learners and millions of bytes of data.


Next time when you see a language learning book, then keep in mind that many of the words and sentences are not that useful and don’t boost your language skills as much as they should. Most probably you have felt this yourself in school as well - learning some foreign languages for years, but still not being able to speak them.

But it doesn’t have to be like that, if you use a real scientific approach that works for you and your speaking skills, because it’s focusing on what really matters. 👇

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Debbie King
Debbie King
19 nov. 2020

I totally agree with this article. One of the things we learned in French classes was "Mon oncle n'est pas un contrabandier" (my uncle is not a smuggler). I mean, when are you EVER going to need to say that?? It's in the same category as "j'ai la plume de ma tante". :-)

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