Choosing the best language learning resources: 5 questions to ask yourself

[2 minute read] (ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! 🙂 )

I know the temptation of getting new language resources very well. Textbooks, online courses, applications… the whole shebang.

I can spend hours browsing the language learning section of a bookstore. I leaf through every book for every language I’m learning.

Then I make a stack of all the ones I’m interested in. Which is all of them. (Just kidding. But it’s a very sizable stack.) I look at them, sigh and put them all back on the shelf. It’s obviously not feasible, or reasonable, to get that many language resources.

I’ve been through this many times. Eventually, I learned not to. And now, so can you. Keep reading to find out how to choose the best language resources for you.

Three common struggles when choosing language learning resources

Several issues might come up when looking for language resources. Can you relate to any of these struggles?

  1. The squirrel preparing for winter. You splurge on a ton of resources. But after you’ve bought them all up, you barely use any of them. There are just too many to decide which one to start with. Or you might even forget that you bought them! 
  2. The perpetually undecided. You know it doesn’t make sense to buy a ton of resources, so you want to invest in the one right one. But which one is that? You do research. And then some more research. And then some more. This ends up taking so much time that you eventually leave it be.
  3. The “see it, buy it, forget it”. You might have gone through one of the above. Or you just really don’t feel like wasting time. When you find a resource that looks decent, you invest in it. You might use it for a while, but eventually your interest fades away

These problems can happen with both paid and free resources. The underlying issue with all of them is the same: no continuity.

Conscious abandonment

Of course, there’s nothing wrong if you stop using a language learning resource — as long as you do it consciously. For example, you might realize:

  • It doesn’t fit in your daily schedule
  • It doesn’t suit your learning style
  • It’s poor quality

If that’s the case, you can learn from these pain points and find a better resource.

But the idea is to eventually find something you can stick to.

5 questions to help you find the best language learning resource for you

When you want to get a new language resource, first ask yourself these 4 questions:

1. Does it fit your learning style?

There are four types of learning styles. Each one will find certain resources better:

  • visual (flashcards, video lessons, etc.)
  • auditory (podcasts, dialogues, etc.)
  • reading/writing (books, exercise textbooks, etc.)
  • tactile (classroom learning with physical props, etc.)

2. Have you already used the resources you have?

Some people buy a course, then complete it. If you’re one of these people, good for you! But 85% people who buy a course don’t complete it. Eighty-five percent! That’s a pretty big proportion.

If you fall within it, consider first using up everything you’ve already invested in.

3. If your answer to 2 is “no”, why is that?

If you decide not to finish a course, consider why. What didn’t you like about it? This is valuable information to know. Use it to find a better alternative.

4. Does it fit your schedule and lifestyle?

Knowing your learning style is one thing. But being able to fit a certain resource into your life is another. Do you have a plan for integrating it into your daily routine?

Here are some useful examples:

  • Hour-long podcast: listen on your drive to work, while cleaning, etc.
  • 20-minute video lessons: watch while eating lunch
  • Vocabulary review flashcard application: quick 10-minute practice while on the bus

5. Do you have a time-specific plan to start using it?

This question requires you to have a realistic idea of your free time, and how much of it you have.

You can use question 4 especially to help you figure out how a resource can fit into your life. But when will you actually start using it? Pencil it in for a specific date in your calendar.

If it’s more than 3 months from now, don’t buy the resource. You’ll probably end up pushing it back several times, or you might change your mind by then.

Finding the best language resource for you

Those are my top 5 tips for finding the best language learning resource for you.

Of course, there are many other questions you can ask yourself.

People also tend to ask, “Can you get something similar for free?” (for paid resources).

I agree this can be a good question. But I personally don’t find it one of the most important ones. Free doesn’t always mean better, or more success. But that’ll be a topic for another post.

I hope these 5 questions can help you find the best language resources for your goals. Comment below what other questions you ask yourself, and what language you’re currently learning. I’m excited to read your thoughts!

Learning languages with online resources

ESL Notes (25 words / expressions)

Definitions written with reference to Cambridge Dictionary

the whole shebang: everything connected with something. When we’re talking about language learning resources, “the whole shebang” includes every kind of language learning resource: textbooks, podcasts, courses, online platforms, etc. (Back to the text)

to browse: to walk around a shop and look at things. (Back to the text)

to leaf through: to quickly turn the pages of a book, reading only small parts of it. (Back to the text)

a stack: a pile of things arranged vertically.

picture of stack

(Back to the text)

sizable: large. Also spelled sizeable (UK spelling). (Back to the text)

feasible: achievable / able to be achieved. (Back to the text)

not to: this is an omission. The complete sentence would be “I’ve been through this many times. Eventually, I learned not to go through this anymore.” Since I already mentioned “doing this” in the previous sentence, it’s not necessary to repeat it again. The reader will complete the verb in their mind with the last verb used (to go through this many times). (Back to the text)

issues: problems. (Back to the text)

to relate to: to identify with, to understand from experience. (Back to the text)

a squirrel:

picture of squirrel

(Back to the text)

to splurge on: to spend a lot of money on (informal). (Back to the text)

to buy up: to buy everything, or to buy all of the items in a particular set of things. In this case, I mean to buy up all the resources you have found or all the resources that you think are interesting. (Back to the text)

perpetually: always. (Back to the text)

a ton of / tons of: a lot of (more informal). (Back to the text)

to end up (phrasal verb): if you end up doing something, it means it wasn’t your plan, but that’s what happens in the end. For example, lots of students plan to spend the weekend studying. But many of them don’t actually follow their plan and study. They might end up watching Netflix, for example. It wasn’t their plan to watch Netflix, but that’s what they end up doing. It’s important to notice that you have to use an -ing verb form after “end up”! (Back to the text)

to leave it be: don’t worry about it anymore, don’t think about it anymore. (Back to the text)

to go through (phrasal verb): this phrasal verb may have different meanings depending on the context. In this case, it means to experience. (Back to the text)

decent: acceptable, it seems like the quality is at least okay. (Back to the text)

to fade away (phrasal verb): to become less intense. This phrasal verb can be used literally for colors or light. For example, when the sun sets, daylight gradually fades away. If you wash a pair of jeans very often, the blue will fade away (it will go from dark to light). (Back to the text)

underlying: real, but not obvious right away. (Back to the text)

to stick to (phrasal verb): to continue with a plan without changing it. (Back to the text)

to fall within a category/group: to be included in a category/group. (Back to the text)

to use up: to use all of something. If you are painting, and you have no more paint left, then you have used up all the paint. (Back to the text)

to pencil it in: to put something in your calendar, but you know it might change. Essentially, to make a rough plan. It’s not strict or set in stone. (Back to the text)

to push it back: informal way to say to move it to a later date. (Back to the text)


Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.

  • Is there a building or area of your city that was completely renovated? Give a short answer and use “the whole shebang“. For example, the National Arts Center was completely remodeled a few years ago. They changed the logo, the exterior, the lighting, the whole shebang.
  • What stores do you enjoy browsing in?
  • When you are in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room, do you leaf through the magazines or books they have?
  • Do you leaf through a book before you decide to buy it?
  • Are there stacks of papers on your work desk?
  • What would you consider a sizable amount of money to have saved up?
  • Do you think it’s feasible for a small family-owned sports company to compete with huge firms like Nike or Puma?
  • What environmental issues is your country experiencing?
  • What other cultures can you relate to? (apart from your own)
  • Are there many squirrels in your city?
  • Have you ever splurged on a gift for yourself? A gift for someone else?
  • Have you ever bought up all the items left in a grocery store? (For example, there are 4 yogurts left, and you buy all 4).
  • Do you usually have tons of food in your fridge?
  • On the weekend, do you usually end up doing what you planned to do?
  • If you have a fight with a friend or family member, do you try to talk to them about it later, or do you just leave it be and move on?
  • Have you gone through any of the three issues I described above for finding language learning resources?
  • Is there a restaurant you eat at that has decent food (but not great food)?
  • Do you find your motivation for your goals fades away with time? How long does it usually take?
  • What do you think are the underlying causes of poverty?
  • What goals have you stuck to over the past year?
  • Have you ever used up all your toothpaste and realized you don’t have any more at home? (or dishwashing liquid, or toilet paper, etc.)
  • When you make plans with your friends, do you make them last minute, or do you pencil them in a few days/weeks in advance?
  • Do you have the option to push back your deadlines at school/work?

Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.

Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply!

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