Ever wanted to learn a foreign language, but not sure where to start or how to go about the process in the most efficient way?
That’s what this book list is for!
Some of these books are written by accomplished polyglots (those crazy people who can speak in a dozen languages or more) who will teach you their unique systems for language learning (and there are some FASCINATING methods out there).
The other books are not directly language-learning related, but teach valuable concepts that will explode your overall learning skills in general and your language learning skills in particular.
So without further ado, try out these five books:
Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis
Benny Lewis has a TED talk online about how he became “Fluent in 3 Months” after years of failing to learn a foreign language in the traditional academic setting:
As a youngster, like many polyglots, Benny thought he was dumb at languages. He tried taking classes on German and Irish (Lewis is from Ireland) and barely passed, using conventional methods he was taught in school.
And then something happened when Lewis decided to move to Spain and start speaking right away — even though he knew virtually no Spanish. That was when he had his breakthrough on language learning:
His “Speak from Day One” concept.
That is, instead of waiting and studying and grinding and weeping over your foreign language homework for weeks, months, and years before you dare to open your mouth, just find a native speaker and start chatting, with whatever language you have.
For more tips on how, exactly, to do this, and more detailed strategies related to language learning, pick up Fluent in Three Months, and try this method out yourself!
(Fun fact, Lewis actually inspired another author whose book is also on this list — can you guess who?)
Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner
In Fluent Forever, engineer-opera-singer Gabriel Wyner tells the story of how, after several failed academic attempts, he first realized that he was capable of mastering a foreign language when he cheated on a French test.
Basically, Wyner didn’t want to be stuck in a beginning French class, so he used Google Translate to write a French essay, and gave his teachers the impression that he knew a lot more French than he actually did.
With only a few weeks before class started with a one-on-one French-only spoken interview with each student, Wyner decide to tackle French head-on and learn as much as he could before the interview D-day— do or die, so to speak.
The results of that story, and the methods Wyner used to master not only French, but Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Hungarian, and Japanese, make up the rest of this book.
Personally, the most insightful concept I got from Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever was his 625-word-frequency list.
Wyner created a list of 625 words that appear most frequently in most languages and are easily understandable (that is, you can form concrete mental images for most of these words)
Because it’s more efficient to learn frequently used words at the beginning of your language learning process, and the more common vocabulary you have, the more you can use to figure out the less-common vocab you don’t have yet.
To learn more about the 625 word list and Wyner’s other language-learning insights, check out his book!
How to Learn a Foreign Language by Paul Pimsleur
“Any language is learnable provided your will to learn it is strong enough to keep you going when tedium sets in.” — How to Learn a Foreign Language
Paul Pimsleur is known for creating the Pimsleur method for language learning, which contrast with how languages are often taught in school.
As the child of a librarian and a composer, Pimsleur became a language teacher, creating his own self-study audio program to teach languages.
He breaks languages down into three main components: pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, and unlike most other language teachers, insists on striving to achieve a native-like accent.
In How to Learn a Foreign Language, Pimsleur explains his method clearly and concisely. It’s a short book, but he explains his ideas complete with numbers, statistics, and “tricks of the trade.”
Personally, I like Pimsleur’s emphasis on pronunciation. This aspect of language learning is sadly neglected by too many language teachers, and a thick accent can be extremely distracting and unnattractive. But of course, pronunciation isn’t the only thing Pimsleur teaches. To learn more, read it for yourself ~
If you’re a strategic language learner, I highly recommend this book for you 🙂
The Memory Book by Lorayne & Lucas
The Memory Book is straight up the most useful book I’ve ever read on memory and learning.
As you can see by the cover image, it’s an old book, but the concepts are timeless. I’ve personally adapted their system
Although not specifically a language learning book, The Memory Book is designed to help people remember things better, which can definitely apply to the most important, never-ending task of language learning:
Using ancient Greek and modern memory champion techniques, Lorayne & Lucas teach you how to memorize massive lists of numbers, dates, cards, names, and more.
From there, it’s just a hop and a skip to memorizing massive chunks of vocabulary.
And their method can be applied to almost anything else you want to remember, not to mention how well it helps train your creativity/imagination skills.
Highly, highly recommended. You should absolutely not just read, but buy a copy of this book and keep it on hand to refer back to whenever you need 🙂
Ultralearning by Scott Young
Ultralearning is a term coined by Scott Young, blogger and ultralearner extraordinaire. What does it mean? The word refers to aggressive, self-directed learning.
And Young himself is the consummate example of what an ultralearner looks like: he not only taught himself the entire four-year MIT undergraduate computer science curriculum in one year, he also taught himself to draw from nothing, and learned four languages from zero to speaking proficiency in one year.
In Ultralearning, Young describes his own experiences as an ultra learner, and also also collects the stories of other ultra learners (including one of the authors mentioned earlier on this list) and the principles and strategies they used to learn new skills, level up in their careers, and create more fun and meaningful lives.
If you’re looking to upgrade your ability to learn, learn well, learn a lot, and learn fast, this book is for you.
Want More Incredible Books?
I’ve curated The Brilliant Writer Reading List to help you avoid terrible books and find the best of the best!
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