Authoring Foreign Language Textbooks/Printable version

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Authoring Foreign Language Textbooks

The current, editable version of this book is available in Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection, at

Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Learning styles

Learners have different strengths and a wide range of approaches will make a book useful to more readers. According to Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences people have different strengths and will therefore benefit from different approaches. In that vein, teachers commonly try to use varied teaching styles to cater to different students' abilities.

Some people are very good at picking up the sounds of words, while others are more apt at memorising the way they are written. For some the patterns are easily recognisable while for others actually writing them will better help them commit them to memory. These are just examples of strengths that will require different approaches in how the content is presented. A combination of audio (even with video), text, explanations and lists for rote learning can help learners with different abilities.

While it is difficult enough to come up with a textbook taking only one learning style into account, it is useful to keep in mind that what works for oneself isn't necessarily going to be the most useful method of study for the learner.

Learning curves

A gentle learning curve[edit | edit source]

If you have to do a lot of learning before you have gained experience, this is a "steep" learning curve. A shallow curve (gradual learning) is better

It is important to gradually introduce the language to your readers. This keeps your readers interested, instead of frustrated, and allows you to go into greater depth in any given subject. Before moving on after describing a series of grammar points, provide your readers with a large number of examples, and exercises. Afterwards you can show the table as a summary of what was learned. While readers should be aware of exceptions, these might be better saved for later.

Don't expect the reader to have a deep knowledge of grammar or linguistics. Such concepts are still useful but the text may have to describe these or refer users to where they are explained. Use your best judgement in deciding which terms are reasonable to expect readers to know. Many readers, for instance, won't know what a "guttural", "plosive" or "voiced" sound is, much less know how to produce them.

Lesson plans

Lesson Plans[edit | edit source]

Before writing any lesson, set a goal for the course (e. g. level A2 of the European Reference Framework for Languages) and make a lesson plan that will gradually lead people there.

A lesson plan should indicate which vocabulary and grammar each lesson introduces, and the order of which these are introduced. This gives current and future contributors an overview of what has been taught already. Already covered grammar and vocabulary should be regularly revisited. Grammatical structure that hasn't been covered yet will more often than not just confuse the reader, but if handled correctly it can be used as a tool to get readers used to certain modes of speech.

Avoid choosing which phrases to teach first, and then seeing what grammar they require. Once you have set up grammar points, you should pick sentences in their scope which the reader might find interesting and can begin to use in mock- or real conversations. What constitutes as "interesting" varies of course. At the outset, however, anything that readers can understand and use will encourage and motivate them. As most wikibooks are for self-study, a constant experience of success is a critical factor in the success of your book.

Keep the lesson contents manageable and their size regular. Again, centering around phrases will create some very short lessons, while complex phrases will require lots of background. Set each lesson to cover a small number of grammar points, introduce a set amount of new vocabulary and revisit particular grammar points.


Reading is not enough to learn a language. Readers should practice contents they've learnt. Lessons should assist them in doing so by supplying exercises (e.g. phrases to construct or modify) with answers. Note, however, that this is where Wikibooks starts to overlap with v:Wikiversity. You may want to track down the department that would benefit from your book, and help integrate it into a learning stream.

Exercises should be simple and allow plenty of repetition. User:Swift's old math teacher called it (with a grin on his face ;-)) the bulldozer method when he assigned them homework with around a hundred series to be tested for convergence. The same principle applies here. Repetitions are the only way to get an intuition for how series, sorry; language, works.

Give readers plenty of chance to passively understand and then practice (reading, listening, and speaking) example phrases before producing (writing or speaking) their own.

Here are some examples of exercises:

Multiple choice
These are extremely versatile, yet can be created with varying degrees of difficulty. They are excellent as a first step practicing new content as the various choices help jock learners' memories and help form mental maps of grammar and vocabulary.
Specific questions about the text
This may seem really easy, but that's not a problem. Having students verbalise and explain things on their own helps engrain concepts in their brains. You can only explain things you understand. Only advanced students can answer in the language they are learning.
Fill-in-the-blank exercises
Slightly more challenging than the multiple choice, it requires the reader to identify sentence structure and pick the appropriate word. This is particularly useful for interjections, particles, articles and genders, but nouns, adjectives, and prepositions need a trigger (see below).
Identify specific grammar in text
Give readers a block of text and have them highlight/circle particular grammatical entities and structures. This practices deeper comprehension both of the text and the item to look for.
Changing form
Have the learner change a sentence from one form to another (e.g. from one tense to another).
Reading and listening
Have readers answer simple questions to test their comprehension.
Practice spelling.
Arranging words
Rearranging words into a sentence practices word order and grammar while providing the building blocks so learners won't have to come up with the sentences themselves.
Identify errors
Have readers identify mistakes in a text you provide. This can be used to immunize student against all kinds of common mistakes.
Translation exercises.
Tests vocabulary, idioms, grammar and also the student's ability to express themself in a native-like way.
Free writing exercises
own dialogues and stories, mock diary entries and newspaper articles, summaries, opinion pieces, analysis (roughly in order of difficulty).

While more work to create, visual triggers (such as images) are more useful than phrases. Describing something about an image, rather than translating an English phrase allows users to concentrate on learning the new language independently, rather than in terms of how it relates to English. This is particularly important for languages that differ radically in grammar.


References[edit | edit source]

References allow the reader to quickly find a certain rule that he needs to brush up on. References need to be accessible (ordered by alphabet, level and/or type to name a few) and complete. Don't, however, start something you won't finish. Know your limits.


Media[edit | edit source]

Languages written with variants of the Latin alphabet or completely different character sets require teaching how to read and write these. Where stroke order is important or useful, provide images describing these. There might already be some available on Commons:, such as at the Commons Stroke Order Project or Commons:Tamil alphabet.

Audio and video clips to illustrate conversations by native speakers are useful. You can direct readers to popular media in the language you are teaching for practice to keep learners interested and help them immerse themselves in the language.


Avoid the phrasebook approach[edit | edit source]

Never teach languages in the sense of simply providing a sentence with its translation and requesting memorization.

Without first teaching how to construct sentences, such examples do not aid in learning a language. If a person doesn't understand the structure and components of a sentence, the reader gains very little from memorizing it because he cannot use it to make or understand new sentences.

Bite-sized language lessons[edit | edit source]

Developed by Junesun, the Bite-sized language lessons aim to break lessons down into small easily digestable bits.

1-2-3-4-5 Punch[edit | edit source]

The 1-2-3-4-5 Punch is a process of repetition and memorization critical to the learning of a new language. There are two parts to the 1-2-3-4-5 Punch: the 1-2-3 Punch and the 4-5 Punch. Parts 1, 2, and 3 deals with lessons and parts 4 and 5 with groups of lessons:

  1. Tell your readers what you are going to teach them.
    “You're going to be taught XYZ, and by the end of this lesson you should be able to do ABC, DEF, GHI...etc.”
  2. Teach them.
  3. Tell your readers what you taught them.
    With this technique, your readers have now heard the material 3 times in different ways. This repetition will ingrain the information in them. Now go 2 steps better and repeat the information even more.
  4. Review what you taught your readers in the last few lessons and what they should know and be able to do.
  5. Review what you taught your readers in the last Grade/Section/Division and what they should know and be able to do.

The more repetition the better. This is important, people don't normally remember something the first time they hear it. The more times you repeat the material you've gone through with the reader, the more likely they'll be able to remember what they read. It's a simple, but important, concept.

Many wikibooks for languages are trying to be curriculums rather than textbooks or references. This is an excellent goal, but to achieve it you must plan your curriculum, and repetition is key to any curriculum.


General guidelines[edit | edit source]

Style and structure[edit | edit source]

There is little specific about styling and structuring language books. See Wikibooks:Manual of Style for more on this.

Avoid splash pages as they only increase the distance to actual content. The MediaWiki software creates links to parent pages under the page title. Leaving worth-while content on the book's main page increases access. Remember that wikibooks are not made of paper and your readers haven't come searching for pretty pictures of the flag of Japan or Morocco.

Keep a consistent style throughout the book. Be creative and add graphics specific to that book. Memorable logos and mascots can be a great idea for a representative theme in illustrations.

Prominent Contributor Recognition[edit | edit source]

It can be a useful to motivate contributors to your wikibook to, display them prominently with recognition of their level of contribution. You can, for example, put a small symbol or image next to the name of each contributor for each module they have contributed substantially to.

Useful tricks

The intention of this page is to share the tricks that authors of foreign language textbooks have employed / developed / come up with. Writing a wiki-book is obviously not the same as writing a hard copy book or teaching someone a language in school and this provides both challenges and opportunities.

Challenges[edit | edit source]

An unknown audience[edit | edit source]

Wikibook authors never know who will read their product, what their reader is after, what his/her background is, how many languages they already know, whether they know any grammar etc. The challenge is then to provide content that is attractive and useful for as broad an audience as possible. A high school teacher or teacher at an immersion class faces many challenges, but not these ones. In that sense the page How to Teach a Language is rather useless in our situation or at least not of direct use. No, we cannot break the ice in our class by doing a game with our 12 students[1], but we do have ways to try to involve our students interactively and this is educationally a very desirable thing to do.

Oral versus visual[edit | edit source]

Written text is in general a rather poor way of teaching a language. Children learn languages by ear long before they can even read or write. This means that our main means of communicating: written text is a limited tool. This even holds for languages that are pretty phonetic in their orthography. People simply learn better by ear and by context than from symbols on a screen.

Register, regional differences etc.[edit | edit source]

Which version of the language should be taught? All languages have different registers; that is, the style and tone of a language can change by situation or location. The language of the boardroom is not the same as the language of a back alley.

Similarly, most languages have regional differences. The Dutch spoken in Antwerp is not precisely the same as that spoken in Utrecht, and the same goes for the German of Köln as opposed to Vienna.

There is also the challenge of language changing over time. The English of Dickens is not that of Obama. We probably want to teach language as broadly as we can, sometimes highlighting one variety, sometimes the other. We cannot be partial because that violates NPOV.

Opportunities[edit | edit source]

WikiMedia offers many opportunities that classical books do not have.

  1. First and foremost those are the ability to link to other pages, to Wikipedia, Wiktionary etc., to put in footnotes, references etc. This helps in making the same content useful to different types of readers, as long as we make sure they can find the specific content that they are after. We must make sure it is retrievable. If we do a good job at that, that partly remedies the "unknown audience" problem.
  2. Secondly there is wikimedia commons with all its visual media and an increasing amount of sound files, mostly of individual words ,due to wiktionary. (For Dutch e.g. pretty much any word -including word forms- that WikiWoordenboek contains are available as sound file (May 2015). Of varying quality, but they are there).
  3. Thirdly we can link to outside sources, e.g. videos on YouTube that might teach language more as children learn it: playfully and surreptitiously.

The question is how best to exploit those opportunities to make our language textbooks more attractive and more effective for our varied audience.

Tricks[edit | edit source]

Tricks may very well be personal and style dependent. Teaching is something we all do in our own way. (wrong[2]) So I will sign each trick and hope others will add theirs as time goes on. The key word is interactivity. Anything we can get the reader to get involved into interactively is a strengthening of our wikibook.

Practicing tricks[edit | edit source]

Hover trick[edit | edit source]

There is a small template called "C" that allows what I call the hover trick. Just try to put your mouse on the underlined word. The syntax is

{{C|some word|whatever you want to pop up when they hover}}

I use it in new conversations or other text, but also for the blanks in fill-in-the-blank tests.

E.g. do you know what the Dutch word worst means?

Fill_in_the_blank[edit | edit source]

To train vocabulary as well as practice some grammar or syntax just taught I use fill in the blank tests, like:

These tests are use to train ____ as well practice some ____ or ____

A variation on this theme is to create, say ten, sentences each with a blank and give the missing words in arbitrary order for people to fill in, like:

Put these missing words in the appropriate sentence: create, missing, tests.
I use fill in the blank ____.
A variation on this theme it to ____, say, ten sentences.
Give the ____ words.

Recycling words[edit | edit source]

I try to keep track of the words (in Excel) introduced in each lesson and use them in e.g. fill-in-the-blank tests in the next lesson.

Word swapping[edit | edit source]

In Dutch pronouns for subjects and objects are different. I construct sentences and ask people to swap subject and object, like:

Yesterday I saw him in the rose garden
Yesterday he saw me in the rose garden

Color coding[edit | edit source]

For word swaps or changes in syntax I sometimes use color coding. The syntax is:

<span style="color:blue;">something</span>

It yields:


There are also templates that do the same like {{blue|something}} gives something.

Collapsible text[edit | edit source]

I use a doubly collapsible box to give an exercise and give the answer key as well. Open the box to see the exercise

YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Printable version • Open the box to see the exercise

Put the [given verb] in the past tense and in the correct position in the phrase

[to practice]: Hopefully he enough.
SOLUTION • Authoring Foreign Language Textbooks/Printable version • Open the box to see the exercise
Hopefully he practiced enough.

Tricks involving sound files[edit | edit source]

Audio word files[edit | edit source]

Of course the availability varies for the different languages. Making them yourself is an option, but a tedious one and you do want to make good ones, preferably from a variety of mother tongue speakers. But suppose they are there: how to use them? IMHO there are a number of ways.

First of all: there are different ways of putting them on the page. I like two of them. The full one is:

  • [[file:nl-lijnrijderij.ogg]]. This gives:

But for embedding in tables and such, I prefer a smaller one:

  • [[image:nl-lijnrijderij.ogg|noicon|20px]]. This gives:

As simple additions to words discussed[edit | edit source]

E.g. when discussing the primitive forms of a Dutch verb like breken, I give the pronunciations on the right of the page:

breken - brak - braken - gebroken

The syntax is

| {{knp2|breken}} || {{knp2|brak}} || {{knp2|braken}} || {{knp2|gebroken}}

With visual images[edit | edit source]


Whenever there is space on the right hand side of a grammar story or a conversation I try to include an image of a particular word that occurs in it with an audio link in the caption. I wrote some small templates (knop and knp2) as a shortcut for that to make generating these things easier. They can easily be adapted for other languages The syntax is:

[[File:Richard Riemerschmid Stuhl 1905 Dresdner Werkstätten für Handwerkskunst 1.jpg|thumb|100px|de {{knp2|stoel}}]]

Obviously this works fine for concrete nouns but not so much for verbs, adverb etc.

Visual vocabulary practice pages[edit | edit source]

These are simply collections of audio+visual images around a certain theme, say fruits, see Dutch/Vocabulary/Fruit for an example Of course the danger of such pages is that they get too long or that commons delinker will wipe out the image or that they will be ignored. I therefor use them as assignments for some of the exercises. For some I have added self-test pages for those who want ot test themselves on their Dutch vocabulary of fruits, see: Dutch/Vocabulary/Fruit/Selftest. I use the hover trick to facilitate checking their answers.

Icons[edit | edit source]


Finding suitable images for a word like between is a challenge and so I have started to dabble a bit more into inkscape and vector graphics to make some simple icons that depict such a concept. As these files are .svg it is possible to open them simply in notepad, use ctrl+f to 'find' the Dutch word (tussen) and replace it by whatever it is in Punjabi or whatever your language is.


Vocabulary boxes[edit | edit source]

I have been putting collapsible boxes with vocabulary on the right side of the screen for some of the conversations, so that people can open these while trying to figure out the new material. I ask them to do that by by hovering, but I usually also give them a translation in a box they can open under the text.

Translation • Printable version • Example

Here the translation would come

The syntax for the collapsible box is:

{|class="wikitable collapsible collapsed" style="float:right"
|de {{Nlwikt|stoel}}||[[file:nl-stoel.ogg]]||chair

Rather than putting the table on each page I have switched to using a template template:Dutch/Vocab-box for that.

Unfortunately, for some reason I cannot put the small arrow icon in these tables and the full one also runs into trouble when there are too many sound files on a page. If anyone knows how to fix that I'd be very happy.

Practice lessons and Example lessons[edit | edit source]

People need practice. Some more than others. I am now in the process of creating two parallel lines of lessons to the 22 lessons that mostly deal with grammar and syntax, although they do already contain conversations and various assignments / tests etc. The practice lessons simple give more practice without expanding the scope of the grammar. It is a good place to send people to the visual vocabulary pages and increase their vocabulary, usually on a certain topic, say landscape or vegetables or so. In the example lessons I try to present something cultural like a song or a poem. For the first couple of them I discuss a children's poem, nursery rhyme etc, preferably one that YouTube has a video about. Children's stuff is wonderful because its vocabulary is limited. E.g. do you know this song? And after watching it can you tell me what the Dutch word for sheep is? (If you scroll down a little the full text is right underneath the video)

Flashcards[edit | edit source]

Outside sites like Memrise and Quizlet provide an interesting way to boost the acquisition of vocabulary. I have made Quizlet data sets for the vocabulary contained in each lesson and added a link to the pertaining Quizlet set at the bottom of the lesson. Jcwf (discusscontribs) 20:36, 16 July 2015 (UTC)

Keeping score[edit | edit source]

I have created an Excel spreadsheet in which I keep track which term/word is introduced in each lesson. This serves two purposes:

  1. being able to tell readers how much vocabulary they are supposed to learn from a lesson and giving a cumulative count of terms.
  2. being able to construct exercises and quizzes in later lessons in which the material is revisited.

Jcwf (discusscontribs) 20:36, 16 July 2015 (UTC)

Quizzes[edit | edit source]

The quiz tool is active on this site and facilitates the introduction of quizzes.

There are a number of ways they can be used.

1 this is an example of filling in the blank

What is the name of this site

2 but you can combine it with audio or video

What is this word?

3 It is also possible to construct multiple choice questions. Which words belong together?

weatherfoodtransportationdwarf planet

Appendix[edit | edit source]

Quizlet and Memrise

Quizlet and Memrise are two external websites that have developed an electronic flash card system to help people memorize items. Both sites allow registration for free and it is possible to create training sets, e.g. for the particular vocabulary being taught in a particular module of a language book. As long as wikimedia software has nothing comparable to offer, the authors of language books could create specific training sets for their material and put an external link to that particular training set.

For example, if you wish to train yourself in the 56 most common words of the Dutch language you could do that here.

As the wiki software does not really facilitate this kind of memorization, the Dutch book now has a set of vocabulary training sets at Quizlet for most of the Beginner level classes and a link thereto. The sets contain the added vocabulary taught in that particular lesson.

  1. I usually have more like 198 or so
  2. As my grandfather would have added.