12 Brilliant Books to Learn Languages for the Aspiring Polyglot

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Polyglots may make language learning seem like a walk in the park. But ask them about it and they will tell you that it takes time, discipline, and specific learning techniques to reach fluency in foreign languages.

Becoming a polyglot requires building new mindsets and adapting to learning processes. Fortunately, you can do this by getting yourself good books to learn languages.

These resources will not only help you start your learning journey and learn effectively but also help you stay on track.

girl reading book to learn languages

Why read general books to learn languages?

If you’ve decided to learn French, for instance, you’ve probably bought books to learn French and maybe even started reading them.

I implore you to set them aside for now and get general language learning books instead. Here’s why: these books help you visualize and deconstruct the whole process of language learning. They do this by:

  • Breaking down different learning methods and teaching useful techniques and study habits
  • Identifying common challenges faced by language learners and ways to overcome them
  • Debunking common myths that we come across when learning new languages (e.g. X language is harder to learn than Y language)
  • Sharing tips and tricks on how to retain what you’ve learned
  • Teaching you how to stay motivated

Reading books that target your desired language is important. But you’ll make the most out of them by starting with the basics and learning how to learn first.

The following 12 books to learn languages cover different learning approaches from spaced repetition system to immersion and memorization techniques. Keep on reading to know which one fits you best.

The best books to learn languages

1. Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner

Let’s start with one of the highest-selling books to learn languages, Gabriel Wyner’s modern guide to fluency.

Aside from being a polyglot who could speak six languages when he was 30, Wyner is also an opera singer. In Fluent Forever, he combines these two abilities to unlock some of the most useful and unique brain hacking techniques ever.

Wyner’s approach to language learning focuses on three things: pronunciation, imagery, and spaced repetition technique. He starts by teaching you to rewire your ears and retrain your tongue using tricks from opera singers and actors.

As an opera singer himself, he’s had to sing songs in languages he didn’t know before, and he’s learned to master those sounds by becoming more attuned to the sound, connect the words to images rather than translation, and build vocabulary through SRS.

Highly recommended especially for beginners.

Why you should get this book:

  • Strong emphasis on starting with correct pronunciation
  • Useful techniques on how to recognize actual sounds and differences between similar-sounding words
  • Helps train memory through image association and spaced repetition system
  • Plenty of links to free additional resources online
  • Easy to read and highly motivating

2. Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World by Benny Lewis

If you’ve been on a language learning journey for quite some time, you’ve likely come across one of the largest language learning sites online, Fluent in 3 Months. Benny Lewis, the man behind the blog, speaks over 10 languages and continues to learn.

Becoming fluent in any language in three months may sound too good to be true but that’s exactly what Lewis set out to do – to dispel certain myths and long-held beliefs about language learning.

Armed with his personal experience, Lewis shares useful tips and tricks on how to learn languages better, faster, and more efficiently. He starts by saying that instead of a great memory or the fabled “language gene”, what you need is a proper state of mind to start learning.

First published in 2014, Fluent in 3 Months remains one of the most inspiring books to learn languages.

Why you should get this book:

  • Provides a more systematic presentation of the tips and techniques shared on the blog
  • Practical tips, techniques, and exercises for a fluid learning experience
  • Great collection of motivational advice for struggling learners

3. How Languages are Learned (4th Edition) by Patsy Lightbown & Nina Spada

Another Amazon bestseller, How Languages are Learned was originally written for language teachers. But learning-by-teaching is a real thing and by learning methodologies meant for teachers, you skip the middle man.

One of the most “academic” books to learn languages, How Languages are Learned gets into different theories of first and second language acquisition, with detailed behavioral, cognitive, and social approaches. It provides a clear look into how we learn a language and how we can adapt certain resources to our learning style.

Full of valuable research findings, tips, and advice, this book also comes in handy for ESL or TEFL teachers or anyone interested in pursuing a career in teaching languages online or offline.

Why you should get this book:

  • An academic and scientific approach to learning languages
  • Introduces language acquisition research to help evaluate materials and adapt them to different learning styles
  • Essential for both teachers and learners

4. Language Myths edited by Laurie Bauer & Peter Trudgill

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of these statements before:

  • Italian is beautiful, German is ugly.
  • Some languages are harder than others.
  • America is ruining the English language.
  • Women talk too much.

Those are just some of the 21 myths that this book seeks to debunk. And through exploring what language is not, it teaches what language actually is.

An illuminating and fun read, Language Myths is one of the best books to learn languages if you’re stuck because of language misconceptions you’ve bought into. It includes 21 essays from linguists and language experts, including Peter Trudgill and Laurie Bauer who edited the rest of the contributors’ essays.

Although you won’t get a lot of tips on how to learn foreign languages, this book does a great job of giving you new perspectives and changing your attitudes towards communication.

Why you should get this book:

  • Prepares you for your language learning journey by “resetting” your way of thinking
  • An informative and fun way of looking at the confusion surrounding languages and communication
  • Easy to read even without prior linguistic background

5. How to Learn a Foreign Language by Paul Pimsleur, Ph. D.

If you frequent this site for language learning resources, you know that we love the Pimsleur method and we often recommend both the mobile app and the audiobooks.

The audio-based method uses graduated interval recall to teach languages, a system established by linguist Paul Pimsleur in the 1960s.

His book, How to Learn a Foreign Language, was first published in 1980. Far from being dated, it contains lessons that are still relevant today and applicable to different kinds of language learners.

The first part of the book answers important questions on language learning, busts common myths, and teaches proper mindsets. The second part dives into the techniques with an emphasis on listening and responding to learn pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

Why you should get this book:

  • Breaks down a time-tested method of learning a language
  • Simple and direct approach on a seemingly daunting subject
  • Practical, easy to apply, and motivational advice on learning languages and retention

6. Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language by Steven Pinker

One of the most scholarly books to learn languages, Steven Pinker’s Words and Rules takes a hard look at how we learn languages by examining regular and irregular verbs.

Pinker, a cognitive psychologist and linguist, explains that understanding words and rules is critical in dissecting a language.

Through an extensive discussion of regular and irregular verbs and various examples for each, he demonstrates that we learn using two systems: rules (like adding -ed to make a word past tense) and memory (e.g. knowing that the past tense of go is went and not goed).

That being said, the book simply uses verbs as examples but the book is meant to be studied in light of larger language issues.

Why you should get this book:

  • A deep examination of how language works and how we can apply rules and memory in learning
  • Insightful analysis of grammar
  • Helps develop a more intellectual and psychological approach to learning languages

7. High Intensity Language Training: An Introduction to the Key Principles by Aran Jones

If you’re learning Spanish, Welsh, Dutch, or Cornish, you’ve probably encountered the SaySomethingin courses which teach said languages through intensive 6-minute audio lessons. Aran Jones, the creator of the program, explains this approach in his book.

One of the most interesting books to learn languages, High Intensity Language Training promotes working in bursts of intense effort and taking generous rest intervals, kind of like HIIT workouts. It explains the basis for the method, why it works, and how you can use it in your studies.

While this works best for those who are taking HILT lessons from SaySomethingin.com, you can still use it even if you plan on taking other courses. It suggests alternative materials for those who would like to use the method with resources from other providers.

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Why you should get this book:

  • Progressive “sprint” approach to learning new languages
  • Informative explanations of the importance of rest intervals in one’s learning
  • Suggests practical study habits and learning materials you can use with HILT

8. How to Learn Any Language (1st Printing Edition) by Barry Farber

Years of studying a language and not feeling like you’re making progress can leave one scarred and afraid to try again. But give this book a chance and you’ll find yourself wanting to study again.

How to Learn Any Language is a fantastic book of tips and tricks that worked for polyglot Barry Farber. To put it into context, he could speak 25 languages when he started writing this book. And he learned it by using multiple techniques.

His system includes four concepts:

  • Multiple Track Attack – using varied tools in learning. If a tool works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, move on and try another tool.
  • Hidden Moments – not limiting yourself to a “set schedule”. You can learn whenever, wherever – while waiting in line, waiting for the elevator, etc.
  • Harry Lorayne’s Memory Techniques – various ways of memorizing that can be applied to languages and other subjects
  • Plunge In – learning by immersion

Why you should get this book:

  • A comprehensive collection of tools and techniques to learning 25 languages
  • Plenty of practical study tips not just for learning languages but other subjects, too
  • Highly motivating and not entirely dismissive of traditional learning methods

9. How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain by Lynn McBride

Lynn McBride draws from personal experience and the experiences of other language learners to create one of the most informative and warm books to learn languages.

How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain recognizes that immersion, even when you’re overseas, is still challenging.

And so, McBride talked to several professors, language experts, and fellow language learners to create a tailored program for language learning (a result of her difficulties in studying French while in France).

She also shares practical tips to make the language learning journey more enjoyable. In addition, she dives into several tools, many of them free and include both traditional and breakthrough techniques, and reviews them so you don’t have to.

Click to: Buy on Amazon

Why you should get this book:

  • An extensive look at various learning tools and methods that work for beginners and those who want to revive a stalled effort
  • Practical and inexpensive tips on learning languages fast
  • Written in a friendly, humorous, and encouraging manner

10. How to Learn Any Language in a Few Months While Enjoying Yourself (2nd Edition) by Nate Nicholson

You can learn any language fast and you don’t have to learn everything. These are the two fundamental concepts that Nate Nicholson shares in his book.

Nicholson believes that traditional language learning methods like esoteric grammar rules and vocabulary that’s not spoken by native speakers don’t work.

Instead, he teaches how to strengthen conversational skills with words and phrases that native speakers actually use.

From enlisting the help of a native speaker to watching foreign films that will help build your listening skills, this book shares practical techniques that help one learn any language in the shortest time possible.

Why you should get this book:

  • Applicable suggestions and tips on how to learn fast
  • Balanced teachings on developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills
  • Goes through difficulties of learning with corresponding solutions

11. Fluency Made Achievable: The Fluent Guide to Core Language Skills by Kerstin Hammes

Fluency Made Achievable is one of the best books to learn languages if you seek a balance between the four major language learning skills.

Kerstin Hammes is a language tutor and language lover who recognizes that fluency is not just learning to speak and understand. Long-term success in language learning requires having four core skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

This book explains the importance of each core skill and how you can assess your level in each skill. It also includes exercises, worksheets, and useful tips on how to make real progress in just three weeks.

Why you should get this book:

  • Tips and exercises that are targeted to each core skill
  • Techniques backed by linguistic research
  • Easy to follow framework
  • Lots of additional materials – bonus chapters, worksheets, and online references

12. Language Is Music: Over 100 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Languages (2nd Edition) by Susanna Zaraysky

We’ve gone full circle by starting this list of books to learn languages with a book written by an opera singer and ending with a book that uses various media like music to learn languages.

Susanna Zaraysky’s Language is Music can be best summed up with this: learning any language requires immersion. But don’t let the fact that you know this already dissuade you from reading this book. The value lies in the quantity and variety of tips to immerse yourself.

From listening to songs to watching foreign films or foreign language news, attending cultural events, and engaging with native speakers, Zaraysky shares fun, easy, and low-cost tips to learn any language and learn it fast.

Why you should get this book:

  • Emphasizes the importance of immersion to develop language skills
  • Suggests practical but also enjoyable ways to acquire new languages
  • Easy to follow tips
  • Highly entertaining read

A couple of things you can take away from this collection of books to learn languages: there are many ways to learn languages… and not every method will work for you.

So, if you’re afraid to start, or hesitant to try again, take heart. Let any of these books guide you on your language learning journey. And if you’re not entirely convinced on which one to purchase, I suggest reading customer reviews or downloading free sample chapters from Kindle (if available).

Interested in more language learning resources? Check out our recommendations on apps, books, courses, podcasts, and translator devices.  

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