There is a dizzying array of tools to help you learn a language. This is wonderful but it can also be a pitfall. With so many texts, card sets, apps, software programs, podcasts, YouTube channels, language exchange websites, forums, etc., you can easily spend all of your time hoarding resources, downloading and bookmarking… and never getting any actual studying done.
I know this because I recently fell face-first into this pitfall. I decided to make a real go of Spanish and started downloading apps and podcasts. I found a language exchange website and started madly writing introductory emails to everyone. I bookmarked online lesson sites and resource sites until I had a list so long I couldn't possibly check them all out.
And then I had no idea where on earth to start. So I erased them all and started at square one.
When I first started learning Japanese there just weren't that many resources available. I had a textbook and I sought out reading material like manga, which wasn't easy to find in a smallish town in the American Midwest. It was a struggle to find native speakers to practice with or pen pals to harass for CDs of Japanese punk rock (okay, not strictly for studying Japanese, but I digress).
The need to keep it simple
This is why it's best to choose a few materials and choose wisely. I believe that in order to study a language successfully, you need a daily routine. Unless you're going to spend the entire day studying, you need to pare this routine down to a few elements.
Let's say that you have an hour of study time each day. How are you going to juggle three online courses, five podcasts, two apps and emails from six language exchange partners? It would be impossible.
On the other hand, if you have one program for drilling vocabulary, an app for speaking and listening, one good website for grammar reference, and one reliable language exchange partner who can email or meet on a regular basis, it's much more manageable.
A course of study
If you're a beginner like me with my Spanish, you need a basic course of study. I love to jump right in head-first with a newspaper, TV show or real-live conversation. But you can't do that when you don't know the difference between ser and estar. There should be some kind of step-by-step, even if it's just one element of your study. Ideally, you follow a course and then have reference and practice materials to supplement.
Hoarding is a form of procrastination
Hoarding and gathering resources can easily take the place of studying itself. I'm a terrible hoarder, especially when it comes to information. I'll bookmark ten websites and actually make a 'read later' folder for them. It should be no surprise that they never get read.
Tips on keeping the hoarding in check
It's okay to amass a pile of resources at the beginning, but then try each out and choose the best. Hoard with a purpose. Go shopping to find the handful that are most useful to you.
A good way to find study materials is through friends' recommendations. That's how I found the app I'm using now to study Spanish. I didn't have to download a whole slew of other apps and try them all out. I tried a few and then decided that this one recommended by a friend was the best for me.
As a rule, I recommend having just one study resource for each type of media. Limit yourself to just one app, one flashcard set, one podcast, one language exchange partner, and so on. This makes it much easier to establish a good routine and if you show well and narrow it down to the best, one is all you need.