To learn a foreign language from a self-instruction manual (teach-yourself book) is not as easy as the publishers will have us believe. Despite this, the genre has endured for many centuries. This thesis argues that the robustness of self-instruction language manuals is due to their ability to adapt to the personal circumstances of their readers. By surveying ordinary nineteenth-century Scandinavians, it is established that they turned to self-directed learning as a consequence of social and economic developments in the region.\ud At the time, early globalisation was felt in terms of increased travel and trade. As a consequence, people needed to acquire foreign languages for the purpose of everyday communication. Because this area of second language acquisition was practical and took place outside formal education, it has not been accepted as part of the history of applied linguistics. I argue that ‘utilitarian language learning’ deserves to be included as an example of the current theory of autonomous learning. I also draw the conclusion that autonomy is actually one of the reasons why self-instruction manuals are not as effective as traditional language teaching, because the learners take charge of their own learning process and as a result often suffer from lack of motivation and opportunities to practise the language. I do, however, maintain that the works themselves are not inherently inept. The nineteenth-century methods were actually an improvement upon existing methods by focusing on the spoken rather than the written language.\ud Finally, I investigate why abstract notions of language, culture and identity were not present in works that could essentially disseminate elitist ideas to the general population. I argue that because the genre was highly commercialised, the authors deliberately chose to exclude topics that had political undertones and the potential to alienate parts of the readership.\u
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