What is the best language learning course? Looking at the numbers

Any answer to the question posed in the title of this post will inevitably be loaded with presumptions, bias, personality preference, anecdotal or confused sources of evidence, guesses with no actual experience, irrelevant criteria and many other things that lead it to give an impossible or misleading real answer, because simply there is just no one best way to learn a language.

I could give you my opinion on the best sources of information to find out about your target language, but that wouldn’t mean much to so many people because of my particular preferences, goals and past experiences, so this is why I thought it best to get an overall view first from many people about what the best language learning course/book/material is.

To do this, I asked 267 people a detailed list of questions, and rather than focus on one final answer, I want to show you how the answer in a particular context changes everything.

Of course, I tried to be as scientific as possible, but since those polled are restricted to readers of this blog (or the How to learn any language forum) and are thus a small segment of language learners in general, it can’t be perfect. Having said that, the results are absolutely worth considering…best way to learn a language

The deal-breaker: asking the right people the question

If I simply asked the question “What is the best language learning course”, the most popular answer could actually be worthless. Think about this for a second: if you ask the general population a question about what is best, in many situations most of them are simply not experienced enough in the matter to give you a useful answer.

For example, if you polled everyone on which girl’s shoes look the nicest, then perhaps most guys answering the question (like myself) would be simply too shoe-stupid to even have an opinion that matters. Their answers would taint the useful result. You are better asking the fashion-aware such a question.

This may sound offensive, but frankly I don’t care what not-yet-successful language learners tell me the best course is. Their opinion is based on extrapolation of potential, how much fun it is (nice, but sometimes irrelevant in terms of actual results), how much progress they feel they are making (which is grossly exaggerated in many courses), and use of the language in the wrong context compared to how they may wish to use it (too much reading, not enough speaking for example – leaving them ill-prepared in all conversations with natives).

But I still absolutely wanted to hear from them because they sometimes have much more experience than successful language learners in what definitely doesn’t work. The results were interesting!

The separation:

One of the first questions I asked was What is your experience in learning languages? The results were as follows:

To attempt to define fluency for the purposes of this question, I said it means “you could confidently live and/or have lived entirely through the language at some time.” It may not be perfect, as I defined fluency in more detail somewhere else, but it separated people sufficiently.

I have already successfully learned a foreign language to *fluency* independently as an adult using books/courses. 39 15%
I have already successfully learned a foreign language to *fluency* in an academic environment, or by living abroad/with natives. 41 15%
I am learning a foreign language now and hope to speak it well very soon/some day. 106
Other 81 30%

As expected, most people reading a blog about learning languages, and a forum about it too, are in the process of speaking their first foreign language.

“Other”, when explained, were actually answers already stated but rephrased to sound nicer. Sometimes giving people an extra choice is a bad idea! Their answers are not covered in the data below.

Anyway the almost even divide between successful (the 39 + 41 learners) versus the not-yet-successful (106 learners) made the results based on those answers quite interesting and definitely worth analysing!

What makes a successful learner?

Now just the first two (reached fluency independently and in an academic/immersion environment) got asked Why were you successful in learning your foreign language to fluency?

Here is a bar chart of the results:

A: My school did a good job & teacher(s) were very helpful

B: I worked very hard and studied much more than other students

C: I might just have a natural talent for languages as I picked it up no problem

D: I had a stay abroad or spent a lot of time with natives that hugely influenced my learning experience

E: Other

This was a selection-box, (not either-or) so they could pick more than one answer. It’s clear that time with natives is the big winner here, but there is no doubt that an academic background was very helpful to many successful learners (keep in mind a lot of readers of this blog are Europeans who learned English to fluency in school for example).

I was happy to read this as it shows that some academic institutions are moving in the right direction. I don’t rule them out as useless, but I think the traditional learning approach is way inferior to a more improved version. Of course, answers B & C show that progress depended on a good student rather than a good system in many cases.

Answers in “Other” included more flowery rephrasing of what I had already said (!), as well as several answers saying that they were active in seeking out conversation even if they didn’t have constant access to natives. Others said they got as much exposure as possible (through TV, radio, magazines etc.)

The next question I asked this group was Have you ever studied a foreign language independently?

This was to scope the usefulness of the courses question coming next. Only 4% replied to say that they have only learned in an academic situation and have never invested their own time/money into separate courses. As well as confirming the usefulness of the next information, this also tells me that even those who were happy with their academic background still had to work on their own.

Letting your school do all of the work for you and simply following their directions and nothing else is clearly not a practical path to fluency.

Choices of successful learners

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… Which of the following courses/materials have you used and found to be beneficial?

Answerers could pick more than one. I asked the exact same question of both successful and not-yet-successful learners. As I was totally expecting, this does not point to one dramatic winner, but there are some that do come out ahead for successful learners:

best language learning method

Missing text:

  • Websites (busuu/Livemocha/LingQ etc.)

  • Book/course specific just to my target language

  • TV/radio/podcasts/reading

“Other” was a place to write the specific course for specific languages, and I didn’t find anything consistent enough to merit a mention, since learners are covering such a wide range of languages.

The clear winner here is not actually a course at all, it’s native material. TV/radio/podcasts/reading win over everything else by far.

Other than that we have Busuu, Livemocha & LingQ and other websites which I didn’t separate because these are language-learning tools rather than courses (Busuu & Livemocha are useful for meeting people online, and the free version of LingQ is very useful for “input” to practise reading & listening – neither actually have a course that gets you anywhere beyond the basics), and I have covered these in detail before.

Then Teach yourself, Assimil and Pimsleur come out as the clear winners as courses.

I have experience in using these myself and will discuss each one separately in its own post with time. Why these would and wouldn’t work is important to discuss, so don’t think that I am endorsing them just yet ;)

Although it got less votes, Michel Thomas was more voiced in comments as being useful. I have no experience with this, but will try it in a later mission. I have also had good experience with “Colloquial” (such as in Portuguese) but it seems to be slightly less mainstream. I’ll mention that too later.

If you are curious, the answers to the same question for the not-yet-successful learners were slightly different. Teach yourself came out on top of the courses (this says nothing against its usefulness based on the above results, it just confirms its popularity). The same number of people voted for the websites and tv/radio/podcasts/reading. As I said, these results were the least interesting to me as they only discuss potential and I prefer to look at information based on actual results.

The most unhelpful courses

Here are the successful (1st) and not-yet-successful (2nd) learners’ answers to the question Which of the following courses/materials have you used and found to be unhelpful?

worst language learning method worst est language learning methods 2


The obvious loser is Rosetta Stone. This was accompanied with mountains of comments and “colourful” language about why it doesn’t work. I only have superficial experience with RS, but I’m not impressed. My advice: not only should you not buy it, but you should not use it. That includes gifts and pirated copies. (If you think you are so clever to have found a torrent for it, think again).

It will waste your time in terms of reaching fluency, although the comments I received that were praising it (as expected, almost entirely restricted to the “not-yet-succssful” learners) say how enjoyable it is to use. I recommend that these people buy a fun computer game if they want to mouse-click their way to enjoyment.

Next up is Pimsleur. You can read the thorough and honest Pimsleur approach review here.

After that come the websites – which I still say are useful, but are simply not complete enough to help people learn what they need to reach fluency in my experience.

What is also interesting is when you compare these two side-by-side as I have placed them. From this, you can make two observations:

  1. As I mentioned at the beginning, I had approximately the same number of successful & not-yet-successful learners in this poll. And yet the numbers of votes per course are much higher (double!) for not-yet-successful learners (see the indication below the bars). This is because they selected more options (this was a check-box question) – this indicates to me that unsuccessful learners don’t stick with one program consistently enough and may own several (since I said in the question that they have used them, rather than simply being familiar with them). More courses does not equal more success. Use what you have and use it well, rather than spending more money (or downloading more courses) and feeling that is getting you closer to your target.
  2. Not one single successful learner found TV/radio/podcasts/reading to be unhelpful. That big gap in the chart is a pretty clear reinforcement of how useful exposure to non-course native-material can be. Not-yet-successful learners have tried this, but clearly they are doing too many things at once to get any real benefit from any one in particular, including native-material exposure.


I had asked other questions in this survey, but the results from those are just minor interesting points I will raise at another time, or they simply contain no useful information from a statistical perspective. However, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who took part! This information is really interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your accompanying comments!

What is clear from the answers here is that there may not be a “best” course, but there are certainly bad ones. I will investigate the top good results (no point in beating a dead horse and dwelling too much on the bad one…) and analyse what they are good for and what they are not good for, and hopefully that will bring people who are wondering which one to invest in, one step closer to a decision!

However, I want to make this absolutely clear: It isn’t about the course!! I am discussing the topic because it’s on so many people’s minds, and some courses are indeed slightly better than others for particular situations, but buying the “perfect” course means nothing if you don’t put the work in, and get out of your shell to practise with human beings, or at least get as much active exposure as you can.

Do you think you will follow in the footsteps of successful learners before you? Can you stay focused on the course you have and even abandon it as soon as possible to expose yourself to actual native content and even meet up with natives? Do you agree with these results, or would you draw different conclusions based on the information? Let me know in the comments!

Oh and don’t forget to share all these pretty bar graphs with your friends on Facebook!



I'll send you the first lesson right away.
Click here to see the comments!
  • http://www.b-speak.com William

    What is surprising is that the most useful course is other or native material, which means that there is no method that matches the natural way. Even with all the research going on, we still can’t match the natural way of learning a language.

  • http://www.b-speak.com William

    What is surprising is that the most useful course is other or native material, which means that there is no method that matches the natural way. Even with all the research going on, we still can’t match the natural way of learning a language.

  • http://www.b-speak.com William

    What is surprising is that the most useful course is other or native material, which means that there is no method that matches the natural way. Even with all the research going on, we still can’t match the natural way of learning a language.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Agreed. I will mention a few particular courses, but it’s only because it’s a hot topic for many people. Then I can get back to reminding people that human beings are the best “courses” ;)

    • Anonymous

      But also, native material is at a higher level than most of the courses mentioned. So if say, Michel Thomas gets someone off the starting blocks and then reading newpapers builds a persons vocabulary and sense of grammar then they’re going to say the latter was more useful. I would say each has their own part to play and would never totally discredit courses. Very few of them claim to get you to fluency.
      The only one I can remember saying that incidentally is Rosetta Stone!

      • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

        Yup, that’s precisely what I was going to say: you have to start somewhere, and if you’ve got no foundation in a language at all and you try to learn it by listening to TV/radio and reading newspapers, you’re going to get nowhere fast because you’re not going to have a clue as to what’s going on, and you have to be able to understand at least a little bit of the dialogue to be able to start learning the rest.


        • Chavi Beck

          You could start by learning a couple of target-language proverbs or jokes by heart, writing them over and over and studying their grammar and construction. Thanks to the LinkedInGroups polyglot friend who taught me this.

  • Anonymous

    Your conclusions are really interesting.

    Personally I believe the only difference between someone who speaks a language and someone who doesn’t is simply one hasn’t made the leap and started using it yet (I realise you’ve been saying that for quite a while)

    As for courses, I think it’s very important to bear in mind that people learn differently. In all my years of language fun I’ve never progressed with book techniques like Teach Yourself. I absolutely love Pimsleur, while I read how other despise it.

    Different brains, different trains…

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Pimsleur courses and this apparent different brain idea is something I’ll talk about soon. I don’t despise Pimsleur – it can be quite useful, but I will be writing very frankly about it soon.

      • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

        Wasn’t it you who shared that link on Twitter about how the theory that people learn differently is mostly a fallacy?

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

          Yes that sounds like something I’d do, why? I don’t think my comment suggested that I had repented… I’ll probably just mention it in passing in a post. According to the survey most people aren’t under that visual/audible learner delusion (although I personally was).

          • FU

            Everyone learns differently. You’re a fucking idiot if you think other wise

      • Mikki Mousse

        I just wrapped up Pimsleur’s German III and I couldn’t order
        a ham sandwich without a phrase book. Probably, the best
        you can hope for is just to cope. Discuss the finer points of
        Goethe’s philosophical viewpoints? Never. ‘Bitte, wo is die
        Toilette?’ Is probably the best you can hope for.

    • http://j-ouellette.com/ Llyane @ FrenchOnSkype

      Yes, I completely agree with this.
      Natural, organic learning is the best.
      If you don’t want to wait 6 years to be fluent (as long as our mother tongue took us to learn it), then all you need is a coach to make you aware of your mistakes and speed the process.

  • Yuzhou

    I think your assessment of Rosetta Stone is spot on. I have used (a cracked version) of RS for about 5 minutes in one case and will never use it again. It is sad though that a massive marketing effort can generate so much revenue for a rather useless product, but hey, that’s capitalism.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Obviously not very good capitalism if you downloaded a cracked version of it…
      But they are making more than enough money from the non-Internet-savy to care much about that I think!

      • Yuzhou

        My teacher actually gave me a copy of RS along with some other learning products. The one product I actually liked, I bought later. If I am in some way representative of the average computer user then pirated software is actually a great promotional tool. Most of the pirated software that I came to like, I bought later.

        • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

          Yes, studies show that pirated software actually helps sales. The same is also true of pirated music helping album sales. The idea is not to encourage piracy, but simply that not fighting it allows a promotional network to grow on its own. It’s too bad the fat-cats can’t understand that. Everbody loses in the current model.

      • Richie

        Try to learn a non-european language. Then you’d know that how difficult it is for those to learn any european or english language to learn than learning something that directly or indirectly relates to their own language.
        I just checked your language list and found all of them are european languages that you speak and these languages are somewhat relative to each other. In my opinion we must appreciate those people who actually hail from a non-european culture and still are able to speak acceptable european language, be it an english or russian.

    • Albert Krajc

      Rosetta Stone is something you have to keep at… if you stick with the courses, it becomes easy. By the time you finish it you will have a decent understanding. You will not be fluent, but you will be able to use it for basic stuff. If you want to be fluent you will have to use your skills in Rosetta for watching shows in the language or move to the country. Rosetta is a good tool, but you have to understand it immerses you into the language, like being 3 years old again.
      After a while you will pick up on everything. by the time your finish you will have a 7 year old understanding. Like anything in life you will have to move on the next phase.

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    5,318,008 ?


  • Jostefani

    No, Rosetta Stone sucks, big time. I’ve never used it, but the price tag alone is enough for me to make a judgment.

    Which leads me to this question, Benny: Even though you say you are fluent in the languages, and no doubt you are, how comfortable would you be (linguistically) if someone approached you discussing nuclear proliferation in Italian, or Engineering-related topics in Portuguese? Or even the macroeconomy in French? I was just wondering!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      If someone wanted to discuss nuclear proliferation or the macroeconomy with me in ENGLISH I’d not be ready for the conversation and would look pretty stupid if I tried.

      I am sceptical about Rosetta Stone, but as I said in the article, I am only interested in the opinion of those who have actually used it. If the price tag did indeed lead to effortless fluency (obviously a pipe dream) then asking for a huge amount of money would be reasonable.

  • Anastasia

    Wonderful, wonderful! I love the way you configured this study. I was also very happy to see that Rosetta Stone doesn’t really work. I’ve seen glimpses of it before and some friends have tried to pirate it before, but no one I know has actually stayed with this program. Another $400-600 I won’t have to spend!

    I use LingQ as a way of getting to podcasts and the like, but I don’t know if I will continue to stay with it or not in the coming months. I much prefer your idea of listening to non-course native materials, like podcasts, TV shows, and things like that.

    This has also made me rethink a few of my tenets of language learning…thanks a bunch!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      As far as I know, LingQ uses non-course native materials in their podcasts if you select higher level. That could help for reading while listening, but iTunes set to the right country will give you much more.
      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks but that is not relevant to this post. Here I’m discussing the best courses for learning a language. I discussed singing to improve language skills in a recent post a few weeks back.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    As stated in the post, they could select more than one option. I was more interested in the combination than finding one magic bullet ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    If they were truly helpful, then more people using them would have given them a much lower score, but of course their popularity skews the results somewhat.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I’m sceptical about Pimsleur’s usefulness and will talk about that in a different post. But it is indeed one good way to start off in a language – I just don’t think it has much long-term benefits to fluency.

    • http://www.birdbrainblog.com Natalie

      I’ve heard Pimsleur does wonders for pronunciation/accent. I can’t speak from personal experience (yet), but I read a woman’s blog and she had used Pimsleur to learn some Russian and she claimed native speakers said her accent was great. Of course, they could have just been being polite, but still…

      • Joe Ely

        Pimsleur gets you a good *beginner’s* accent, but at possible risk of less success in the long term. It doesn’t highlight different phonemes and you can fail to notice the distinction between, for example, palatised and non-palatised Russian consonants. If you make that kind of mistake to begin with, it can be hard to get rid of later….

    • Mikki Mousse

      Having just wrapped up Pimsleur’s German III, Benny,
      you are absolutely spot on with that observation !

  • http://twitter.com/rjtrudel Richard Trudel

    I would say tv/radio/podcast is so high because EVERYONE has one. Anybody who does any of the other courses listed would have access and most likely use a tv, radio, or podcast.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      The question was not “who has a TV”. It’s who uses it to learn languages and has it been helpful or unhelpful. If everyone used it to learn languages it would have been the biggest bar, so this shows that clearly “everyone” isn’t doing what obviously works best.
      Everyone has a TV, everyone has a radio and everyone has access to podcasts. But few people use these resources to learn languages.

      • http://twitter.com/rjtrudel Richard Trudel

        I didn’t say the question was “who has a tv?” i merely stated that there use is higher because their availability is higher. Simple statistics. By the way, it IS The biggest bar. What are we talking about nuclear proliferation or something?

        On a side note, the word boobless, ie 55378008 on ur calculator is missung a 5. Do i win something for pointing it out?

        • Edwin Donovan

          It could have just said “boobies”.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    If one million people who only speak English tell me that a particular course is the best way to fluency in a foreign language, and only ten polyglots tell me a different course is better, who do you think I’ll listen to? The wisdom of crowds is essential for many intuitive things, because crowds have experience in taste etc., but in this case you’d be relying on their view of potential and many products mislead you into thinking you are making more progress than you think you are.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Aamba, I’m afraid I do have to attack when you say you aren’t “totally fluent” – what do you mean by “have a conversation”? Rosetta Stone doesn’t HAVE conversational aspects to it as far as I know. I’d argue that if you are conversational it’s because of other work or because of simply having exposure to natives. Initial confidence is great and extremely important, but is nearly everyone I have told me have said that it’s false confidence and they actually could NOT speak when the time came.
    The harm in trying it (apart from the financial worry – if you buy it at an airport for example it’s very hard to get your money back until you go back there) is all the time invested clicking multiple choice pictures that could be put into conversation or other more productive activities.

  • Joe Ely

    You might want to check out the Emperor’s Nose fallacy. The Wisdom of the Crowds is little more than a restatement of it, but missing the “fallacy” bit.

    Also, American marketers know that most Americans will say they like their eggs “sunny side up”, even many of those who cook them “overeasy”. The same goes for a “rich, dark roast” coffee. It’s what they’ve heard, so they repeat it because others have said it.

    A similar problem arises in the UK if you want to order a steak. Everyone asks for “medium rare”, because that’s what they hear, so it’s what they expect to like. Unfortunately, they mostly want it better cooked than that and complain if they actually get a medium rare steak. Now most chefs simply overcook a “medium rare” order as a matter of course, and no-one complains.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks – I appreciate that you’re a fan, but I will argue my points when I am confident about them :P
    Although I wouldn’t have covered it as extensively as you, there was a lot of statistics in my engineering course, and a crapload of other mathematics applied to the real world. My argument is simply that an intelligent person doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about in something that they can’t speak of authoritatively.
    As a polyglot I have different priorities in learning a language, but I can also say in retrospect what does and does not work, monoglots cannot do this. They can only speculate, and a lot of that speculation is based on information that may not actually get them to the end goal. How much “fun” it is, how well the software makes them feel that they are making progress (even if they aren’t) etc.
    I’ve talked to countless monoglots who confidently promote a particular program and many reasons they give me that it’s great I see as not helping them on their path. Someone who has achieved fluency (not a polyglot, a biglot is fine) is in a much better position to give advice.
    Statistics is different to common sense, and that’s why I made this poll slightly more complex. If I didn’t ask the experience question, then it would just be a popularity contest. I am confidently saying that many monoglots I have talked to have a warped view of how much they are progressing :) But hopefully I’m wrong about most of them!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I agree Zane – the premise of the whole site is that the communicative approach is the best. Here a “course” means a book/website/CD that basically contains information about the language, so this is a separate discussion to the social approach. Even when learning by immersion, the actual information of the language still helps a lot and I do indeed study, just way less than many other language learners because my focus is on using what I’ve learned ;)
    I miss Valencia! It was my first real immersion environment :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I wrote a review of Pimsleur here: http://www.fluentin3months.com/pimsleur/

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Read around the blog and you’ll see what I recommend :) I’ve also said it in this post from the poll – native content. You can’t beat it.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Use the exchange part of the forum on this site. Many people are finding native speakers that way :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    If you want a perfectly mathematically weighted sample, then you are going to have to ask a non-realistic audience who isn’t familiar with popular tools. That biased selection of unlikely people (or simply those not experienced enough to have an opinion that matters) would in itself skew the data beyond usefulness.

  • Mark Gailmor

    Benny, one doesn’t need to use itunes to find podcasts. There are so many podcast catchers on the web and it takes a quick search to find a few. The first one that comes to mind is podcastalley. Everything you can find through itunes can be accessed through podcastalley or another website that catches and links to podcasts. Just fyi. That’s how I found several of the french podcasts I use as well as a few french radio podcasts that are excellent. 

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Yes, bad memory shouldn’t stop you: http://www.fluentin3months.com/imagination-your-key-to-memorizing-hundreds-of-words-quickly/
    I forget stuff all the time, but have an efficient memory technique on learning new words of a language. I also use SRS: http://www.fluentin3months.com/spaced-repetition/

  • emily_horch

    Hi there Benny, not sure if you reply to comments as you are busy learning Mandarin, but here goes.  What is your opinion of immersion language schools?  This is how I’ve learned all my languages, and I’ve found for me the combo of shove it down your throat grammar and lots and lots of conversation in only the language is great.  However, I’m now working 10 hours a day and have a real hard time fitting in  hours a day of immersion school classes without turning into a zombie.  I’m considering switching over to one hour a day private Skype German lessons and then trying to find an exchange partner a few times a week to meet up in a nice biergarten.  Have you (or anyone else) done Skype lessons?  Or should I just ditch formal lessons entirely and spend more time in the biergarten?  ;-)  I’m about at high B2 currently in my German.  Vielen Dank!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Skype lessons can be great and I’ll be talking about them in detail soon on the blog.

  • Coleman

    Does anyone have an idea on if Fluenz is a good source for learning a new language?

  • Zak

    it’s weird, whenever I google a language question, you always seem to have what I need, so thank you.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Glad to be of help ;)

  • Sonja

    I believe Rosetta Stone has significant limitations, but I do believe it also has significant value. Just for some background: I am equally fluent in German and English. I grew up in Germany. I had English in school for 9 years. In about 10th grade, after studying English for 5 years in school, I began to seek out original/native materials and conversation partners, and I credit that with making me fluent. I also had 3 years of French in high school in Germany. It gave me a solid foundation, but my French skills remained largely passive – I can understand quite a bit when I listen to the real thing (e.g. movies), and I can read books, but I cannot speak it. I never consistently had occasion to use French in my daily life, and so I never got any further with it. I now live in the US, and a several years ago I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish. After trying a few other things (textbooks, a small group class that met once a week, Pimsleur from the library, etc) I started using Rosetta stone, along with reading some summaries about Spanish grammar. I have completed all 5 levels of Rosetta Stone, and I have learned quite a bit. It got me to a level where I could start to interact with real life native language (TV, movies, radio, books, etc.), and now I have *really* started to learn the language by doing just that. I think Rosetta Stone was quite useful in getting me to that point, and I think that is all that can be expected of any of these types of tools. To me Rosetta stone does have some significant “plusses”. The most important one is that the program just “kept me at it”. Once I started it, it was actually kind of hard to turn it off. No program can make you learn a language if you don’t use it consistenty and for sustained periods of time, and Rosetta Stone happened to be one that I was able to stick with easily. I actually found it kind of relaxing. I have a full life with work, kids, etc., and I would not have had the mental energy to really stick with anything that required sustained motivation and effort while I was using it. With Rosetta Stone, I just turned the thing on and then it pulled me through the lessons and the language kind of drip-drip-dripped into my brain, so to say. May sound lame, but that’s why it worked for me. Now I have moved on to reading original Spanish language books (with a dictionary to look up a few words per page), listening to the radio, watching movies, etc. I guess the argument of the article above is that I should not have wasted my time with Rosetta Stone and just exposed myself to the original materials from the start, but I guess I don’t see how that would have worked, because I wouldn’t have understood any of it. It would have been just too hard to get over the inital hump. I also think that Rosetta Stone has been effective in teaching me good pronounciation and “melody”. Bottom line for me is this: You absolutely need to do more than just Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur or any other book or program in order to really learn a language, and nothing beats working with real life language, but you have to have a significant skeleton knowledge of a language in order to get started. I think Rosetta Stone can provide that skeleton in a relatively painless way, if it happens to appeal to you.

  • dannyR

    I don’t think the opinion of anyone who has failed something is even a meaningful guide to any good course/method/system to any arbitrary polymath or monomath.

    The most useful opinion I imagine would be someone who is not a natural at a discipline but reaches a high level through banging their shins on every possible obstacle or reporting on such banging from others, and by finding the best tricks and doges themselves or through others.

    I don’t see what stats has to do with it. I has more to do with horse-sense.

  • dannyR

    mutatis mutandis, would this argument not reasonably fit the tv/radio/podcast category as well? There must be a simpler reason for the all the dissatisfaction with Rosetta and Pimsleur, and the fact that people are able to detail the reasons further justifies the nails in their coffins.

  • Michael

    This is an interesting post. One issue, as was mentioned in previous comments, is using the total number of people who found a certain course or material unhelpful. These results are obviously skewed since more people will have used the most popular products. That’s not to say that some commonly used products, such as podcasts, etc., can’t be very helpful, but comparing Rosetta Stone to Colloquial, for example, isn’t very useful and is actually misleading. A better graph would show a percentage of unhelpful to the total number of people who used the product. This would still be biased by small sample sizes, since those products with the fewest users won’t have enough information for a good estimation of how “unhelpful” they are, but it’d still be a good method of comparing with the data you do have. Anyway, thanks for the article, I enjoyed it!

  • FU

    You spent a lot of time writing a bunch of bull shit. The only thing I learned was that you like to bitch. Thanks faggot.

  • http://LeeRit.com/ LeeRit

    Thanks for the post. I think it’s very informative.

    And definitely, I can’t agree more with learning with native materials.


  • Roberto Adrian Benavides

    The only thing that Rosetta Stone helped me for was native-like accent acquisition. The program is really bad, but there is something about repeating after a native speaker for 90 days that really hit the spot for me.

  • Joseph Curtin

    The best method of language learning is the FSI method, developed by the US State Department. Many of the courses are available free on the web (just google free fsi courses), and they are all in the public domain. All courses include a student manual in pdf format, and accompanying mp3 audio files. The intent of the courses is to teach not only the spoken language, but the grammar. If you’re a dabbler, don’t bother with these courses. If you want to learn, then this is the way to go.

  • Chavi Beck

    I’ve learned more on my own, for free, than from certain expensive courses in and out of school. I suspect many other readers can say the same.

  • Jack Jacobsen

    Nice post, thank you. It seems that using podcasts and radio will be my best bet, especially given the fact that the best time for me to learn is during my morning commute. However, I’m assuming that this method would require at least some basic knowledge of the language. As an absolute beginner, what do you think would be the best program to prepare for podcast-style learning?

    • Eric Stearley

      I use Pimsleur in the car. Really convenient, and after 3 weeks (12 units), I can converse very v-e-r-y basically. No way in the world you can just dive into native material, at least not for me. I literally didn’t know what “que” meant in Spanish. If you’re looking to learn during a commute, That’s my suggestion. but it is expensive…

  • Derpanese

    You have to get started with acquiring basic skills by following some kind of course. Listening to TV/radio/etc is not going to help you at all if you can’t even make out words from the mumbo jumbo that you hear.

    Our English teacher had a system where for each semester, we had a card with 30 points on it. Every time we spoke our native language in class he would punch 1 point away from our card and the remaining would be added directly to our report card at the end of the semester. This is the most effective method I have been through in high school and my English improved significantly that year.

    That was also the year when I finally started understanding what the hell was written in my English video games. I was then able to understand new words and expressions from context. You really need to have some kind of basic understanding of a language before you can start learning from context. Once you can, that’s when the magic happens.

    The next thing that helped me the most was that one day when I realized that Internet in English > Internet in my native language. From that day, I browsed the Internet in English and posted on English forums ONLY. This is the best alternative to being immersed in a native culture.

    The first step to becoming more at ease with understanding a spoken language would be to learn the lyrics of a song to get used to what words sound like, find patterns, etc. No need to understand what they mean, just know what they sound like.

  • Terra Magnum Imperium

    I am looking for a course that:
    1. Teaches around 20 words by say the word in English then twice slowly in my target language.
    2. Uses those words in sentences slowly increasing speed 1st set slow, 2nd a little faster, etc.
    3. The sentences are used in slow dialog or conversation.
    4. Next 20 words and verbs follow a pattern like I have in the first recording I had in the next, I bought a can of soda, He will buy 2 cans of soda.
    5. After the 3 set maybe 60 words or so a short story or another topic is introduced, repeating most of the words in the last 3 lessons.
    6. Guide with all spoken material and verbs colored coded from nouns.
    7. Higher levels would include Slang and idioms.
    Any programs or software like this???

  • Vladimir Putin

    The calculator says Boobies! LOLOLOL

  • William

    I learnt French and Spanish using Assimil. In less than 6 months I had basic conversation skills, enough to use a phone. Assimil are superb. But I now want to learn German but they don’t have a English->German course :-(

    • Yuri

      So why don’t you take frech – german? Have you learnt french, haven’t you?

  • lambaa

    I think a lot of people don’t take the time to get through Rosetta Stone. They take the first Level and don’t see immediate results so they quit.

    I’ve tried Rosetta Stone when I’m not in my target language environment/country, and it gets boring, I forget everything and then give up.

    But when Rosetta Stone is paired with the language exposure you get while you are in your target language environment, and you stick it through the 1st Level, it really becomes invaluable.

    You find yourself using grammar structures you didn’t know you knew, words you didn’t know you had remembered….

    I’m learning German right now and I find it to be a pretty frustrating language, with the seemingly infinite declensions and conjugations. Rosetta Stone frustrated me, because it doesn’t explain what is happening, you have to figure it out yourself, and to be honest, that to me is way better than reading it in a book.

  • xulaiew

    VvxH Lately I used to be so very low on money and debits were eating me from everywhere. That was Until i found out how to make money on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker point net, and started filling in surveys for money, and yes!, I have been really more able to do my things! I am very glad, that i did this.. With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – Weir

  • mlpowaa

    Hi ! I downloaded last week “Hugo language courses (Japanese and Russian for now) in three mounts ” and I really like them !! I hope you’ll find them useful too :3 ! Good luck !

  • Shelby

    I am a stay at home mom with a desire to learn Russian. My first goal is to beable to speak the language and then write. I’m currently using free apps to gain some understanding of it. The likely hood of me traveling to Russia is slim to none as I have 4 children under the age of 7, 13 weeks as my youngest. Any pointers to help me grow in my understanding and building my vocabulary. I am reading how phrases are structured but I am not finding it too helpful :(
    I would appreciate feedback!

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      Hi Shelby! Sorry for the belated response but I thought I would try to lend a hand. There are plenty of resources out there to bring Russia to you! You can use Couchsurfing.org to find speakers who live in your area to practice with and you could try out ConversationExchange.com and Italki.com to find people around the world to practice with via Skype. Also, I wouldn’t worry too much about structures and grammar at first. Benny has written a lot on the site about using phrasebooks and speaking Tarzan-speak at first to get yourself confident and moving with the language :) Happy learning!

  • Rick

    I’m fluent in Spanish thanks to 6 years of classes and exposure to the culture because of where I live. I use it quite a lot. But learning on your own and learning in a classroom is quite different.

    My question is, and I’m not sure if you’ve already wrote about this or not, please direct me
    if you have, but seeing as the poll shows native material as the best way to learn a
    new language, what would be the best way to start? If I don’t understand even a single word of the language I can’t sit down and watch something foreign to me and pick up anything that’s going on other than emotions expressed by someone yelling, crying, facial expressions, et cetera.

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      Well, because we stress Speaking from Day One (see Benny’s Tedx talk about it), phrasebooks are great place to start. You don’t have to worry about grammar and you can pick and choose what words and phrases are the most useful to your life. It’s a great place to start and then you can begin to have conversations and really build upon the foundation. Here’s Benny’s phrasebook article: http://www.fluentin3months.com/travel-phrasebooks-a-serious-language-learners-best-first-book-to-study/

  • Shelby

    Thanks Brandon! I have been using Google translate to see if I am pronouncing Russian words correctly. So far its been slow but good as I am teaching my kids what I have learned. This way I can practice and they can have a foundation for a second language. I will check out the sites you mentioned so I can try meeting someone who speaks Russian. Thanks again for the tips!!

  • Wicho Hdez

    I would say that the most important course is your strong will to learn, If you have it, you’ll be learning from everything you see in the language of your interest. I do learn with Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone, and in between I watch television series, cartoons, listen to audiobooks while reading the pdf book, enter chatrooms, and after a good couple of months I’m talking the language. Your will is your best tool.
    And never put the goal of being fluent after 3 months, it won’t happen, if you do so, you’ll be disappointed. To be more realistic, I’ll say 8 months with a good couple of hours a day, or better, if you live in the country where the language is spoken, to start understanding it fluent.

  • Louise

    How about Rocket language courses?

  • Odette C.

    How could Teach Yourself be the most helpful language course yet be the least helpful language course (behind Rosetta Stone) at the same time? I’m not sure if it’s good or not…

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      I don’t understand what you mean by saying that TY is the most and least helpful. Either way though, I’ve found that the TY series are a consistently good series of books for learning a language. However, some other series may be better depending on the language you’re learning. What one are you learning?

      Remember though, it’s not about what course you use. Relying on a single book to teach you a language will only leave you wanting. Just get out there and start :)

      –Brandon, the Fi3M Language Encourager

      • Odette C.

        According to the graphs, TY had the highest score of any course for most beneficial course/material—I’m referring just to the courses listed and not everything listed—but it also was really high on the graphs for most unhelpful course/material.

        I’m learning Korean. I haven’t used any courses aside from a
        website with grammar, audio dialogue, and many other things. I do lots of speaking practice, vocabulary review, and recently starting listening to audio dialogue. Until you are on your way to mastery, are courses even necessary? I’ll be taking Korean classes in college this Fall.

  • Camilo Erazo

    Rossetta Stone gets the worst comments because its hard approach, but its worth a try.
    interesado en hablar español. find me on facebook as camilo erazo. email: alejandroerazo2013@outlook.com. camiloerazo94@gmail.com

  • Stephanie Piper

    I have a question regarding the opinions you’ve gotten about Rosetta Stone. For context, I’m learning French at the moment. For me, I noticed that I was having trouble relying just on Duolingo (honestly, it was just a weird pacing for me, I can’t explain it), and mixed in RS as well. I use RS a little more than Duolingo currently, because I find I absorb the material a little more easily if there are multiple voices pronouncing the words rather than one (as well as the repetition). I’ve tried watching some toddler shows in French (though I still only understand one word per sentence) and reading books. Would you recommend I continue with this mixed-media approach, or is there something else you’d suggest instead? At this point in my life, I can’t spend any time abroad, and there aren’t a lot of people (only a few friends) that are able to speak it fluently.

    • Joe Gabriel

      Hey Stephanie!

      Your mixed media approach is great, and it sounds like you’re really mindful of what works and what isn’t working. What specific language goals do you have? If you want to speak more fluently, then we HIGHLY recommend you find a French language partner on iTalki. Having a language partner will boost your confidence, your speaking, your comprehension, it’s just great

      Tell me more about your goals and we’ll see how we can help ;)

      Keep it up!

    • Joe Gabriel

      Hi Stephanie!

      It sounds like you’re making some good progress, and are really mindful of what works and doesn’t work for you. What are your language goals with French? If you want to speak more fluently, I highly recommend finding a French language study partner on iTalki. It will help with speaking, comprehension, confidence, it’s just awesome.

      Tell me more about your language goals and let’s make a plan ;)

      Keep up the French!

  • Nic Blumhagen

    So I have been really wanting to learn German and I have been researching the best language programs to do so. I have found that fluenz and assimil seem to be pretty good, but I really just want a good opinion from someone. Of these two (or other good ones), which would actually teach me to listen, write, read, and speak correctly (good grammar, correct pronunciation, etc.)? I don’t mind a program that will take a long time to finish. I just really want to learn the language thoroughly. I will also say that I would probably be best with some sort of visual learning, even if it is just a minimal part of the program.

  • Eric Stearley

    One point that might be interesting to include is the estimated distribution (or number of users) for each method. Your “useful” chart speaks somewhat for itself, but the “not useful” charts could be, in part, due to the vastly different popularity between methods. I haven’t heard of 4-5 of these methods, and I would assume that’s true for others. Everyone knows RS, and most know Pimsleur. Though not many said RS was useful, the degree to which it is classified as “not useful” likely has as much to do with it’s broad distribution. If you give 100 people ANY method/program, most will not be successful. If 50 or more of the 100 have RS and the other 50 are split between the others, statistically, without a doubt, RS is going to come out as the program that failed the most people. The survey asked users only to rate those programs which they have tried. Clearly, more people have tried RS than anything else, and most didn’t find it successful, but I’d be interested to see how these usage percentages work out with the others. if Michael Thomas etc. has only been tried by 10 percent of your sample, of course it’s not going to have a large “not useful” answer. A graph of worldwide use of each method beside a graph of successful learners “useful” and “not useful” charts would provide A LOT of good, statistical information. Perhaps 10% tried Michael Thomas and 8% didn’t find it useful, while 30% have tried Pimsleur and 15% found it useful. On your chart, Pimsleur will appear to be twice as useless (15 vs 8), simply because of it’s higher use, when statistically, MT was far less useful. (80% failure vs 50% failure) Just a thought.

    And all methods were mentioned simply as examples, with no personal preference toward one.

  • Eric Stearley

    I’ll also say that I’m fairly fluent in French (7 years of classroom time) and currently learning Spanish in preparation for a move to Costa Rica. I’ve read your reviews on both RS and Pimsleur, and due to none of my own investment, I’m using both. (My wife got a little overzealous at one point) I’m using Pimsleur on the go and RS when I’m home. I’ve seen your critiques of both, and I’m not very far into either. (found out I was moving 3 weeks ago) but what I can say is that I’m learning very different things in each program. I think RS is great for vocabulary and letting me know how things are spelled. Pimsleur is helping me much more in putting together useful sentences and actually speaking/listening/understanding.

    Each time I go from one to the other (after Pimsleur on commute, I do an RS lesson) I think “There’s no way I would be learning this from Pimsleur. And when I get back in the car after an RS lesson, I think “There’s no way RS would be teaching me this.”

    So what I’m trying to say is, these two programs, using two very different methods, are moving me along further and faster than using either alone. They approach language differently and provide me with more information and knowledge than either by itself.

    Then again, if you’re not in my position, shucking out cash for 2 catastrophically expensive programs is probably a no go. Lucky me!

  • Yuri

    Melody, what i found out is that sometimes when you have bad memory to learn vocabulary is just because you are not familiar enough with the language. If you keep insisting on studying it, eventually you will start absorbing the words faster and faster.

    For example, to me russian was always a burden in terms of learning vocabulary, since i wasn’t familiar with the language. But after sometime insisting on studying it, now i can learn 30-40 words a day. I perpared a list of unknown words to me from my textbook and, just to check my theory, i read that list (59 words) yesterday and today i checked which words i could still remember: 40! It was just impossible before. Really. In the beginning, i did the same thing and i could only retain like 2 words at the most.

    So, keep insisting and don’t give up. You brain will fight against you at first , but then it will eventually capitulate and start learning the language

  • Yuri

    Pimsleur russian is great. I didn’t regret buying it

  • Guest

    Okay, thanks for your recommendations!

  • Odette C.

    Okay, thank you for your recommendations!