On monolingual textbooks and courses

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On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby mokibao » Tue Mar 30, 2021 11:34 pm

I've noticed a lot of highly regarded traditional courses tend to be monolingual. This ranges from the Nature Method courses to the Grammaire Progressive (for French) or Rivstart (for Swedish) or Επικοινωνήστε ελληνικά. Surely there is a pragmatic reason for printing a textbook and recording audio exclusively in one language (no need to print several editions for every linguistic demographic out there), but I guess one could make a case that it also helps with immersion and forces you to build vocabulary so you can even begin to do the lessons and exercises. And in many real-life situations this kind of learning is the only option, for instance when you are teaching people with absolutely no language in common (expat kids in private schools, immigrants, foreign recruits), so obviously this kind of approach should yield results of some kind. I feel it is important to know because it would relieve many people from, say, less privileged linguistic communities (in the sense that few resources exist in their native language) if they knew they could get at least equal results from an agnostic textbook.

So I'm interested to know if any of you ever attempted to learn off of a purely monolingual course as your primary material, what was your target language and the name of the course, how it went, and whether you would recommend it.

(I for one am slowly getting through the Nature Method textbook for Latin and enjoying it so far, but I'm still a long way from reading anything serious so it's too early to judge results as far as I'm concerned.)
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Wed Mar 31, 2021 6:42 am

I quote myself:
My main resource has been the monolingual "Portugues XXI" (by Ana Tavares). One textbook, one exercise book, one CD - in nothing but the target language (but the textbook has a vocabulary section in four-five languages). According to the cover, the level is A1, which isn't too impressive. Nevertheless, I sometimes review the material. If I were to use another course, I'd probably have a go at DLI or FSI.

This was in university (autumn 2010/spring 2011), without previous knowledge of the language. But I knew Spanish, and I had supplementary material in my private collection. I'm not sure that someone with a very different background would find "Portugues XXI" as transparent and useful as I did.

I also began studying Dutch a number of years ago (autumn 2012), with "Nederlands voor buitenlanders". Also monolingual, two CDs. To this day, I haven't finished the course.
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby Cainntear » Wed Mar 31, 2021 7:51 am

In my experience, the vast majority of monolingual textbooks are classroom texts, not self-study guides.
I did Spanish and French at (allegedly) university level through immersive study. I felt the course led to quite a superficial knowledge/command of the languages, and I did a lot of in-depth study outside of the course to understand it at a more fundamental level.

I've never tried monolingual self-study for any length of time, as far as I can recall. Maybe a few lessons here and there before giving up.

I find myself confused and lost because without explanations, I'm just parroting -- I don't feel like I know, understand or am learning in any real way.
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby księżycowy » Wed Mar 31, 2021 8:18 am

I've taken a few swings at the Begegnungen A1+ book. I made it almost all the way through it (I was working on Kapitel 6), but ended up stopping. I could have finished the course, and for the most part I felt like I was actually learning German from it. The main thing that stopped me was the amount of vocabulary for each lesson was insane. I also would have liked more audio. I was initially concerned about my understanding of the grammar as well, but I found I understood those sections well.

I have learned German in the past, which probably help at least a little. (I didn't keep it up, so it was almost completely forgotten by the time I picked up Begegnungen.)

I'm planning, once I get back to German, to utilize the Begegnungen books again, I'm just not sure if I want to just dive right in, or use a different course to start off with.

I'm not sure if my results would be the same if the language was something more removed. I am currently using Minna no Nihongo for Japanese, and while it isn't purely in Japanese the main textbook is. I most likely would be completely lost if the book with the grammar was all in Japanese. One of the pronunciation books I have is all in Japanese (I can't be sure, but I believe it's not written in full-blown native style Japanese but rather at a level appropriate for learners), and at this point I really can't understand too much.

I have gotten on the monolingual textbook train when I can find it for any of my languages. If I'm not mistaken, I have such a textbook for Hebrew, and I also have the Yabluko, MagyarOK and E nagu Eesti series. I'm also hoping to eventually pick up the Greek course mentioned in the OP. I'll be curious to see how I fair with those.
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby Beli Tsar » Wed Mar 31, 2021 8:44 am

Currently using the famous Lingua Latina per se Illustrata (LLSPI) with most of its accompaniments. There's no question it's brilliant, put together with real genius, and teaches things you would think it not possible to teach.

There's also no question that I'd be deeply frustrated if 1) there wasn't an English language companion, which makes some things a lot more explicit 2) I hadn't learned an inflected language before. There's a reason these things are more popular in Italy etc.; an English speaker coming to learn a language with new grammatical concepts (like inflection) would find it much, much more challenging. For me, it's just a question of recognising, 'oh, ok, that's what the dative looks like'.

The exercises in the supplemental Excercita volumes are also great, and very thorough. That's fortunate, because I miss a lot of things I wouldn't in an L1 textbook - I need to get things wrong (or be deeply puzzled) before I even notice there's something there to learn.

I've read a lot of success stories about this textbook, and they almost always follow the format 'I tried to learn Latin with (Wheelock/other textbook) and couldn't read; then I switched to LLSPI and it was amazing, I learned to read well quickly. This has always begged the question for me - if they hadn't used the other textbook first, would they have succeeded? Certainly there are people who learn with LLSPI only: but are there many who do it without a teacher and without knowing an inflected language? I'd be surprised.

It's worth noting that LLSPI, though treated as the exemplar of the 'Nature method', doesn't do exactly what one would assume the nature method does. It has the CI-based, incremental, I+1 text that the nature method assumes, but it also teaches a lot of grammar pretty fast (in Latin) and has a lot of drills, if you use it properly. One of the reasons it works so well is that it uses all the tools in the box, not just one 'method'.

I've also tried a few other monolingual Latin nature-method type textbooks from the early 20th Century as supplemental reading. Let's just say there's a reason LLSPI is still used and they aren't. It's a hard method to do well.

So, on balance, I think that LLSPI is a superb, brilliant textbook, really an amazing achievement, but that for the self-learner being monolingual still seems like a big disadvantage. There's a reason I need the English supplement and like to dip into other textbooks. In other words, I think a monolingual textbook like this is perfect for multi-tracking.
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby Cavesa » Wed Mar 31, 2021 11:23 am

mokibao wrote: I feel it is important to know because it would relieve many people from, say, less privileged linguistic communities (in the sense that few resources exist in their native language) if they knew they could get at least equal results from an agnostic textbook.

So I'm interested to know if any of you ever attempted to learn off of a purely monolingual course as your primary material, what was your target language and the name of the course, how it went, and whether you would recommend it.

You're saying nothing new, no offence meant.

These coursebooks are often the only resource, and they are the best in some ways. For example, they tend to go up to C1, while most bilingual books just stay at A1 or A2. They are usually much richer in terms of audio, more text extracts etc. But they tend to be worse organised (as they are supposed to be used with a teacher. Trust me, a chaotic textbook and a chaotic teacher is a deadly combination), also require supplemental resources (sometimes it looks as if the publisher just wanted to also sell a grammar book, an extra workbook, and other extra resources), and doesn't have some kinds of exercises (logically: translation ones).

From my experience, the best is having one bilingual and one monolingual resource to start with, to get the best from both worlds. If the language is rather transparent, and you've already got a bit of experience with learning, than starting right away with a monolingual coursebook is great, no need for a bilingual course, unless it is very good and bring some additional value to the table. If it is not the case (for example I cannot imagine starting right away with a monolingual Hebrew coursebook) then going for a bilingual book (if available) and then switching to monolingual ones (when the bilingual one ends) is necessary.

And of course it goes well, when I am using a monolingual course :-D But there are good and bad ones of course. Curiously, the problems of the bad monolingual courses tend to have nothing to do with being monolingual. But rather with being chaotic, hiding information from the user, avoiding explanations, and being more like collections of cheesy photos, rather than serious learning tools.

I am usually combining both. Mostly monolingual ones, because there are more of them to choose from, and of various kinds. Those are the primary material. But when I am using also a bilingual tool (and I haven't properly started Hebrew yet, so far I am only learning rather transparent languages), it is not because I'd struggle with the monolingual one. It is due to some added quality.

A few examples of monolingual courses I'd recommend: Édito, Progressives (those are already a bit different, they are not typical coursebooks, so I am not sure whether you are asking about just coursebooks or learner aimed resources in general), Gramatica de uso del espanol, Método, Una grammatica italiana per tutti, DaF kompakt, A-Grammatik,... and surely others. A specific case are monolingual courses, like Themen Aktuell, which come with a bilingual exercise book or a bilingual support book.

A few examples of monolingual courses I wouldn't recommend: Panorama (chaotic, poor in exercises, not meant for self study. it used to be very popular, because there were few such books on the market back then), most such coursebooks for kids and younger teens (they assume the kid is dumb, are very thin in content, and totally unuseable for self study or reviewing with a family member, even if the family member speaks the language very well), Studio D (clearly not meant for self study, or even for classroom study without some order put to it from other sources), and so on.
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby gsbod » Wed Mar 31, 2021 4:47 pm

I wouldn't write off any course simply on the grounds that it is monolingual/not monolingual. I think programmes and publishers that try to push monolingual schemes as the best way to learn are trying too hard to justify themselves when the reasons are often more practical than pedagogical. But there are plenty of good and bad examples of both approaches out there. And of course, depending on the language you are learning, and the languages you already know, you may not have much of a choice anyway.

As a good example, I would definitely recommend Begegnungen or its latest incarnation Spektrum to anybody learning German. The explanations and instructions are well thought out and level appropriate and the overall structure of the course is brilliant, if at times a little dry. In conjunction with a decent dictionary (e.g. linguee.de), it would be suitable for most people as a primary course, although you'd probably want to supplement with other materials.

In terms of a poor example, the Spanish ¡Nos Vemos! is an interesting case. I bought the A1/A2 volume as it looked like a modern textbook that fulfills most of what I, personally, am looking for in a course. In many respects the course is well structured and the grammar presented in a logical way. However, the explanations and instructions were provided in a level of Spanish that really exceeded what you would expect a complete beginner, or even someone around A1, to understand. It turns out that the book was originally published with a German base as Con gusto, but in adapting it to a monolingual course the instructions and explanations were translated directly to Spanish, with no thought as to how a beginner Spanish student would be able to comprehend them. So I wouldn't recommend ¡Nos Vemos! unless you are as experienced and stubborn a language learner as myself, however Con gusto is probably worth a shot if you know German.

I simply can't see how it would have been possible to start learning Japanese through a monolingual course. By the time I was studying for JLPT N2, the only courses available were monolingual exam preparation courses like 新完全マスター, and I have to say that although 新完全マスター is really good for JLPT preparation, it was still hard work.
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby IronMike » Thu Apr 01, 2021 1:35 am

księżycowy wrote:I've taken a few swings at the Begegnungen A1+ book. I made it almost all the way through it (I was working on Kapitel 6), but ended up stopping. I could have finished the course, and for the most part I felt like I was actually learning German from it.

This is the text they have us using in my 10-week full-time course right now. It's okay; I'd love to see the next one up (B1?) because I think the book is a bit too slow for me and the other student. Just downloaded the audio today, so don't really know if it is good or not.

I've used a couple of monolingual textbooks for Esperanto: Bonvenon en nia mondo was good, as was Paŝoj al plena posedo, but the one that shined above all others was/is Vojaĝo en Esperanto-lando by Kolker. Wonderful look at Esperanto around the world with plenty of great readings and exercises. Only thing it is missing is audio.
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby indeclinable » Tue Apr 13, 2021 11:56 pm

Beli Tsar wrote:but are there many who do it without a teacher and without knowing an inflected language?.

Yes, there are. Because of my work I used to interact a lot with Chinese interested in Roman Law and History. They weren't even aware of the Companion and they had archived a very high level of Latin on their own, even better than some of my students.

I also know a lot of people from South America (where there's no institutional support or even tradition for Latin) that taught themselves with just Familia Romana plus exercises.

I'm not saying it's easy, it was hard (most of them tell me). But it's very doable and I believe there are as much of successful examples as are of the Anglophones, it just happens that they publish their testimonies online. Also, this fear, real or alleged, of not "getting it" without a Companion is something that I see mostly with Anglophones. I've also seen the same phenomenon with the rest of the "Nature Method Institute" methods, Anglophones complain (the most) about the lack of some sort of (more detailed) grammar explanation.

True, LLPSI is not perfect, very far from it. The lack of dialogues and the excess of vocabulary and grammar structures per chapter is one of its defects, but I do believe that the fact that it is monolingual is a quality not a defect.
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Re: On monolingual textbooks and courses

Postby Iversen » Wed Apr 14, 2021 12:38 am

I have had a peek into the "Lingua Latina per se Illustrata", and OK it is interesting (and written by a Danish author!), but since I already know some Latin it was not advanced enough for me at that point. And my good old "Mikkelsens Læsebog" from the 19. century was written in Danish.

Actually I have a principle:

Extensive resources should be as monolingual as possible - maybe they require a few dictionary lookups, but anything more than that would break the momentum.

Intensive resources function best when they are bilingual (i.e. bilingual texts, dictionaries and grammars written by non-natives because they are more focused on the things I as a learner need)

I do own several monolingual dictionaries, but mostly just use them for etymological and morphological information - or for entertainment, which is an extensive activity (cfr. the rule above). I also own several grammars written in the language they describe (like "Le Bon Usage" by Grevisse in French), but I can't see that they work better than those written in some other language.
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