An independent language books review by Andrea Martins
Whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced learner, the Teach Yourself language books are a must. I used the Teach Yourself Italian Grammar and Teach Yourself Italian Verbs books whilst studying for a GCSE * Italian course last year. Although we had a text book as the main learning tool for the course, I chose to buy these books as extra aids for my studies. Even if you are not taking classes, the Teach Yourself books’ purpose is to do exactly that – Teach Yourself.
There are over 300 titles in the Teach Yourself range and they are advertised as being extremely functional, simple and easy to use and cover languages from Afrikaans to Zulu. Most of the language courses have CDs or a cassette with them, but with the verb and grammar series, there are no cassettes; just you, your Teach Yourself book and your interest to learn.
There are 22 units of functional grammar in the Teach Yourself Italian Grammar book; functional in that each unit covers a basic communicative function such as ‘Ask someone else’s opinion’ or ‘Talk about events and actions in the past’. Each unit is laid out in a very clear and non-technical way. There is, however, a Grammar Appendix which lists any grammar points not explained in the book as well as a list of the common irregular verbs. The Index also lists specific grammar points.
Each unit begins with a brief synopsis of what the unit contains highlighting the particular language points covered. You are then introduced to a few examples. These are explained with some individual points being given additional coverage (this section is called Language Plus). A particularly useful section of each unit is ‘Language in Action’ which comprises of up to four exercises as revision based on what has been covered in the unit. Exercises include: fill the gap exercises, reading and writing exercises, translating and so on. I found this useful not only for grammar revision but also for communicative use as the exercises show you how to use the language and grammar in the context of everyday life.
But it’s not all verbs, grammar and verb endings. There are some pictures, postcards, maps, letters and written dialogues which all enhance the grammar being covered giving you examples from spoken and written language. I personally found it helpful to work through each unit only after I had completely learnt and understood the previous one. You do not have to have completed one unit to begin the next one, although I did feel that this helped me with my own greater understanding and fluency. You are given the choice of systematically working through each unit like I did or work at the grammar points that most interest you. It is entirely up to you.
One disadvantage of this book is that the pronunciation of the Italian is not explained as you might find in other language learning books. I feel that this could lead to confusion for the complete beginner.
The Teach Yourself Italian Verbs book is a great book for learning that aspect of language learning that we all love to hate…verb conjugations! You can consult this book about any verb as each one is presented in their full conjugation under each tense (including the conditional and subjunctive tenses). Not all the verbs in the Teach Yourself Italian Verbs are listed though. The book would be huge otherwise! Instead, 200 of the most commonly used verbs are presented in the verb tables and many more are catered for in the glossary at the back of the book. Here you can find the verb that you want and the glossary directs you to a verb in the book that behaves the same way as the one that you want to use.
Each of the 200 verbs are set out one to a page and at the bottom of each page is listed the basic uses of the verb with examples, and well known phrases and expressions using that verb. Whilst taking the GCSE course last year, I found this book really useful for learning verb endings and verb uses. Each verb is set out clearly and with some hard grafting and memorizing, you too will understand how the tenses are formed and use the formulae for each new verb that you come across in your language learning.
For the complete beginner or advanced learner using this book for revision, the first section of the book ‘What are verbs and how do they work’ clearly explains the formation and tenses of verbs together with their grammatical uses. It is a really useful book to use alongside the Teach Yourself Italian Grammar book.
The only disadvantage to this collection of books is that you do need a lot of self-discipline to use them and be determined to complete the units (especially those in the Grammar book). Depending on how self-motivated you are you may find it difficult to continue using these books on a regular basis. Unfortunately, grammar and verb conjugations of any language can be the crux for fluent language learning and therefore some attention does need to be made on these language points.
I would also say that the language learner would have to have learnt some Italian in order to have a go at learning the verb conjugations in the Teach Yourself Italian Verbs book as many of the verbs are not looked at even at GCSE level. This could seem daunting for complete beginners. However, the Teach Yourself Italian Grammar book states that ‘you need no knowledge of grammar terminology to use it’ – an advantageous point as grammar can be a very complex and boring subject at any level and even for language enthusiasts!
As an independent learner myself, self-motivation is the key to using these books. It may be best to use these books in conjunction with your own tapes and a course book (if you are taking classes) in order to hear the correct pronunciation and get an all round Italian language learning experience. Grammar and verbs and the way they are used are essential to learning any language but cannot be used alone. The great thing about these particular Teach Yourself Italian books is that they give you the freedom to choose whatever grammar point or verb you want to learn allowing you greater flexibility in your learning.
So give these Teach Yourself language books a try…..and see how motivated and enthusiastic you really are!!!