Where to find obscure language learning books.

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Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby ving813 » Wed Jan 01, 2020 8:40 pm

Hello everyone! I am a collector of language learning books, whether they be dictionaries or "learn __ " types of books I enjoy collecting them.
I saw a post recently made on someone learning Inuktuk and with the post came along a picture of an obscure book. I searched for it online finding minimal results about it.
Is there some sort of catalog or list of languages and book resources for them. I am a collector starting to collect language books, so far I have 20 different languages and as I go on I would like to get more obscure and get even more varieties of languages.
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Wed Jan 01, 2020 10:32 pm

I find them in second hand bookstores - some years ago, I found eleven titles from Bibliothek der Sprachenkunde for sale. Not the most obscure languages in the world, but they looked interesting enough. The bundle had some gems, including a comparative grammar for Slavic languages, a Phoenecian grammar, plus textbooks for Slovakian and Slovene.

I paid just under €40 for the whole lot.

booklooker.de have some of them.
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby Deinonysus » Wed Jan 01, 2020 11:20 pm

That was me. It took several days of obsessive searching so it wasn't exactly easy to find. Also, it was quite expensive but by that point it was my white whale so I had to see it through. My starting point was looking at the sources that were cited by Wikipedia. I got the idea from this video:

Wikipedia cited a 1992 edition of the book, but I couldn't find any copies. However, I discovered that there was an earlier edition from 1979, and it turned out that there were a couple of copies of that edition floating around and that's what I ended up buying.

I also went through a lot of Reddit threads to see what people thought of different available resources. Some good Google-fu helps too.
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby rdearman » Thu Jan 02, 2020 3:09 pm

Try eBay also.
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby Speakeasy » Sat Jan 04, 2020 5:00 pm

Please allow me to extend to you a warm, albeit belated, welcome to the forum. I look forward to following your participation in many of the fascinating discussions of all matters touching upon language learning.

What exactly are you interested in?
Now then, could you please clarify: (a) are you interested in learning obscure languages and are thus searching for materials for the latter whether vintage or current, or (b) are you interested in acquiring obscure vintage language-learning materials irrespective of the language they cover; that is, the more popularly-studied language, the less-popularly-studied languages, right through to the languages that no one in the right mind would want ever study? Could you give us a few examples of the languages that you, personally, are interested in?


Comment on my comments
The following are a some comments concerning languages and my attempts at locating materials for their study. Generally speaking, my comments are limited to materials from an English base. However, in my efforts in collecting materials for the study of German, I often seek out materials from French, Spanish, and Italian bases. Please forgive my tendency towards pontificating. Now then, giving the customer more than they asked for …

Tracking Down Materials: The Secret Sauce!
So then, you want to compete with me in my efforts at tracking down vintage language-learning materials. And you expect me to reveal my secret sauce? Just like that, freely? What, in exchange for a “like” for my turning it over? Well, here it is …

Although I live in a large metropolitan area (greater Montreal), there is only one bookstore devoted to the selling of language learning materials and, given the advent of the major online bookselling market, they’re suffering badly. In any case, they do not deal in used/vintage materials. Rather surprisingly, the sellers of used books in the region seem to offer a selection of language courses which is limited to slightly-used copies of Assimil l’espagnol sans peine. That’s it! Either there is no other market for self-instructional language courses in the region or owners of competing materials are taking these with them to their graves. So then, all of my shopping for language materials is done online.

Basically, I haunt the internet: OBSESSIVELY!!! Although my focus is on materials for the study of German, my approach can be adapted to the searching of materials for any other language; I seriously doubt that it is original. My sources are: eBay, Amazon, AbeBooks, Alibris (including their separate US, UK, FR, ES, IT, BE, DE websites where these exist) along with a handful of French, Spanish, or Italian websites (2ememain, Price Minister / Rakuten, Mil Anuncios, Todocoleccion).

I have pre-defined a selection of searches for eBay. For example, I have defined searches using variants of “VTG, Language, Records, Cassettes, CDs” and the like, for which I have sorted the results by “New Listed” and have bookmarked the search (e.g., language course, cassettes eBayUK By invoking this search on a regular basis, which is sorted by the date of listing of the items in the search critera, I can follow the latest offerings of language courses for which audio cassettes are available. Since the technology of audio cassettes is now relatively out-dated, this search also helps me locate vintage materials. By adding “German” to the search criteria, I can limit the search to materials which are most likely to interest me. By specifying, for example, “Linguaphone Spanish” (on eBayUK where there are more Linguaphone courses available than on eBayCOM) I can stay abreast of offers for vintage copies of this publisher’s excellent language courses. Hundreds of variants of these types of searches are possible. Simply define your own searches, ensure that the results are sorted by “Newly Listed”, bookmark the search, and invoke your searches on a regular basis. Bob's your uncle, Fannie's your aunt!

In searching AbeBooks, I often commence with a broad search by type (e.g., German / Business German / German, cassettes / et cetera) and see what pops up. From a review of the initial search results, I often focus on an individual vendor and then on that vendor’s products under a criterion such as German. From there, I search successively by title, date of publication, price, et cetera and, as I locate items which might be of some future interest, I bookmark the searches in a series of folders, one each by vendor name (e.g. German from Brentwood Books - AbeBooks Often, when I discover an item which interests me, I will expand the search to see who else is offering it and at what price. From there, I search the offerings of additional vendors and, in doing so, I compile a series of pre-defined searches which bookmark in separate file folders. By proceeding in this fashion, I develop a series of folders each of which contains links to a group of vendors' general lists of items as well as specific items which which I am considering purchasing. When I'm reading to make a purchase, I group several items by vendor. Since the inventories of sellers of used books are constantly changing, I retain these folders of bookmarked searches as doing so permits to return to a known vendor with a review their latest offerings. Yes, I know, this repetitive searching and saving recalls the behaviour of a pack-rat.

Does this take time? Of course, it takes time, lots of time! Now then, would you like an order of fries to go with the secret sauce? :D


Members reineke and Chung possess the “real” secret sauce. Were you to consult the Master List of Resources (located under the Language Programs and Resources sub-forum) and review the contributions of both these members, you would quickly discover not only lists of resources for some of the more remote languages, but also the indication of a rare talent for tracking down some very valuable information pertaining to language study that both of these members possess. Chung’s “Language Profiles” are worthy of copyright protection! But the question remains, how do they do this? Do they both have post-graduate degrees in Library Science :?:


Discussions: Resources for Less-frequently Studied Languages
Discussions of resources for the study of the more remote languages seem to centre on specific examples and many of them seem to occur in members’ logs or in the study groups. The only discussion that I have come across which touched upon the general question was: Resources for Less Studied Languages - July 2015

Availability of Materials (from an English base)
With respect to the general availability of English-language-based materials, as could be reasonably expected, publishers of commercially-prepared language-learning materials attempt to meet the demands of the known or predicted market. Thus, the indication of a very low and potentially unprofitable demand for products, for which only will few enthusiasts/fetishists are thought to exist, will act as barrier to the entry of new items. This explains why there are hundreds of commercially-prepared, introductory, self-instructional language courses for the FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) and comparatively fewer courses available for the less-frequently-studied languages and this irrespective of the number of native speakers (even in cases where a given language has 20 million native speakers, if there is no apparent market for a course in that language, then few publishers would be willing to incur the costs of publishing such a course). There are, however, publishers of phrase-books and language guides (i.e., not courses) for many of the less-frequently-studied languages. These responses to the demands of the marketplace also explain -- despite the inflated and misleading promotional statements of many/most publishers -- why there are no true intermediate/advanced, commercially-prepared, self-instructional language courses available. As very few purchasers of introductory language materials actually complete their courses, the remaining few who do so are insufficient in number to justify the development of genuine intermediate/advanced courses. Publishers address the demand by offering recycled or lower-level materials containing deliberately-misleading titles (naïve, novice buyers don't know the difference whereas genuine intermediate-level students are disappointed and become disabused). Generally speaking, materials covering the less-frequently-studied languages and those at the genuine intermediate/advanced levels are published in support of university language courses and/or those sponsored by governments and other large, well-funded institutions. Exceptions to this general rule would include the very few publishing houses which struggle in their efforts at meeting the demands of students who are interested in the more remote languages. Finally, as for many aspects of life, the market demand for language-learning materials seems to follow trends. That is, there seem to be shifts in the demand (or at least shifts in publishers’ perceptions of the demand) for materials covering languages beyond the FIGS. These changes over time show up in the periodic presence and the subsequent abandonment of materials covering a number of the more remote languages. Technology also plays a role. Given the possibilities of self-publishing, there are increasing numbers of materials covering some more obscure languages; however, this means that there is little-to-no editorial control over the content or the quality (caveat emptor).

Availability of Materials (in Language Bases Other Than English)
My searches of materials for the study of German from French, Spanish, and Italian bases lead me to believe that, generally speaking, Western European publishers of self-instructional language courses tend to offer materials for the study of English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and, more recently, Mandarin plus a very small selection of less-frequently-studied languages. While Assimil stands out as a publisher of courses both for a wide selection of target languages and from several language bases, the French publisher Éditions L’Harmattan appears to offer the largest catalogues of materials for the study of remote languages. Although the French publisher Karthala does not seem to offer courses of study, they do have an interesting catalogue of dictionaries covering some of the more remote languages.

Large Collections (from an English base)
For some rather obvious reasons, during and subsequent to the Second World War, the U.S. Armed Forces and the U.S. Department of State sponsored, or developed internally, large collections of language courses, phrase books, language guides, etc., for the instruction of their personnel in a broad range of languages, many of which would fall into the category of less-frequently-studied. Some, but not all, of these collections are in the public domain and a number of the legacy materials are now freely-available. The following list is not exhaustive.

Spoken [language] series
During the Second World War and shortly thereafter, at the request of the U.S. Armed Forces Institute, the Linguistic Society of America and the American Council of Learned Societies developed a series of relatively short, elementary, self-instructional language courses for the study of a broad range of languages. Typically, the course manuals were odd-sized paperback books of two volumes entitled Spoken [language]: Book One and Book Two. The early editions were often assigned the designation EM (Educational Manual) plus a 3-digit number. The then-nascent audio-lingual method of instruction was employed. Large sets of 12-inch x 78 rpm shellac records were provided in support of these courses. Shortly after their introduction, a small number of publishers, such as Henry Holt and Company, published copies of these courses. Circa 1970, the now-defunct publisher Spoken Language Services, Inc. (SLS) acquired the rights to this series of courses and began publishing reprinted copies for which the recordings were often available as sets of audio cassettes. Although copies are dwindling, they can still be located via the websites of the major online booksellers; however, the audio cassettes are more difficult to find.

U.S. Armed Forces Technical Manuals (phrase books, language guides)
During the Second World War, the U.S. Armed Forces Institute commissioned the preparation of hundreds of Technical Manuals covering almost every imaginable subject, one of which included a series small, slim, foreign language phrase books or language guides designed to meet the most elementary communication needs of the American service man. Sets of four 12-inch x 78 rpm shellac records were available in support of these phrase books. Typically, they were assigned the designation TM (Technical Manual) plus a 5-digit number. The languages covered by the series was quite broad. While used copies of these phrase books are still available via the websites of the major online booksellers, locating the audio recordings represents quite a challenge. Although I have never checked, I would imagine that the U.S. Library of Congress has copies of the recordings.

Language/30 series
In the early 1960’s, the U.S. Department of Defense commissioned the The World Publishing Company to develop a series of modern, self-instructional phrase books / language guides covering a broad range of foreign languages for use by their personnel and their families. For all practical purposes, the scope and contents of these phrase books closely resembled that of most commercially-available phrase books of the period. The slim booklets were accompanied by sets of two-to-four 12-inch x 33-1/3 rpm vinyl records. Circa 1974, these phrase books began to appear under the product name Language/30 accompanied by sets of multiple, slim and flexible, 7-inch x 33-1/3 rpm vinyl records, thence cassettes, thence CDs, and now mp3 downloads. Somewhere around the early 2000’s, although minor revisions to these phrase books were made, the scope and contents remain essentially unchanged from the original (in some cases, the audio was re-recorded). Copies of the original series, the intervening series, and the latest series abound on the internet.

FSI / DLI courses
The U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the U.S. Defense Language Institute (DLI) share comparable roles in the foreign language training of American military and diplomatic personnel. Typically, training takes place in a classroom setting where a small number (6 to 8) of vetted students are subjected to very rigorous language instruction at various levels (basic, refresher, intermediate, advanced) in a very broad range of foreign languages. Technically speaking, these materials are in the public domain. Although, under ordinary circumstances, only those U.S. Government personnel having the appropriate clearance would have access to the current FSI/DLI course materials, fortunately for the rest of us, owing to the Herculean efforts of a small number of volunteers, many of the legacy materials are now freely-available via the Yojik.eu website. Most of the FSI/DLI “Basic” courses are from the 1960s – 1970s and employ the then-popular audio lingual method of instruction (drill, drill, drill, puke) for use in a classroom setting. A small handful of them employed the Programmatic method of self-instruction. The DLI (not FSI) Headstart courses are self-instructional and, although elementary in scope, are a great place to start. Typically, the FSI F.A.S.T. courses, which were designed for presentation in a classroom, are a little too thin for use in a self-instructional setting. The great features of this collection are that they are free (in the not-too-distant past, private publishers sold copies of these course at prices ranging up to 1,200 $US !!!), they include many more hours of audio recordings than do commercially-prepared courses, they are well-conceived providing one can adapt to the instructional style, they cover a broad range of languages and, despite the frequent criticisms by some concerning their age and the presence of some obsolete vocabulary items, I believe that the average adult can be trusted to use them intelligently and with discernment.

U.S. Peace Corps courses
In a manner somewhat similar to the FSI and DLI, the U.S. Peace Corps has an in-house programme for the teaching of foreign languages to its staff and volunteer workers. As the organization’s mission has a global reach, their courses cover a very broad range of languages. A portion the legacy materials are freely available: U.S. Peace Corps Courses – Yojik website. Regrettably, only a small number of the archived courses are accompanied by audio recordings.

Conversa-phone Language Courses
Beginning in 1911, the Conversa-phone Institute, Inc. began publishing a series of elementary self-instructional language courses which, over time, covered a broad range of foreign languages. In the 1960’s, the company seems to have offered two different series of courses: the “Conversa-phone Round-The-World” and the “Conversa-phone The Modern Method” language courses both of which had a similar, rather limited scope of the typical phrase book or augmented language guide. The slim course manuals were accompanied by sets of two or four 12-inch x 33-1/3 rpm vinyl records or the equal number of audio cassettes. Although these materials are now out-of-print, used copies can be found on eBay. Their chief attraction is the range of languages covered by the series.

Dunwoody Press Inc.
The Dunwoody Press was an American publisher known for their support of many of the less-frequently-studied languages. Often, their publications were course manuals or newspaper readers, some of which were supported by large sets of audio recordings. Although the company seems to have fallen below the radar, some members believe that it has been revived. Frankly, I’m not so sure about this; that is, it may be that a reseller has simply purchased some old inventory and is now masquerading as the original publisher. Either way, the Dunwoody materials are a veritable gold mine for students of the less-frequently-studied languages.

Routledge Colloquial series / Teach Yourself Complete series / Assimil
The very popular Routledge Colloquial series, the Teach Yourself Complete series, and the Assimil series of elementary, self-instructional language courses cover a broader range of languages than those of many of their competitors. All three series have been in publication for several decades, the individual courses often exist in several editions some of which are now vintage, all three are still in publication, and copies of new and used materials are readily available in bookstores and via the internet.

Phrase Books and Language Guides
Since the middle of the 19th century, there have been numerous publishers of phrase books and language guides covering a surprisingly broad range of languages (the practice probably goes back even further). There are too many series names to mention. Used, reprinted, or new copies abound on the websites of the major online booksellers.

While the internet is chock-full of information and materials supporting the study of the more remote languages, and while many American universities possess large collections of materials in support of the course which they offer (I am not an expert in chasing these down), the following ancillary websites might be of interest to you:

Master List of Resources
Don't overlook this one!

Indiana University CeLT Recorded Materials Archive
The sound recordings highlighted in BLUE are freely-available to the public. Those in YELLOW are often subject to copyright limitations and are restricted to registered students, staff, members of the faculties and, possibly, to alumni. On several occasions, I have used the titles of the sound files to track down the corresponding textbooks.

NFLRC Univ. Hawaii
A veritable gold mine!

National Foreign Language Resource Centers (NFLRC)
A veritable gold mine of silver mines!

A fabulous, free collection of exercise sets in a wide variety of less-frequently-studied languages

National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) – University of Maryland
A fabulous collection of exercise sets in a wide variety of less-frequently-studied languages. Access is subject to a small monthly subscription.

DLI Headstart2
These familiarization courses, a few of which cover less-frequently-studied languages, are freely available to the public,

Many forum members appreciate this subscription service: sets of exercises, not instructional courses.

Faith Comes By Hearing
Bible audio for many, many languages. Link recently suggested by member RedBeardVII.

So you want to learn a language?
Regrettably, many of the links are now dead.

Links 4 Languages
Regrettably, many of the links are now dead.

Have fun! ;)

Last edited by Speakeasy on Mon Jan 06, 2020 2:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby RedBeardVII » Mon Jan 06, 2020 4:46 am

For purchasing used books, in addition to ebay, one could try the website (here in the US anyway)

I am not affiliated with them, but I find their site quick to load / interact with. And very easy to search.
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby Sintizza » Sat Nov 18, 2023 12:08 pm

I'm new at this. I've been self studying languages since age 11...I'm 70 now. I notice the thread on ConversaPhone. I have the Modern Method series for Spanish..Advanced Spanish..French German and Italian.out of all of them I must say the best are the Spanish and Advanced Spanish. The layout is different than the others more in depth. The others remind me of phrase books I've seen from long ago. But one can actually learn Spanish from these two sets. I wish I'd known when they were still in business that they offered upon completion of Advanced Spanish .a 240 page extra book furthering fluency. It is printed on the outer back cover. Too bad. They only gave the item number not the title. I remember the single record albums as a child. I'm partial to many of the older language specially companies such as Linguaphone....Living Language(older editions)...and Cortina. I have a few from each and have always favored them.Have good weekend
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby galaxyrocker » Mon Nov 20, 2023 9:17 pm

I know this thread is old, but since it's recently been necroed, I'd figure I'd plug https://www.bookfinder.com/ and https://www.find-more-books.com/ (and English language frontend to the German Eurobuch; also available in other languages at the bottom of the English site). I've used the former especially to hunt down rare books. It tracks pretty much every main book seller on the internet. The latter adds some more niche ones in as well, which can be hugely helpful. I found my white whale a few months ago from them. Now on to a new white whale lol.
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby Le Baron » Mon Nov 20, 2023 9:37 pm

I found quite a lot at Better World Books. I hate how they send the books in a mere plastic bag with nothing to prevent them moving about, but they do have books long out of print. Very often in good condition as 'new old stock'.
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Re: Where to find obscure language learning books.

Postby seito » Tue Nov 21, 2023 6:28 pm

I ran across Better World Books on eBay a few years ago and bought some items from them. My experience was that they were constantly misrepresenting the condition of their merchandise. I don't buy from them or any of the thrift store chains anymore.
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