How much money do you spend on language learning products, books, courses or lessons?
You want to learn a language, but of course, you don’t really want to spend any more money than you have to either. With so many programs, courses, tutors and other opportunities it can be difficult to decide what the best course of action for you might be.
I’ve said many times that you can learn a language for very little, and I maintain that language learning should be quite affordable or at the very least cost effective. Unfortunately so many resources are neither of these things. So how do we determine if or when we should be laying down cash?
A few weeks ago I was checking out this article titled “Why You Will Not Learn Spanish for Free“, on Speaking Latino. Being a huge supporter of free learning I was more than just a little skeptical of what I would find. While still not perfectly in line with my own views on language learning I found that I actually agreed with a lot more than I had originally anticipated.
The points the article cites for why one won’t learn a language using free methods are:
- Money is a motivator
- Money gets you higher quality resources
- Money can help measure your progress
- Money saves you time
Lets take a slightly closer look at a couple of these.
Money as motivation
Well this one certainly appears to make sense. You’d think that if you dumped $100 on Pimsleur courses that you’d be more likely to use them than not, right? I mean you wouldn’t want to waste your money, after all.
Tell that to the monthly gym membership I pay for or the numerous language books or apps I never touch.
Motivation as a result of spending money is kind of a toss up and might be at least partially dependent on how much money you invest in something. If I decide to take formal language courses at a local university I could be looking at a class that costs me thousands. Rest assured I’ll probably show up for that one.
Still, this is kind of a subjective motivator and while it certainly makes sense that laying down a few more dollars makes you more likely to commit, speaking from personal experience this definitely isn’t always the case.
It would make sense that if you’re paying for a product it is likely of higher quality than its cheaper counterparts, right? I mean there’s a reason that we spend so much money buying designer clothing and organic food. We’re under the impression that the increased price tag in some way indicates a superior item in comparison to cheaper options.
There’s a reason the shirt you bought at Walmart fell apart and the one you bought from Gap didn’t.
Often this is quite true and you are in fact paying for quality however when it comes to language learning software the price tag is definitely not always the greatest indicator.
My favorite example of this is of course Rosetta Stone. For years Rosetta dominated the language industry owing largely to having a vast marketing budget and making itself far more visible than its competition. The program is quite expensive, costing anywhere from around $150 for a single level of a language to around $500 for complete packages. Educators buying bulk packages with teacher analytics tools can spend thousands.
So you’d think that this software, which is vastly less complicated than many modern video games that cost a fraction of the cost, had better pump out some serious results, right?
Wrong. There’s a reason you never hear about the biggest polyglot names or language bloggers writing about Rosetta in positive light. We’ve used it and it sucks. Its word/picture matching system and the difficulty that learners tend to have really engaging with it makes it one of the biggest money sinks in the industry.
On the other hand there are plenty of far more effective methods that cost absolutely nothing.
All in all, this point is a tossup. Money is not necessarily a solid indicator of a product’s quality or effectiveness either, but then again neither are all free products worth a second glance.
Should we ever pay for anything?
Yes. While it is by no means 100% necessary and you absolutely can learn a language without spending anything, it isn’t necessarily always advisable. Sometimes spending a little cash does help.
What should I pay for, you ask? Lessons and tutoring.
The absolute most important thing anyone learning a language can do is to speak it, listen to it being spoken and receive real time feedback from a fluent speaker, in most cases a native. This means that you really have to try to find someone who you can either work with in person or online via Skype or a similar program.
Luckily for you there are plenty of ways that you can go about meeting tutors for almost no effort and relatively low costs. iTalki is a site where you can network with tutors who dedicate their time and energy to creating lesson plans for you, to actually teaching you a language.
Some iTalki tutors are free, but most are not. Again, as with other language products this isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality. Tutors choose the prices they place on their time, usually somewhere in the $15-$20 per hour neighborhood, which really isn’t bad when compared to in-person tutoring services that often ask between $40 and $60 per hour.
Many language bloggers also offer their services directly through their sites, usually for very reasonable prices. You can check out a couple examples here at Little Kiwi Linguist, Fluent Language and 5-Minute Language. While you’re at it you should also check out one of my favorite new resources for language enthusiasts; The Digital Language Collective where you can find dozens more language bloggers, resources and of course reasonably priced tutoring.
It’s also important to remember that tutoring is often the livelihood of many very hardworking teachers in the language industry. By spending $20 here and there you are not only taking advantage of the human element – something you need – but also allowing them to keep doing what they do.
Here’s what I pay for
I spend very little money on language learning products, but there are a few things I really don’t mind shelling out a little bit of dough for that I still find to be cost effective solutions.
In addition to paid tutoring I would suggest paying for:
- Some mobile apps. Most don’t cost anything but occasionally an app runs a $2-$5. Not really a big deal
- Books. I’m not really the biggest fan of language texts but there’s an enormous supply of both eBooks and audiobooks available online for relatively cheap through services like Kindle and Audible. Print language booksare also available on Amazon and elsewhere.
- Pimsleur audio courses. You can read more about my experiences with Pimsleur here, but suffice it to say that I find it to be a cost effective program for new learners just getting started on a fresh project.
- Buy a good print dictionary. You’ll be glad you did.
- Travel expenses. This one is extremely expensive and there’s really no way around it. You don’t have to travel to learn a language, but if you can you really, really should.
- I pay for Memrise premium. It gives you tools to help maximize your study performance and track various statistics to help you improve your learning. It’s nice but by no means necessary for everyone.
As much as I preach the pursuit of free or very cheap products, sometimes spending a little money is in your best interest. Again, can you learn a language without spending money? Sure. Should you? Probably not, entirely.
There are things you can do to mitigate expenses but you’re going to have a very hard time avoiding all costs, especially when it comes to tutoring, which I highly recommend taking advantage of.
What do you think? What kind of language products or services are you willing to spend money on?
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