85 books like How Languages are Learned

By Patsy M. Lightbown, Nina Spada,

Here are 85 books that How Languages are Learned fans have personally recommended if you like How Languages are Learned. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

Norbert Schmitt Author Of Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Make Language Work for You

From my list on learning and using language well.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career in 1988 as an English language teacher in Japan. I originally went for a one-year adventure, but soon found myself fascinated by language, and how it is learned and used. This eventually led to a professorship at the University of Nottingham, where I have the good fortune to consult on language issues worldwide. I have researched language extensively, but all of my previous publications were meant for an academic/educational audience. I wanted to produce a book for general readership which outlines all that I have learned in 35 years of language research, and Language Power is the result. I hope you find it useful in your language-based life. 

Norbert's book list on learning and using language well

Norbert Schmitt Why did Norbert love this book?

When researching my book, I consulted many books on literacy, but this is the one I liked the best.

Many books describe ways to improve reading and writing ability (especially for children), but this one goes beyond that and explains why we need to do them. The answers lie in the way the brain functions, and how it adapted to handle written language over the ages; in essence, how the brain learned to read and write. If we understand that, then the paths towards improving literacy (both child and adult), and addressing problems like dyslexia, become much clearer. 

Maryanne Wolf masterfully weaves historical, psychological, and educational perspectives together to present a fascinating window into the world of reading and writing. Read the book, and the reason for the quirky title soon becomes clear.

By Maryanne Wolf,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Proust and the Squid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Everything about [this] book, which combines a healthy dose of lucid neuroscience with a dash of sensitive personal narrative, delights ... a beautifully balanced piece of popular-science writing' Boyd Tonkin, Independent
'For people interested in language, this is a must. You'll find yourself focusing on words in new ways. Read it slowly - it will take time to sink in.'William Leith, Sunday Telegraph
'An inspiring celebration of the science of reading.' P.D. Smith, Guardian

'We were never born to read', says Maryanne Wolf. 'No specific genes ever dictated reading's development. Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago.…


Book cover of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language

Norbert Schmitt Author Of Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Make Language Work for You

From my list on learning and using language well.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career in 1988 as an English language teacher in Japan. I originally went for a one-year adventure, but soon found myself fascinated by language, and how it is learned and used. This eventually led to a professorship at the University of Nottingham, where I have the good fortune to consult on language issues worldwide. I have researched language extensively, but all of my previous publications were meant for an academic/educational audience. I wanted to produce a book for general readership which outlines all that I have learned in 35 years of language research, and Language Power is the result. I hope you find it useful in your language-based life. 

Norbert's book list on learning and using language well

Norbert Schmitt Why did Norbert love this book?

This is the ideal coffee table book on language. It contains an astonishing amount of information on virtually every aspect of language, ranging from interesting tidbits that might be useful in a trivia game (How many languages are there in the world?) to more extended discussions of weightier issues (What is dyslexia?). 

It is the perfect book for dipping in and out of, because every page you might open up to contains something intriguing about the way language is described, used, learned, or lost. It is meant for a general audience, but when I read it, I found many new ideas that led me to advance my own academic research. 

The fact that it is now in its 3rd edition shows just how useful and popular this wide-ranging gem is.

By David Crystal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

This new, thoroughly revised edition of the acclaimed Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language incorporates the major developments in language study which have taken place since the mid 1990s. Two main new areas have been added: the rise of electronic communication in all its current forms from email to texting, and the crisis affecting the world's languages, of which half are thought to be so seriously endangered that they will die out this century. * All language statistics have been updated, and additional information provided about their linguistic affiliation * All topics involving technology have been revised to take account of recent…


Book cover of Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon

Norbert Schmitt Author Of Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Make Language Work for You

From my list on learning and using language well.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career in 1988 as an English language teacher in Japan. I originally went for a one-year adventure, but soon found myself fascinated by language, and how it is learned and used. This eventually led to a professorship at the University of Nottingham, where I have the good fortune to consult on language issues worldwide. I have researched language extensively, but all of my previous publications were meant for an academic/educational audience. I wanted to produce a book for general readership which outlines all that I have learned in 35 years of language research, and Language Power is the result. I hope you find it useful in your language-based life. 

Norbert's book list on learning and using language well

Norbert Schmitt Why did Norbert love this book?

Most languages consist of huge numbers of different words. For instance, estimates for English range from hundreds of thousands to millions of words. 

While no person knows every word in a language, they will still hold a repertoire of many, many thousands of words in their mind (their mental lexicon).  Dictionaries are useful for describing this ocean of words, but an intriguing question is how the human mind manages to learn and remember so many, and then to find the exact ones it wishes to use from the numerous alternatives. 

Aitchison’s genius lies in how she is able to draw on quite complex psychological research, but yet still distill it into a fascinating and very readable account of how the mind achieves these formidable tasks.  You will come away from this book with an increased appreciation of just how clever the mind is in acquiring, storing, and retrieving vast amounts…

By Jean Aitchison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Words in the Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book deals with words, and how humans learn them, remember them, understand them and find the ones they want. It discusses the structure and content of the human word-store or 'mental lexicon' with particular reference to the spoken language of those with English as their native language. Since the first two editions of Words in the Mind were published, work on the lexicon has expanded quickly. This growth is reflected in this third edition, which contains substantial new material. There is an extra chapter on layering and meaning change, and several others have been considerably enlarged. The notes and…


Book cover of Cambridge Grammar of English

Norbert Schmitt Author Of Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Make Language Work for You

From my list on learning and using language well.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career in 1988 as an English language teacher in Japan. I originally went for a one-year adventure, but soon found myself fascinated by language, and how it is learned and used. This eventually led to a professorship at the University of Nottingham, where I have the good fortune to consult on language issues worldwide. I have researched language extensively, but all of my previous publications were meant for an academic/educational audience. I wanted to produce a book for general readership which outlines all that I have learned in 35 years of language research, and Language Power is the result. I hope you find it useful in your language-based life. 

Norbert's book list on learning and using language well

Norbert Schmitt Why did Norbert love this book?

We all want to use language well. But language pundits sometimes promote grammar rules (e.g. no ‘split infinitives’) that contrast with what we hear in speech all the time.

The source of the discrepancy is traditional grammar books, which originated in the 18th Century, and were based on Latin models. But English has always had a different grammatical structure than Latin, and so some traditional ‘rules’ have never made sense. Instead of relying on such traditional prescriptive grammars, it is much better to refer to modern descriptive grammars, which describes how English is actually used nowadays.

These are based on thousands of examples of real written texts and spoken discourse, and so they can confidently report how English is really used in today’s world. The Cambridge Grammar of English is one of the best examples. 

By Ronald Carter, Michael McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cambridge Grammar of English as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A major reference grammar offering comprehensive coverage of spoken and written English based on real everyday usage. With its clear, two part structure, this is a user-friendly book from the world's leading English grammar publisher. The accompanying CD-ROM (Windows only) makes Cambridge Grammar of English even more accessible with: * The whole book in handy, searchable format. * Audio recordings of all the examples from the book. * Links to the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary online for instant definitions of new vocabulary.


Book cover of In Other Words

Andreea Ritivoi Author Of Intimate Strangers: Arendt, Marcuse, Solzhenitsyn, and Said in American Political Discourse

From my list on memoirs about crossing cultures to find yourself.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in Romania, a closed society during the Cold War, and I never expected to live anywhere else, especially not in the West. When communism ended, I rushed out of Eastern Europe for the first time, eager to find places and people I could only read about before. I also discovered the power longing and homesickness can have on defining our identities. I moved to the United States, where I now live and work, cherishing my nostalgia for the world I left behind, imperfect as it was. The books I read and write are always, in one way or another, about traveling across cultures and languages.

Andreea's book list on memoirs about crossing cultures to find yourself

Andreea Ritivoi Why did Andreea love this book?

At the height of her success as an American writer, Lahiri moved to Italy to pursue her dream of mastering the Italian language.

She got more than what she had hoped for—a new voice, not just a new language. But this discovery comes after many trials and tribulations that show her that a language is a whole universe that demands we completely re-invent, not merely translate ourselves. 

This is the memoir of a writer who is keenly aware of language as a key part of our human condition, bilingual already before leaving Italy (in Bengali and English) and never fully at home in any language.

Italian teaches her the humbleness of sounding simple and modest; the courage of making mistakes; the patience to build a vocabulary, storing new words like a collector obsessed with having more and more items; the confidence to speak with natives, including judgmental ones who always…

By Jhumpa Lahiri, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Other Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

National Best Seller

On a post-college visit to Florence, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri fell in love with the Italian language. Twenty years later, seeking total immersion, she and her family relocated to Rome, where she began to read and write solely in her adopted tongue. A startling act of self-reflection, In Other Words is Lahiri’s meditation on the process of learning to express herself in another language—and the stunning journey of a writer seeking a new voice.


Book cover of Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self

Michael J. Spivey Author Of Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness

From my list on the mind as more than a brain.

Why am I passionate about this?

Over the past 25 years, I have spent half of my time as a professor of psychology at Cornell University and the second half as a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Merced. The interdisciplinary field of cognitive science invites a much wider range of methods, theories, and perspectives in studying the mind. My work employs dynamical systems theory, neural network simulations, eye-tracking, and other dense-sampling measures of cognitive processes to reveal how the brain, body, and environment cooperate to generate mental activity. In 2010, I was awarded the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement from the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society. I have authored two books, The Continuity of Mind, and Who You Are.

Michael's book list on the mind as more than a brain

Michael J. Spivey Why did Michael love this book?

One of the most important parts of the environment for human organisms is the linguistic information that we share back and forth with each other. The language(s) you share with the people around you cannot help but become a fundamental aspect of who you are. While the majority of the world is multilingual (i.e., able to talk about the same thing in different ways), many in North America struggle with developing fluency in a language other than English because English has become so overwhelmingly dominant. Julie Sedivy is in the curious (but not uncommon) situation of being “a linguistic orphan, a person without a mother tongue.” She learned only Czech for the first few years of her life but then was whisked away to Canada where she quickly learned English and rapidly forgot her native language. In Memory Speaks, Julie Sedivy draws the parallels between an individual losing a…

By Julie Sedivy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Memory Speaks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From an award-winning writer and linguist, a scientific and personal meditation on the phenomenon of language loss and the possibility of renewal.

As a child Julie Sedivy left Czechoslovakia for Canada, and English soon took over her life. By early adulthood she spoke Czech rarely and badly, and when her father died unexpectedly, she lost not only a beloved parent but also her firmest point of connection to her native language. As Sedivy realized, more is at stake here than the loss of language: there is also the loss of identity.

Language is an important part of adaptation to a…


Book cover of Alfabet/Alphabet

Julie Sedivy Author Of Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self

From my list on immigration and identity.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a language scientist and a writer, but most of all, a person who is smitten with language in all its forms. No doubt my fascination was shaped by my early itinerant life as a child immigrant between Czechoslovakia to Canada, with exposure to numerous languages along the way. I earned a PhD in linguistics and taught linguistics and psychology at Brown University and later, the University of Calgary, but I now spend most of my time writing for non-academic readers, integrating my scientific understanding of language with a love for its aesthetic possibilities.

Julie's book list on immigration and identity

Julie Sedivy Why did Julie love this book?

Lovers of language will be entranced by this slim volume. The book contains 26 short pieces, each centered around a Dutch word beginning with a different letter of the alphabet and its English translation. Each segment is a poetic meditation on some aspect of the author’s transition from her first home in the Netherlands to her second home in Canada, and with it, her transition from the Dutch language to English. 

The author explores themes such as how English speakers perceive her mother tongue as alien, the profound emotional connection she feels for Dutch, which she describes as “my pulse music, my bone resonator, my umbilical ligature,” and the paradox of her identification with a mother tongue whose speakers do not always welcome her complicated ethnic identity. 

This is not a book to read quickly. It’s a book to be savored, ideally in the small, intense doses provided by each…

By Sadiqa de Meijer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Alfabet/Alphabet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

alfabet / alphabet is the record of Sadiqa de Meijer?s transition from speaking Dutch to English. Exploring questions of identity, landscape, family, and translation, the essays navigate the shifting cultural currents of language by using an eclectic approach to storytelling. As such, fellow linguistic migrants to anglophone Canada will recognize elements of their experience in alfabet / alphabet, while lifelong English speakers will perceive their mother tongue in a new light.


Book cover of Four Words for Friend: Why Using More Than One Language Matters Now More Than Ever

David Crystal Author Of The Story of English in 100 Words

From my list on words and their history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a bilingual environment (Welsh and English) and have been fascinated by languages ever since, and the way they reflect thought, culture, and history. An English degree course at University College London gave me an academic grounding in language and literature, and I've been exploring and writing on those subjects ever since, eventually as a professor of linguistics, and these days as an independent scholar. My website provides a complete list of my publications, along with links to other materials. And the most fascinating thing about language? Its diversity and change. Whatever a language was like yesterday, it's different today, and will be different again tomorrow.

David's book list on words and their history

David Crystal Why did David love this book?

As the title suggests: there are languages where there's no single word for "friend." What does that tell us about the way the speakers think and about their cultural history? This is a book about multilingualism and about the benefits of bilingualism—the normal human condition, for three-quarters of the people on this planet speak more than one language. It's especially insightful in the way it discusses future trends, such as Babel Fish technology. 

By Marek Kohn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Four Words for Friend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A compelling argument about the importance of using more than one language in today's world

In a world that has English as its global language and rapidly advancing translation technology, it's easy to assume that the need to use more than one language will diminish-but Marek Kohn argues that plural language use is more important than ever. In a divided world, it helps us to understand ourselves and others better, to live together better, and to make the most of our various cultures.

Kohn, whom the Guardian has called "one of the best science writers we have," brings together perspectives…


Book cover of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children

Joni Levine Author Of 365 Toddler Activities That Inspire Creativity: Games, Projects, and Pastimes That Encourage a Child's Learning and Imagination

From my list on toddler development and behavior.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion has always been caring for and educating young children. I spent over 20 years in the classroom as a child care professional and much of that time was with toddlers. I discovered that the stereotype of the terrible twos was truly misguided. I chose books that will shed new light on why toddlers behave the way that they do. These books will show the reader what an important time this is in a child’s growth and learning. I believe that these books will help convince you that toddlers are not terrible; they are terrific!

Joni's book list on toddler development and behavior

Joni Levine Why did Joni love this book?

I had a hard time choosing between this book and Elkind’s bestseller, The Hurried Child. David Elkind has a special gift for understanding both the importance and magic of early childhood. Current research reinforces the critical importance of play in young children’s growth and development. The author recognizes that young children are currently being raised in environments that are stressing academic achievement and technological advances. He makes a strong case that play is not a luxury but rather a necessity for the healthy development of toddlers and all young children.

By David Elkind,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Power of Play as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Best-selling author and distinguished childcare expert David Elkind takes on the "over-scheduled" child syndrome, providing parents with an understanding of, and appreciation for the powerful role of "play" in healthy emotional and academic development. In modern childhood, free, unstructured play time is being replaced more and more by academics, lessons, competitive sports and passive entertainment. While parents may worry that their children will be at a disadvantage if they are not engaged in constant learning, child development expert David Elkind reassures us that imaginative play goes far to prepare children for academic and social success, perhaps further than the panoply…


Book cover of Sleeping with the Dictionary

Mark Yakich Author Of Poetry: A Survivor's Guide

From my list on poems for people who don’t usually read them.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a child I did not enjoy reading of any kind, detested English class, and loathed poetry in particular. I simply couldn’t comprehend what relevance poems had to my life. Then, while living overseas, in my mid-twenties in a country in which I didn’t speak the language well and had no friends, I took refuge in an English-language bookstore. There, I would find the slimmest books I could find, which happened to be poetry collections, and I’d pull one down hoping for commiseration. At some point, I realized that I could make certain friends with certain poems. Twenty-five years of growing friendships later, now I read and write poetry for a living.  

Mark's book list on poems for people who don’t usually read them

Mark Yakich Why did Mark love this book?

“Pillow talk of the highest order” ends one review this book. Out of context that would seem to indicate this is a book about romance. There is romance, I suppose, but it is for the English language itself. Open the book at any point and you are likely to be knocked over by the sheer sounds and textures of words bumping into each other—literally and metaphorically. The greatest trick Mullen performs—and there are innumerable tricks here, including anagrams, puns, parodies, borrowed forms—is that she makes poems that are fun to read aloud but also serious in their fun.

By Harryette Mullen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sleeping with the Dictionary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Harryette Mullen's fifth poetry collection, "Sleeping with the Dictionary", is the abecedarian offspring of her collaboration with two of the poet's most seductive writing partners, "Roget's Thesaurus" and "The American Heritage Dictionary". In her menage a trois with these faithful companions, the poet is aware that while Roget seems obsessed with categories and hierarchies, the American Heritage, whatever its faults, was compiled with the assistance of a democratic usage panel that included black poets Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, as well as feminist author and editor Gloria Steinem. With its arbitrary yet determinant alphabetical arrangement, its gleeful pursuit of the…


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