Teach Yourself Language Series Review
What is Teach Yourself?
You’ve probably found Teach Yourself books at your local book store. They’re an incredibly popular resource and often a first point of entry for many language learners. (Teach Yourself Language series is part of a wider chain of books started in 1938, and is an imprint of Hodder and Staughton Publishers. This imprint was started in 1938, and has apparently sold 60 million copies across it’s entire range.) As such, it’s a behemoth and probably where you’ll go first if you’re browsing the shelves of a bookstore looking for an introduction to a language.
In this article, we’ll review the series as a whole. We’ll go over how the books are structured, the good parts and the bad parts of the system. Please note, each Teach Yourself language book is written by a different writer or team, so the quality varies. We’ll review specific books in the series later. The structure of the courses is similar across the board, so that is what we’ll concentrate on now.
How does Teach Yourself Work?
The Teach Yourself Complete box sets comprise of a book and two cd’s, generally. The CD’s are audio companions to the dialogues presented in the book. Each chapter is about twenty pages long, and includes:
- A description of the target language.
- A Dialogue (Which is on the accompanying CD.)
- A Grammar section.
- A Practice Section.
- A Test Yourself section at the end.
If you’re a foreign language teacher, or you have a CELTA qualification, you’ll probably recognise the methodology at work. We have demonstration followed by controlled practice. What the series doesn’t have is free practice, but that is difficult for a book. We’ll talk about this later in the article.
Why Should I Use Teach Yourself?
The series is presented in a way similar to children’s text books. Generally, they have sample dialogues and an exposition about the writing system or alphabet. They cover common phrases on regular topics. Examples include the standard “What way is the train station?” As an independent learner working according to our language learning method, you should think of Teach Yourself as bridging the gap between a phrasebook and grammar work.
What are the Benefits of Teach Yourself?
There is a gap between where to start with learning a language, i.e. basic vocabulary and simple sentences, and moving on to sentence construction. As stated above, Teach Yourself is an un-intimidating way to bridge the gap. You’ll be introduced to new things at a reasonably relaxed pace, and provided you really take time to practice each section before moving on, you’ll learn the grammar involved.
They are available in a lot of languages. As of 2014, and according to the Teach Yourself website, they have over 60 languages available. They have a diverse collection as well. All the major world languages are present, as are ancient languages and relatively obscure ones.
They’re great for tourism purposes. If you want to have enough language skill to order at a restaurant when on vacation, Teach Yourself will give you that. You’ll also be able to engage in limited small talk and find your way around by asking for directions.
What are the Problems with Teach Yourself?
There are a number of issues with the Teach Yourself series.
1. It isn’t ‘Complete.’ I know a lot of this is marketing, but it says on the product that it will take you from beginner to level 4. On it’s own. Whilst it’s a helpful resource, it doesn’t constitute a full syllabus in and of itself. It lacks practice with foreign speakers, and it lacks any real emphasis on making you speak the language. If we assume that level 4 also means “the ability to take a B2 exam and pass,” the structure of the course isn’t set up to do that. There’s no free practice, so if you get a question on a B2 exam and you’re unaware of anything about it, you’ll be stumped. Again, this isn’t a problem with the course per se., but it isn’t a complete syllabus, and I feel the criticism is valid due to what the claim on the spine of the book.
2. It varies wildly by language. Teach Yourself Spanish is a reasonable resource, and Teach Yourself Hindi is considered to be a great resource, generally. Yet some of the series are not considered so great, so there is variation. It’s anecdotal, but a friend was sorely disappointed with Teach Yourself Hebrew, for instance.
3. Some languages have too broad a scope, and so they suffer. This is perhaps the same as the point above. For instance, the Chinese Complete course has little to no emphasis on the writing system, and so you’ll have to get a separate book on writing. I could consider this a similar fault to above, but it is slightly different. The course is still strong, and the writing is omitted deliberately so as not to slow comprehension and getting started. Which is probably the correct approach. However, you can’t pretend to be at Upper-Intermediate level in Chinese if you know hardly any characters. So my conclusion is that the scope is too broad for a single book.
4. The audio swaps between dialects. This might have been corrected, as Teach Yourself regularly update their courses. On the other hand it might be intentional. I’m not sure which, but it’s somewhat irritating to me. I imagine that the Teach Yourself team have tried to give the audio an authentic feel by including speakers from different areas so as to prepare students for the varieties in pronunciation they might encounter in the real world. It’s a reasonable idea in theory. But in practice, it causes stress because things that have been unlearned appear incorrect and the chance of drilling in a non-standard pronunciation is higher.
- Teach Yourself is a valuable resource.
- Chances are, it’s in your target language.
- Teach Yourself Will help you bridge the gap between learning vocabulary and learning grammar.
- Teach Yourself Won’t serve as a complete course or syllabus to take you to Upper-Intermediate in your target language on it’s own.
If you’d like to purchase Teach Yourself for your target language, you can do so at the following Amazon links: