We have become very accustomed to information being available online for free. Certainly there is a plethora of free language learning resources on every platform. But is “Free” worth using? Or is it a case of “You get what you pay for”?
When I am considering what to use, I am always looking for free language learning resources. But I don’t use every free resource I come across. First I ask some questions to see if it is worth my time, both in the search, and in the usage:
- How difficult is it to find free language learning resources?
- Will this help achieve my language learning goals?
- Is this a quality product?
- Does this product suit my learning style?
- Would it be a better use of my time to purchase a product that suits me and my goals better?
There is an abundance of free language learning resources online and available through public libraries for many popular languages. The national languages of most of Europe, much of Asia, Africa and Latin America have resources on YouTube, as podcasts, or available as introductory resources on many websites and apps. However, if you want to learn an Australian Indigenous language (actually ANY indigenous language!), or one of the thousands of languages of minority or regional groups, it may be much more difficult.
That doesn’t mean it is going to be impossible – but you will need to weigh up the time it may cost to locate resources against time you could be spending learning, for frequently less than $100.
Free is all well and good. But there is absolutely no point in using a resource just because it is free, if it won’t help you do what you want to do!
It’s much easier to make decisions about which resources to use if you have a solid grasp on what your language learning goals actually are.
- Do you want to improve your conversation skills, so that you can meet locals on your next holiday?
- Do you want to become an interpreter or translator?
- Are you most interested in reading books written in their original language?
- Are you planning to live in another country and need to have and adequate level of all aspects of the language in order to survive?
- Or are you studying for academic or professional reasons?
All of these considerations are important when you choose which resources to use.
A quick “Learn in 14 Days” resource at your local library might provide enough information to make your holiday worthwhile. Alternatively an online resources might give you what you need. But those sources probably aren’t going to help if you want to become a language teacher or professional translator. Similarly, introductory courses on YouTube are just not going to cut it.
At the opposite end of the scale, a common source of public domain language learning resources in a wide array of languages are those from the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, the Defence Language Institute and the Peace Corps.
There is no doubt that the programs are excellent, and can take someone to quite a proficient level of language use (B2-C1). But it is important to recognise what the programs were designed for – teaching prospective diplomatic and foreign service staff, military staff and Peace Corps volunteers.
Consequently the FSI courses are heavy in formal language, the DLI courses include military terminology, and the Peace Corps courses are very basic, and project focused. Also, the FSI courses are also designed for up to six or twelve months of all-day-every-day study (depending on the program and the language). Good if you want to achieve a high level of proficiency. Probably overkill for the holiday. 🙂
There are many, many great quality free language learning products available.
There is also a lot of rubbish.
Don’t compromise your valuable time by settling for a less-than-adequate resource. If you listen to a podcast and the audio quality drives you mad, leave it. If you want to become an interpreter, do not rely on a YouTube channel that is run by a hobbyist and only gets new content once a month or less.
Similarly, it is sometimes possible to find very old resources available in the public domain – but do you want to learn language from fifty or eighty years ago? Age does not necessarily indicate irrelevance… but it can.
It can be a good idea to look at the comments and reviews of different resources. Check to see if others have noticed errors, or made comments about common usage.
Do you love learning by listening? Or are you more likely to take new information in through a structured learning program? There is no point deciding to learn by watching free YouTube videos if you know that you need to write notes. Similarly, there is no point writing notes if you know that makes you bored.
Know what your strengths are and what keeps your motivation high, and choose resources that work to your strengths.
(Duquesne University has a handy assessment tool to find out your learning preferences.)
Sometimes it is simply the best use of time and effort to spend some money. If you need to learn a language that has fewer resources generally, then it will likely have fewer free resources. And what resources there are may need quite a bit of altering to really fit your need.
Many of the free resources on YouTube and online can provide a great start to your language learning journey. If you don’t have the need to achieve a very high level of language, very quickly, then free language learning resources can almost always be sourced, with a few Google searches.
However, if you want a structured program with all the bells and whistles, all the audios provided in good quality MP3 files, and contemporary looking work books, then you are probably better off buying a “Teach Yourself” language learning kit (for a solid introduction), Pimsleur for a strong introduction to pronunciation, and something like Assimil or Linguaphone for a more advanced level (up to a solid intermediate).