Where Do Language Companies Come Up With This Sh*t?!: A Rant


I don’t usually do a lot of ranting.

At least not publicly. I don’t really wish to be seen as an angsty person and most people stop listening when I start complaining.

That little empty disclaimer aside – I’ve been spending a while now checking out new (and old) language learning products, apps, software, and the like. Some of them are tons of fun, some of them are pretty horrible…

…but so far almost all of them really want to get me drunk.

If you’ve done the whole foreign language self-study program thing before you probably know what I’m talking about.


Thanks to The Pimsleur Approach and its like minded brethren, I can now order alcohol in more languages than I can ask for directions to the nearest restroom.

Or hospital…

…Or count to ten.

Clearly our priorities are in order.

I know I was learning Russian at the time, but really, aren’t there more valuable things for me to be learning, even in Eastern Europe? Aren’t there any better Slavic stereotypes that we can feed?Asking how to order beer, or wine, (or vodka) is almost always one of the first things Pimsleur, or Rosetta Stone, or the vast majority of phrase books, online language games, or audio courses – think I need to know to survive in a foreign land.

This total lack of practical application is where most language products fall short of making my day – and I’m really not just talking about the alcohol thing but the seeming lack of all contemporary, real world application.

It’s difficult to stick with a language course, or whatever it is, when it doesn’t teach you things that you find applicable to yourself. You become bored, and lose interest. When you lose interest, things become hard, and then you stop.

That’s a problem.

The issue seems to be that many of these products and programs were created during a time when the majority of people interested in learning foreign languages were well paid, middle aged businessmen who had to occasionally fly overseas and attend “summits” or “conferences”.

They weren’t made for “global citizens” or students or expats or people who just want to learn a language and maybe never even visit the countries) in which they are spoken.

People’s reasons for learning languages vary dramatically, but I’m willing to bet that most of us aren’t just looking to get hammered in Copenhagen, sloshed in Bangkok or wasted in Rio.

Okay, maybe Rio.

Anyway, has anyone else noticed that major language programs seem to have this formulaic structure:

  1. Greetings
  2. I do/do not understand [insert language].
  4. How many children do you have, where is your wife, where do they live, and does your house have a white picket fence, a Jack Russell terrier and a church next door?

That’s all well and good if you’re an alcoholic, suit wearing, middle aged businessman from Pleasantville, USA in the 1950s, but what about those of us who actually exist, have personalities, interests, atypical relationships, (or no relationships) and, well, have pulses?

I understand that these language companies can’t create personalized learning experiences for everyone – that’s why we created flashcard apps and other cool things that don’t make me sad – but an up to date generic version of tried and true products wouldn’t go amiss and wouldn’t be exceptionally hard to make.

Just rearrange the priorities.

Knowing how to order a drink, and what to order, is an important part of traveling – especially in certain places where the culture is deeply tied to its food, its alcohol and the traditions surrounding them, but there’s no reason that these things can’t wait until I know my shapes, colors, numbers and understand time.

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  • YES. YES YES YES YES YES. I am sick of having to learn:
    2 cervezas por favor.
    Я люблю водку!
    etc. etc.
    I’d rather know:
    – Time and date, numbers, the weather, colours and then typical student things that I might need:
    – “Where is the nearest reasonably priced hostel?” (and then directions)
    – “How do I use the public transport in this country?”
    – “You probably shouldn’t do that. You might die.”

    • I’m really glad to see that someone else has noticed the same issue. It would have been mildly embarrassing if it turned out that I was the only one.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

  • Pauline Fice-Galea

    AIM Language Learning does not have this!!! And with AIM, people learn how to speak spontaneously. Not according to themes!

  • Pauline Fice-Galea

    You should check out AIM Language learning. I teach French to children and adults using AIM. I have never taught anyone to ask for alcohol, yet! (10 years)

  • Hi Pauline! Great to hear this. I’ve been meaning to check out AIM for a while now. Busy schedule and such, but it’s been a while since I’ve done a program review.

    I have several in the works, but I’d be happy to take a look at AIM sooner rather than later.

    Thanks for reading and for your comment!