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Teach Yourself Language Series Review

Languages: 60 languages, including German, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Cantonese Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hindi, Dutch, Swahili, Portuguese, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Danish, and many rare spoken languages.

Series: Speak, Fast-track, Get started, Complete, Perfect, and several other series.

Download the brochure of all series here.

Best selling series: Complete

This review is about the Complete series, which is stated by the publisher that it can be used for beginners

Format:

  • Textbook & audio CD
  • For some languages, you can buy the e-book version with audio embedded

Price

  • $20 – $60

I. WHAT DO WE GET?

 

2 pages teach yourself

2 pages taken from lesson 1 of Complete Arabic

In a typical lesson you get:

1. Several audio recordings of native speakers speaking (transcripts are available)

Most dialogues also have:

  • English translations
  • New vocabulary definitions
  • Explanation of the language used in the dialogues, including grammar explanation

2. Extra information

  • Vocabulary relevant to the topic
  • Advice on pronunciation
  • Insights on usage
  • Cultural information

3. Various kinds of exercises

  • Mismatch, translation, filling in the blank, etc.
  • Activities which require mainly recognition come first which aims to help you to explore the language by yourself before reading the author’s explanation.

Others

  • A short test at the end of each lesson
  • Revision lesson between teaching lessons (available in several courses)
  • Answer keys
  • Grammar summary
  • A small dictionary of 40-60 pages
  • Writing system reference (available in several courses)

There are around 15 to 25 lessons in each Complete book.

II. THE GOOD

1. Exercises are useful, and there are a lot of them

2. Many useful and interesting tips.

For example, below is good advice from Complete Vietnamese

Teach Yourself Vietnamese Insight

3. Large vocabulary size

Words which are relative to the topic of a lesson are provided.

For example, in the Complete Cantonese course, the beginning dialogue gives the Cantonese word for “the USA”, later in the lesson, Teach Yourself gives a list of Cantonese words for other nation’s names (words are romanized).

Teach Yourself vocabulary

A complete book teaches around 2000 words.

4. Relatively low price

A Complete Teach Yourself manual (book & CDs) costs around $50. While a first level of Pimsleur or Michel Thomas or Assimil costs around $100.

III. THE BAD – THE LIMITATIONS

1. The pace of teaching could be too fast for beginner

  • Teach Yourself stated in their website that “All of our courses are suitable for beginners – they just get you to different levels of proficiency, at different paces of study.” But that is not really true.
  • Some courses introduce so much knowledge right at the beginning, which could make beginners feel overwhelmed.
  • Courses of languages which belong to a different language family compared to English (such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, etc.) are particularly tough.

2. Some grammar explanations are not very good, learners get stuck

Teach Yourself encourages learners to figure out the language by themselves, through identifying patterns, noticing words in the dialogues, etc. This discovery method is generally a good idea. However, at some point, if you do not figure the knowledge out, you get stuck.

3. Too much vocabulary, difficult to retain

  • For example, on page 13 of Teach Yourself Hindi (published 2003), you are given a list of 100 most common conjuncts!
  • Here is what Teach Yourself suggests: “Before you move on to a new unit, always make sure that you know all the new words and phrases in the current unit.” Lots of vocabulary can be good references. On the other side, we cannot retain them all. The course suggestion is impossible to do.

4. Not good at teaching speaking

  • Many words and phrases are introduced, but you do not have chances to revise them on succeeding lessons.
  • There are neither drills nor spaced repetitions, which are important in successful speaking teaching.

5. Quality varies

  • Different from Assimil or Pimsleur, whose lessons’ formats are simple, clear and the same throughout the course, the set of activities in a particular lesson in a Teach Yourself book differs from other lesson’s structure in the same course and from lessons in other languages’ courses.
  • One course may have high quality; another course may have low quality. You will not be sure what you will get when you buy a Teach Yourself book.

6. Too much English in the recording

  • Although there are about 2 hours of audio in each course, time for the native speakers is just about 45 minutes on average. The large amount of time in an audio is the instructions, which are in English. And these instructions add no useful information.
  • Dialogues in target language and English introduction are in the same file. Thus, it is inconvenient if you want to listen to native speakers only.

Others

  • Low quality recording
    • Background noises
    • Voices of native speakers are not pleasant
  • Just a portion of words taught have audio recording, others, especially extra words, just have the script.
  • In several courses such as Russian, some of the track numbers printed on the book do not match the track number on the CD.
  • In some languages with a different writing system, such as Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese and Arabic , the scripts printed are small, it is hard to see the characters clearly.
  • Complete Japanese does not teach Japanese characters – which I think are very interesting to learn, Mandarin Chinese does not introduce characters until halfway through the book. Several other courses have the same issue. In some courses, when they do introduce the characters, they do not show them for all words/phrases. Instead, they use Yale romanization.
  • In some Teach Yourself books, the answers to the exercises are only in the target language, and do not have English translation.
  • In the questions used to test a learner’s understanding of dialogues, the answer key should have been printed separately

Teach Yourself questions

  • In Complete Vietnamese (published in July 2010). Many pages do not have any typos. However, in page xxxii alone, I found 3 typos in Vietnamese sentences. I do not know if other courses have the same problem.

teach yourself spelling mistakes

Typos underlined in red

IV. CONCLUSION

The Complete Teach Yourself courses contain everything needed to communicate comfortably but it’s impossible to retain all of them.

What is Teach Yourself good for?

  • Use it as a complement to a primary course – either self-study or school class
  • Use it with a tutor

V. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

1. Price for some courses & information about the e-book format

Language Paperback Audio e-book
Spanish $40 $22.66
German $54.93 Not yet available
Malay $25.53 $34.79

2. Versions

There are just 2 main versions of Teach Yourself book

  • The pre-1990 version emphasizes the mastery of grammar (grammar translation method)
  • The current version

In the past 10 years, Teach Yourself occasionally revises their books. However, the changes are insignificant. For example, from 2012 until now, Teach Yourself introduced the so-called Discovery Method. Despite that, all the lessons main content are the same with the older books’ lessons.

3. Other series

There are overlaps of content between different series. A grammar structure taught in the Complete Series may be taught a second time in the Perfect Series.

VI. TIPS

1. The official website doesn’t offer sample lessons. Sample lessons with combined audio for several courses are downloadable at http://teachyourselfmag.com/books.php

2. Teach Yourself is often available at public libraries. You may want to try it before deciding to buy or not.

3. If you want to first learn how to speak well, consider audio-only courses like Pimsleur or Michel Thomas.

4. If you need a tutor who is native at your target language go to italki.com, a very good website to find online tutors. You can also have your writing corrected for free there.

 

Teach Yourself at Amazon.com

 

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I tried my best to give you the information as detailed and exact as I could (for I understand that if you choose a wrong program, it will cost you more time, money and energy to achieve your learning goal). Despite that there might be points that I need to be more specific, or points that I was wrong. If you know the program well, please help me, as well as other learners, by giving your opinions about the program in the comment section below.

 

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About the Author

Posted by

A Vietnamese. An English Learner. A Language Lover. I enjoy learning languages. I believe that self-study can be a lot more effective than class study (if you learn in an effective way) My favorite quote: “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution.” - Aristotle *To write the content for this website, besides my own experience in language learning, I collected and synthesized the experiences of other highly effective language learners.

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