- Reviews -

Living Language

My grandfather had a phase of Francophone obsession a few years before I studied in France and his passion for everything French landed me a free copy of an older version of Living Language French. A few years later, I bought the same set for German when I enrolled in German class at university. The truth is though that I really didn’t use either of them. For me the lessons were neither exciting nor well structured.

However, in the past few years Living Language has really turned things around. The new Complete Edition offers more bangs for your buck than any other language program I have come across and it is leagues beyond their older programs. I bought the Brazilian Portuguese Complete Edition before I went to Brazil and I think it has been the best purchase I made in my pursuit to learn Portuguese.

The Complete Edition is very affordable and includes three workbooks and 9 audio CDs which correspond to the text. The three workbooks are split into levels: Essential, Intermediate, and Advanced. Each level has a different number of lessons, with Essential having 10 lessons in 1 unit, Intermediate 20 lessons in 5 units, and Advanced 16 lessons in 4 units (for the Portuguese version I own at least).

As such, the Living Language Complete Edition is very extensive. What is more, the course has been designed to really address the important aspects of the Portuguese language. In other words, Living Language is NOT making cookie cutter programs where they are simply substituting content for each language they want to offer. All in all, you get close to 1000 pages of content and 9 audio CDs, which in my opinion are top quality recordings. I enjoy putting the audio files on my music playing devices and listening to vocabulary when I’m on the go. It allows me to utilize the program even though I don't have the workbooks in front of me. The files can be used just to practice listening and repeating.

As such, for such a low price you get an awful lot of language practice with Living Language. What is more, it comes in a bunch of different languages: Spanish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Irish, and even Hindi. As a result, if you try Living Language and enjoy it you know you can pick up the exact same product in your next target language.

Generally, all the programs are highly rated and have really put Living Language back on the map for quality and price in language learning. At a fraction of the price of Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, and Fluenz, it is a great place to start your language journey.


Pimsleur

The collection of Pimsleur programs are the living legacy of the late Paul Pimsleur. Dr. Pimsleur was a linguistic researcher who helped paved the way to the future in language education. Today, the Pimsleur programs specialize in audio language acquisition through the use of a spaced repetition system.

The first Pimsleur product I bought was ‘Quick & Simple German’. As someone who had absolutely no knowledge of German prior to purchasing the program you could say that I had a Pimsleur immersion experience. Although this particular version of the program was very limited in scope, I walked away very satisfied with my progress and felt that an investment in additional Pimsleur products were necessary.

Many years later, I can say I have used multiple Pimsleur products and I am very satisfied with what they deliver. To be honest, this is not an all in one product and those looking for such a product should go somewhere else. The audio emphasis of the program attempts to make the speaker listen, repeat, and work constantly on the sounds of the language. At the end of the day, what I really feel was the big advantage of having used Pimsleur products is the development of good pronunciation. When I lived in France I was complimented a number of times on my pronunciation and I attribute it to the use of my Pimsleur French programs.

I’m definitely a fan of Pimsleur and would encourage any reader to at least try it out. If you do not have the money to buy the programs new that is alright. Check your local library to see if they have copies or search your website of choice for used copies.

Pimsleur comes in a variety of languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese just to name a few. If your target language isn't listed here go to the Homepage and check the page for the specific language your looking for.


501 Verbs +

I first started using the 501 Verb series when I studied Spanish in high school. As a result of using this book frequently I dominated the regular verb conjugation tests we had. Personal accomplishment aside, verb books are a great resource to have at your fingertips as you study verb tenses and expand your working vocabulary.

A quick look at the market shows that the Barron’s verbs books come in 501, 301, and even 201 forms. These forms vary across languages and some are very outdated and by the account of some users pretty useless. On the other hand, common languages like Spanish, French, Italian, and German seem to get regular updates and now they sometimes have audio CDs to supplement the books.

I own semi-older versions of 501 Verbs in Spanish German, and Portuguese and also have very old 201 Turkish and Swedish verbs. I also own the newer version of 501 French verbs. As a result, I can confirm that the Turkish and Swedish editions are both less attractive and lacking in supplementary material. The new versions usually have example sentences for each verb and include a large list of additional verbs at the back of the book.

It should be noted however that Barrons, the producers of the 501, 301, and 201 series, are not the only company who produces verb books. Other companies make them too and you should seriously consider picking one up if you want to expand your vocabulary and check spelling while you write.


Duolingo

Duolingo is a free website which has really broken new territory for free language learning. It attempts to make language learning fun and sprinkles incentives and challenges into the structure to keep users practicing at least once per day. Currently, Duolingo offers a number of popular languages and the development team is constantly developing content for less used and more exotic languages(think Ukrainian and Vietnamese).

Structurally, users have to complete categories of grammar, vocabulary, verbs, etc. in order to advance up the “language tree”. Users are encouraged to set a daily goal for themselves and are rewarded with a type of in-game currency when they meet their goals. This currency can be used to purchase extra content and fun perks. The great thing about the setting the daily goal is that the user has a good amount of flexibility over how much their limit is. Only have time for one exercise per day? No problem! Set a low points goal and you will still receive your perks for reaching it every day. If you take a look at some of the hardcore users of Duolingo you will see there are a many learners who have met their point’s goals for hundreds of days straight. That is dedication!

Once the user completes some of their course they can jump into doing translations. This can be an effective exercise for some but it ultimately exists because Duolingo benefits from it. Motivations aside, the teams of volunteers who moderate the creation of Duolingo courses spend a lot of their personal time to bring these courses to the light of day and their efforts are very much appreciated by the Duolingo community.

Ultimately, what I enjoy most about Duolingo is that it pushes you to do a little studying every day, even if it is only one quick exercise. If you have the phone application it will send you reminders to practice and this helps motivates users to jump onto the app and earn a few points for the day. Ultimately, practicing every day is an important aspect of language learning and Duolingo helps motivate the learner into doing that.

As for myself, I eventually found I was jumping on Duolingo to get my points for the day without concentrating on actually picking up what I was supposed to be learning. Essentially, it became a habit that lacked substance and often times I felt like it was just an empty habit. To be honest though, I still use Duolingo from time to time and I would say it’s a good resource for those wanting to get instant exposure to a new language. On the other hand, just make sure you don’t fall into the ‘all habit, no substance’ mode I found myself in after a few months of use.


+ More +

Rosetta Stone

If one was researching language programs many years ago they would find that Rosetta Stone dominated the market. Interestingly though, the reviews about Rosetta Stone were less than complimentary and this has not changed much when you fast forward to today. Due to the lack of competition the company didn't intially have to adjust to the market but over time Rosetta Stone started seeing competitors like 'Living Language' and 'Fluenz' come into the picture.

Unfortunately, from my perspective at least, competitive pressures have not seemed to kick-start Rosetta Stone into developing more effective products. The fact they have historically advocated the full immersion experience(with no translations or explanations) seems to be a major complaint for customers, which is ironic as this seems to be the main selling point of the software. Some people who have used Rosetta Stone find it very effective but the general consensus based on reading many reviews over a number of years is that these programs are lacking something which other programs have now effectively filled.


Fluenz

Fluenz is the newer kid on the block and is really what Rosetta Stone should’ve been in the first place.People seem to be raving over this software and the reviews on the internet are a tribute to the satisfaction customers get when using Fluenz products.

Unlike Rosetta Stone, Fluenz basically uses an interactive tutor system to help teen and adult learners make quick progress in language acquisition. They provide explanations in the langauge lessons and actually design the programs differently for each language they offer instead of using a 'cookie cutter' type format that Rosetta Stone learners get. The Fluenz system also allows you to work on your language skills across multiple multimedia devices. The languages they offer are Spanish (Latin American), Spanish (Spain), French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and Mandarin.

Every language they offer has multiple levels and these can be purchased in package to save you a few bucks.


Anki

Anki is free flashcard creation software which uses the spaced repetition system to aid in knowledge acquisition. I use it extensively and a short Google search will reveal that it is highly regarded amongst language learners in general. The user can create and customize their own flashcards and also download flashcard decks which other users have shared with the Anki community. Anki can be downloaded to a computer as an application but can also be used online through the Anki website. The Anki phone application is also available and with the beauty of modern technology all three of these methods of study can be synced together.

I’ve created thousands of cards on Anki and not just for language learning. With the ability to add audio, text, and images, it is hard to not appreciate this powerful tool. The developers of Anki updated it as needed and the stash of knowledge shared amongst its users is only growing. The fact that Anki can be navigated with a few keys on the keyboard makes reviewing your cards really quick and full control over how many cards are reviewed per day and over what period of time makes this program tunable to whatever needs you might have.


TuneIn Radio

TuneIn Radio is a free online and mobile resource which can be used to find radio broadcasts in dozens of languages. Listening and comprehending the spoken language is essential for being able to interact with others. TuneIn thus provides many possibilities to hear music, talk, and news in whatever your target language is.

There is a mobile phone application to download or you can stream it online through their website. This is great because it means you can take it with you almost anywhere you go and listen no matter what you are doing.


Forvo

Forvo is a great website which allows you search for words in your target language and download the corresponding audio file. The website is powered by users who can both pronounce and add words to the respective languages offered by Forvo. This could be especially useful if you are trying to learn a language which lacks audio materials. The great thing is everything is free! You need to register to download the audio files and to add words yourself. However, when you do add words the website saves them to your account so you can easily see what contributions you have made to the website. I've added a few words on a given day and woke up the next day to find that some native speaker had already made and uploaded a recording of the word I added. How cool is that? Combine Forvo with Anki and you have a great combination for learning your target language.


Memrise

Memrise is a really popular site for learning just about anything, including langauges. While I can't say I have used it extensively there has been very positive feedback within the language learning community. Memrise provides many different courses of varying difficulty for many of the languages mentioned on this website so go check it out and make up your own mind.