Beginning language learners can be a nervous bunch. Adults who are studying independently are nervous about messing up– they spent their childhood learning foreign languages slowly and painfully in school, and they’re not quite sure that adults can achieve anything notable. So, understandably, they get a little paranoid that they’re going about studying the wrong way, asking questions like, “Is this textbook accurate?” “Is this course going to make me fluent?” “What if immersion methods don’t teach me grammar?” And so on.
Well, I’m here to tell you that these are little things, and they matter far less than you think they do.
My educational background is in law, and [American] lawyers like to talk about how making legal arguments is like throwing spaghetti at a wall– you just do it and see what sticks. And I like to think of learning methods, whether for languages or otherwise, as exactly like that.
Nothing will hurt your studies if you go after your goal in a comprehensive way. Is that textbook interesting and within your budget, but it has iffy reviews? Buy it, use it, and see if it works for you! Even if a textbook has problems (or errors!), it won’t be too much of a problem if you’re using all of the other things that interest you, like phrasebooks, dictionaries, music, and reading whatever you can get your hands on– those additional things will correct for you.
If you’re really into Duolingo right now, use it for all it’s worth. Suck the marrow out of your resources if you like them. Use the cheap textbooks, the computer programs, whatever you find. Follow your interest and passion, and I think you’ll come out on top.
As a personal example, with Dutch, I flit from Duolingo to reading Harry Potter to going through listening-heavy phases and back again. All of this helps, and I try to fit in as much as I can each day. But, like everyone, some days I’m not feeling it and I only get in Duolingo or a couple minutes of listening. And this helps! Every little bit counts.
For a non-language example, I wanted to learn some basic calculus (because, through strategic planning, I managed to get out of most university-level mathematics courses. Yay? Turns out, I might have liked some of them). I tried out Khan Academy, MIT course videos (those things are great– you can find them on YouTube), and several textbooks until I found a good overview book that cut to the chase about a lot of concepts. But, the multiple perspectives on various topics helped immensely, and I certainly completed my goal of gaining an understanding of basic calculus. I tried resources like crazy and abandoned them when I decided they weren’t for me.
In conclusion, try everything that looks interesting. If there’s a pretty textbook you want to try out, it doesn’t hurt. If you’re sick of textbooks and can’t stand the look of them, listen to L2 music and read comics. Think of learning a language like filling up an hourglass– every little grain of sand counts.