When you commit to learning a foreign language, it’s not unusual for a first step to be seeking out good course material. There are plenty of very well established courses, the best including audio material. The staple Teach Yourself series, for example, was always my favourite place to start when starting out on a new language project.
Unfortunately, it can be an expensive business. Course books, audio CDs, dictionaries, grammar reference guides – it all adds up. Fortunately, there’s a cheaper alternative if you’re after simple beginner materials. And they come with some unique advantages over traditional courses, too!
The wallet-saving secret:
Revision guides intended for first-level language exams at high schools.
It was through writing reviews for several revision guides in recent years that I realised how useful the could be beyond their target audience. For a start, they’re comprehensive; the best guides from publishers like CGP include:
- Thematically organised vocabulary lists and phrases
- Grammar reference broken into bite-sized chunks
- Audio material for listening practice
- Word glossaries at the back, which double up as handy simple dictionaries
Moreover, they’re cheap. Aimed at schoolkids, they’re meant to be an affordable route to getting the best grades. CGP’s GCSE French (Edexcel) revision guide is just £12.99. For comparison, the full Colloquial French course is £19.99 for the book, and £10 for the CD on Amazon.
Horses for courses
OK, it’s not a completely fair comparison, like for like. A revision guide, by definition, is concise and snappy. It’s meant to remind, not to teach. Conversely, a full course will give you lengthier explanations and more extensive examples.
But sometimes, less can be more. If you want an at-a-glance list of useful words or grammar points, then maybe you don’t want all the extra fluff. Revision guides give you all the content, with very little padding and hand-holding.
What’s more, the CGP guides come with useful extras like online library versions. You might prefer not to lug the physical book everywhere. No problem: just access it via an internet-connected device. You’ll find it much harder, generally, to get the electronic version of a full-blown course as a free addition to the hard copy.
Weighing it up
Here are some key advantages and disadvantages to bear in mind when choosing cheap and cheerful course materials over more ‘grown-up’ stuff:
|Revision guides||Full courses|
Concise but comprehensive
Can include audio material
At-a-glance learning material, no ‘fluff’
Many include online versions at no extra cost these days
Great quick reference
Often fun, colourful publications rather than boring old black-and-white
|More extensive examples and explanations
Audio material usually more comprehensive and varied
May include more ‘grown-up’ topics and more relevant examples for mature learners
One final point for consideration is language availability. As schools are the target market, you’ll only find guides for languages commonly taught in schools. As an example, the CGP GCSE guides are available only in French, German and Spanish. Not much luck if you’re after cheap materials in Basque, Finnish or Norwegian.
If you can find a good fit for your language, though, consider revision guides.
Made for kids, great for all beginner linguaphiles!