When we first got started this year, I recommended using LiveMocha to jump-start your learning. At this point, depending on what language you have selected, some of you might be coming to the end of your LiveMocha programs. If that's the case, you are now faced with the dilemma of finding new learning materials, and of keeping yourself motivated.
If you've selected a language for which LiveMocha only offers one or two courses — of if you're just having a hard time and need extra help — you will find yourself in need of a lot more instruction. Now is a good time to consider purchasing a coursebook.
Products to avoid
First, what I absolutely do not recommend is anything involving rote memorization. Specifically, in my experience the Pimsleur, Berlitz, and the Learn In Your Car products are complete wastes of time and money, and will actually do more harm than good in your learning.
I also do not recommend buying any of those 501 verbs study books. If you learn how to properly conjugate verbs, you will be able to use them just by looking them up in a dictionary or online. Don't pay big for a book to do that work for you.
Expensive software products
If you have the money to spend, Rosetta Stone and Fluenz are both good tools. I personally think they are both severely overpriced and I generally would not recommend them when you could purchase 10x the materials, and personal lessons, for the same price. But if you've got the money to throw around, they're good products.
Rosetta Stone is not the path to fluency, but it is a solid (if lengthy) way to pick up vocabulary. However, I particularly dislike the fact that you have to buy three seperate editions of the software, each costing nearly $200 — and it's only available for popular languages which, as I said, you could learn for much less.
Fluenz is also only available for a handful of popular European languages. But while it's also rather expensive, it's not as expensive as Rosetta Stone, and I believe what you learn will be more useful. I have only used their demo product, but I was rather impressed with what I saw.
What are books/programs I recommend
For the available languages, I have found the Living Language Complete Course series to be exceptionally good. They explain vocabulary, grammar, and colloquial use, and also include audio to help you understand and pronounce the words you are learning. Perhaps most importantly, these lessons are based on conversations, not on memorizing lists of words.
I have also found the Teach Yourself Conversation series to be very useful. These lessons are all-audio, and they give you conversations in real-life situations to learn from, breaking down the conversation into words and phrases and helping you understand it.
If neither of those resources is available for your language, or if you still want more, the Teach Yourself series of language learning books is good, but in my opinion not as good as Living Language. I have also heard good things about the New Penguin series, but I've never actually used their materials, so I don't have any opinions.
And one final note: it is my firm belief that the arrival of the Apple iPad last week has the potential to completely change the field of language learning products. I'll go into more detail about that next week.
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.