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How to Choose the Right Teach Yourself English Guide

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Every English learner is different; distinct aims, priorities, preferences, availability, flexibility and budgets. Whether you are looking to develop fluency or just want the basics for a holiday, maybe you prefer to study grammatical rules and syntax or you'd rather interactivity and a personal touch; no one teach yourself English course will cover every preference.

Luckily, however, there is a plethora of resources out there, covering almost every conceivable learning style. The only problem remaining is, which one is for you? If you have studied languages before you will have a much more solid idea of what your preferred language learning style is. If you are a complete beginner however, the amount of options, jargon and variation within teach yourself English products may be somewhat daunting. The technological revolution of the 21st century and the development of self language learning products have gone hand in hand.

Only 20 years ago budding polyglots were confined to text books, dictionaries, grammar tables and the occasional fuzzy cassette tape. Since then, self language learning has reaped the benefits of recent technological advances but the progression has not been neat and linear, rather there has been an explosion of products shooting out branches in every direction and filling every conceivable niche in the market. We have reviewed a selection that we consider to represent the best of all the variations of teach yourself English products out there. Here you can find a breakdown of what you should expect and look out for.

General Pointers

English learners must consider the 6 main aspects of any language when choosing the right program for them, these are; reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar and vocabulary. A 7th may be added, thinking, however this is controversial and we'll tell you why later. You may choose to focus on one of these aspects, or all 6, depending on your experience, preference and availability of other resources.

There are many programs on the market that focus solely on vocabulary. These can be useful for those looking to learn just a little bit of English to get through a holiday. The words you will learn will improve your basic comprehension and enable you to express yourself, albeit very simply as you will lack the grammatical structure necessary to construct complex sentences.

Likewise, several audio course claim 'no need for books' and simply focus on listening skills. In the same way, users will increase their comprehension abilities in the contexts covered but will find it hard to take their English much further. These products can also be useful as complements to other sources of English learning such as living in an anglophone country, English classes or other self-study programs. If, however, this English course will be your only resource and you want to achieve an advanced level of English you will need to buy a comprehensive English course that covers all areas.

If it really is just a few words and phrases you want to learn in order to get by, then a comprehensive course may not be for you as there would be little point in learning grammatical rules you will never use. However, some beginners actually prefer to have some kind of understanding of the language structure and some may enjoy learning English so much that they decide to take it further. In these cases, a comprehensive course will suit you well.

Just ensure that you choose a level which is right for you; some courses offer to take you from complete beginner to advanced. Be realistic and only buy what you will use as there is little point spending your hard earned cash on courses that are going to remain untouched in their case. Likewise, advanced learners must remember to avoid purchasing a complete box set including material which they already know. 

Teaching style

With the ever increasing availability of advanced interactive software, immersion style learning has branched off from the more traditional approach to form two main types of teaching methodology within the self-study sector. Your choice will depend on your individual needs and preferences. If you have some experience of language learning you will probably already have an idea of what you prefer. If not, read on as we explain the difference between the two approaches.

  1. The traditional approach:
    for a long time, languages have been taught through a reductionist approach; indecipherable sounds are broken down into sentences, words and syllables. The meanings of these words are learned and their pronunciation perfected.

    Grammatical rules are then constructed to enable learners to understand how these words are put together into sentences in order to express increasingly complex concepts and ideas. This often involves memorization using tools such as flashcards (the tried and tested vocab learning resource) and activities and tests to cement what you have learned.

    Although more of a classroom approach, with the utilization of technology traditional methods needn't be boring nor dry. Interactive games, multi media to contextualize your learning and a variety of activities keep the learning experience fresh and engaging.

  2. The immersion approach:
    more recently, perhaps due to globalization and more people living abroad, language experts have begun to look to children for the solution to our language learning problems. It is undeniable how naturally and quickly a child picks up a language without studying vocab lists or grammar books.

    Based on this, many programs have been developed that take a holistic approach to language acquisition. Users are simply exposed to new words and increasingly complex sentences along with pictures, audio and video, but no translations or grammar. As would a child, you are expected to naturally work out the rules for yourself; internalizing them in a much more natural and profound way.

    The immersion approach claims to represent how we learn languages naturally, taking out the effort of study. However, many claim that, quite clearly, we are not children and unfortunately our brains simply cannot learn a language in this way. Furthermore, we will never be fully immersed, as a child is, in a language and we do not have doting parents to help us along the way.

    From our research it would seem that no one method is better than the other. Whether you are beginner or advanced your choice will depend on how you prefer to learn, even how you think. In this way, it is totally personal. Many programs have free taster sessions, so give some a go and see what you prefer.


Teach yourself English products come in all shapes and sizes, from the humble textbook to the box-set behemoth and everything in between. Most textbooks are accompanied by audio CDs which are generally of high quality with native speaker audio. Also, most of the time users are able to transfer the files to their Mp3 player to enable them to learn 'on the go'. The advent of multimedia language learning software has brought English learning to your computer. Interactive lessons, film clips, role plays and language games enable you to have a varied and engaging language learning experience from the comfort of your own home.

Many of these features have portable formats such as printable lesson plans, flashcards and podcasts but perhaps one of the most recent technological developments in the industry is the development of software which users can access on their iPhones or other devises. This means you will have access to your learning materials wherever, whenever. Progress trackers are becoming increasingly popular as they are an excellent way for users to identify areas in which they need extra study and are great for keeping your motivation up as you can actually visualize your progress.

Personal computers are getting more and more powerful every year. So much so that more and more self-study products now offer sophisticated speech recognition software for use in your own home. This has been one of the most crucial developments in the self language study world and products of varying sophistication are now available on the mass market. Learners can listen to a native speaker pronounce a word, repeat it into their microphone and then compare their audio playback and a sound graphic to that of the native speaker.

Pronunciation can also be analyzed and users given a score depending on their accuracy which can be remembered and improved on. This technology has even been incorporated into interactive activities including video recordings in which learners can actually have a conversation with their computers! These developments have taken self language learning to new levels, bringing it ever closer to the experience of actually living abroad while making it more and more flexible to individual needs and priorities.

Now for practicalities. Some products come with a microphone but most do not. Many laptops these days have microphones built in but users must ensure that these are of good enough quality, or else you'll never get that perfect accent! Traditionally, self language learning programs have been sold as CDs and DVDs in box sets. Recently however, with increasing connection speeds they have become available either for download or completely online. Downloading the product will save on postage and production costs while online products are accessible anywhere you have a computer. We see these formats becoming increasingly more relevant in the future.

Support and Community

All multimedia software should offer some kind of customer support. However, this ranges from some lousy forms being dispatched at the customer's request to a personalized concierge service. Generally, adequate support is provided to customers in terms of troubleshooting technology and most of our top ten products have money back guarantees.

However, some products on the market actually provide language-learning customer support. You are able to contact professional language teachers with your language queries and in some cases they will check up on you to ensure you are making progress and getting the most out of the product. This personal touch is also available through online communities. Based on the likes of Facebook and MySpace, these spaces bring together language learners and teachers from all over the world to discuss the language, share knowledge and even make friends. Additional resources such as useful links, articles and videos can also be shared in these online spaces.

The Bottom Line

Don't be daunted by the sheer volume of what is on offer; take your time, read our reviews carefully and make the most of all the free-trails out there, you will even learn something from these! Whatever style, level or format you choose, we wish you luck in your English learning experience; one which could change your life!