foreign language "bibles"
April 3, 2008 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Foreign language "bibles" (superlative, comprehensive language resources) for language-learning lovers?

In the English speaking world, it's interesting how language learning materials differ in their availability. For example, after some digging, I found stunning resources for Spanish, Russian, Arabic:


I've paged through the Spanish one, and it's superb. I haven't looked through the Russian or Arabic one very much.

However, try looking for something this good for, say, French, Dutch, German, Swedish, etc. There just doesn't seem to be very much for most languages, at least in English. I'm talking about the sorts of books that blow you away in their comprehensiveness, ease-of-use, and overall labor-of-love-ness.

Here are my questions:

For those of you striving towards fluency in non-native tongues, what are your "bibles" that you're in love with?

For those of you in love with a language that doesn't have a lot of very good learning resources in print, how do you cope? Why do you think your language doesn't have lots of available resources?
posted by zeek321 to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I've collected a ridiculous number of reference books for German. There are a number of books written in English analyzing the meaning of different German synonyms, but the best is now A Practical Dictionary of German Usage by Beaton, which is very similar to an older book called the Dictionary of German Synonyms, which was my favorite German reference book in college 35 years ago.

A new book that I find very interesting is A Frequency Dictionary of German; I believe it is available in other languages.

Another really useful book (for German and also for other languages) that I used to consult a lot are the "501 verbs" books.

I have a number of German grammars but none of them really blow my socks off.

When I first studied Japanese and Chinese in the 70s there were very few texts available. I've always found that memorizing dialogs is useful. That's basically how we learned Japanese (with the Yale Language series books) but also how we learned French at the Alliance Francaise in Paris.
posted by thomas144 at 1:46 PM on April 3, 2008

Sorry, bad link to A Practical Dictionary of German Usage in my previous post!
posted by thomas144 at 1:49 PM on April 3, 2008

You're not getting a lot of answers, so I'll just add a plug for the Bantam line of XXXX-English/English-XXXX paperback dictionaries.

Of course, they're dictionaries, not learning texts, but anyway, I've always liked them for convenient translating purposes. I've found them to be right on my wavelength when looking up irregular verb forms, idioms, etc.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:48 PM on April 3, 2008

Best answer: This is an AWESOME resource:
They've recently limited their access though to like 6 querys before they hit you up with membership proposals.
posted by gmodelo at 3:51 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

This one was my French teacher's bible and we all got one. He wasn't wrong - it does everything, and in fewer than 100 pages.
posted by genghis at 4:14 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is all really great--thanks, everyone! Ultralingua is freaky and useful.
posted by zeek321 at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2008

I've been casually studying Lithuanian over the years, and have gotten a little more serious about it recently. I started out with a book and tape set called Easy Way to Lithuanian and I still use that quite a bit. I also have Beginner's Lithuanian which is probably the most comprehensive grammar book available. The best dictionary I've been able to find is this one.

So far though, the most user-friendly resource, the one that has gotten me most enthused about studying the language, has been a weekly podcast called Lithuanian Out Loud. I am really happy that this exists and I hope that the hosts (a Lithuanian woman and her American husband) keep it up, mainly since there are so few avenues for learning this language.
posted by medeine at 4:57 PM on April 3, 2008

I don't know if I'd say I'm in love with it, but French Grammar in Context was helpful for me. I've learned French in immersive environments, but occasionally I've wished for a succinct "where we do this in English, do that in French", which this book provides.
posted by loiseau at 9:15 PM on April 3, 2008

This series (Beginner, Intermediate) cover the lesson plans of the first two years+ of undergraduate Japanese (in reference form).

Indispensable for the serious Japanese student.
posted by tachikaze at 10:22 PM on April 3, 2008

For traditional Chinese characters, Rick Harbaugh's Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary is absolutely invaluable. It links each character bidirectionally to the characters that make it up and the characters of which it forms a part, so if you can identify just one part of your target character you can chase links through the book and nail it down. I have found characters in it that I literally could not look up any other way. Also online at

Ukrainian is a resource-poor language simply because it's been in the shadow of Russian so often and long. After I learned it, Routledge published the grammar I'd been wishing for. The Wikipedia article has also really come into its own in the last year. It's quite complete and very accurate.

Ways to compensate included studying a very carefully translated Ukrainian edition of an English text I was familiar with, immersion among native speakers, and eventually looking through Russian grammars for parallels. The two languages have very similar grammars, although there are some gotchas. Russian grammar was most helpful when I already had lots of examples of a phenomenon and sort of a sense for how it worked, but I didn't have a formal description yet: I could recognize the parallel phenomenon in Russian and check my memory to see if the formalization worked right.
posted by eritain at 8:07 PM on June 6, 2008

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