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Book review ”Success with Languages” by Stella Hurd

Success with languages routledge hurd
Success with Languages front cover

The last couple of weeks I have been reading the book “Success with Languages” by Stella Hurd during my bus-rides and lunch-breaks. The previous two book reviews that I did, ”How to learn any language” by Barry Farber and ”Polyglot: How I learn languages” by Katò Lomb, have both been of books that deal with language learning from a very personal viewpoint, describing and illustrating a life of multilingualism with a broad array of anecdotes with a few tips and methods thrown in along the way. This book is very different from that.

A very thorough and to-the-point book about language learning

”Success with languages” is a guidebook written as a collaboration between different educators and language teachers at the Open University in the United Kingdom. It deals with language learning in all of its facets and goes into great detail in guiding the student through the various aspects of studying a foreign language. It targets students who’re studying on their own as well as in a course.

The book isn’t supposed to be read in one go, but rather, the student should seek out specific chapters as they become relevant in his studies. Since my intention was to review the book, I did however read it from cover to cover. I’m convinced that if a student were to follow every piece of advice to the letter, as well as do the tasks recommended throughout the book, he’d indeed succeed in his language studies. However, where the book does more than fine in listing activities, methods, tips and guides, it doesn’t really motivate the student or create any kind of enthusiasm. I’m aware that this is not the intention with this work – this is academics, a place for pure, unseasoned objectivity. The motivation is supposed to be the one thing that you already have when you pick up this title. But still, it wouldn’t hurt loosing up just a little bit.

Success with Languages lists tips and guides, but it doesn't motivate or create enthusiasm Click To Tweet

Sometimes stating the obvious, or focusing on outdated topics

When leafing through Success with Languages, everything seems to be explained. Now and then it even gets a little too tedious, and doesn’t leave much for the student to realize himself. Like in the chapter on ”Assessment” where the student is reminded to check with public transport beforehand when he has an exam to attend, or when it explains that sound-effects in language learning software can be helpful to some while irritating to others.

The book, having first been published in 2005 also spends a significant number of pages discussing the role of ”ICT” in your studies (Information and communication technology) as well as the importance of VCR’s computers, different language learning software, and even how to use the internet. Some of these topics seem a little outdated – both in terms of the technology it describes and recommends, but also in the terms of the general technology savvy of an average language student, to whom using the internet is self-evident.

Who is this book for and who isn’t it for

Even though this book is intended as a guide for students, I’d first and foremost recommend it for teachers. The very thorough nature of the text, seems much more useful for reference. A teacher might it use in order to make suggestions for his students. For students to successfully use this book, they’d have to either read the whole thing from cover to cover, or know exactly what kind of information they’re looking for.

As stated above, reading the whole thing is not the intention of the book, and I can imagine that most language students would rather spend their time focusing on their language skills. On the other hand, most people wouldn’t know exactly what kind of guidance they’re looking for, and if they did, they might be better off looking up material that deals with the topic in detail, rather than something that tries to include everything.
You might find this book useful if you’re very determined, but also very unsure about how to get most out of your language course. You do need to be determined to get most out of the book – read the concerning chapter in detail, and do the tasks specific to the recommendations.

You'll find this book useful if you're determined but unsure about how to study languages Click To Tweet

The book appears to be intended for both self-students and those who’re attending a course, but it seems to me that it would be most helpful for someone who has enrolled in some kind of course and study in a setting with other students. This book is for someone who wants to take matters into his own hands, rather than fully relying on the teachers guidance, but in the same time has a lot of incertitudes about how to go about it.
Personally, this kind of book is not my cup of tea – buy it, or check it out from your library if you’re required to. Or do so if you’re really unsure about how you should go about studying a foreign language. You might also use it as a reference if you’re a language teacher who’re looking for solid recommendations to give your students. The book probably isn’t useless, and to some students it might be very helpful, but personally, I didn’t get a lot out of reading it.

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I’d love to hear your opinions or discuss this book in the comment field below.