Brutally Honest Living Language Review

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
    Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot
    🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW
    🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW

    Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
  • Read time13 mins
  • Comments39
Apart from the wide selection of languages available, I just don't see a justifiable reason to invest in a Living Language course.
Brutally Honest Living Language Review

Living Language
Living Language
Pricing: $49.99 on Amazon
  • Good range of languages
  • Reasonably inexpensive
  • Explicit, grammar-heavy approach
  • Inappropriately leveled
  • Tutoring is a financial trap
  • Inactive forum


The Living Language courses are inadequate, follow an outdated grammar-heavy methodology and are inappropriately leveled. Apart from the wide selection of languages available, there is no justifiable reason to invest in a Living Language course.

DepthThis is 'content' richness. How comprehensive is Living Language and does it take you far in terms of levels, or is it more suited to low level/tourist learners?
UniquenessIs Living Language innovative or is it just an imitation? Does it have a unique selling proposition (USP) that makes it stand out among competitors?
QualityOverall product quality indicator that covers everything from video/dialogue clarity, authenticity, explanations, and effectiveness.
CostIs Living Language acceptably priced and how does its pricing compare to market competition?

NOTE: I’ve recommended a far better, more user-friendly (and less expensive) alternative to Living Language recently.

Select a language here:

Choose a language...

Make sure to check out my Essential Language Learning Tools page as well for other resources and recommendations.

I often get asked whether or not I think Living Language is a decent product.

Is it worth the cost?

Up there with the likes of Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, it’s one of the most recognizable brands on the market for many languages (26 in total if you include the English editions aimed at speakers of other languages) and it also happens to be one of the most popular search terms on my site.

It’s been around for a long time.

But as I said in a previous review: age doesn’t say anything about quality.

The Living Language Method™ has in fact been around longer than both Rosetta Stone and the Pimsleur Method™ which, combined with its initial role in teaching languages to diplomats and other US state officials means that it’s assumed by many to be a trustworthy and familiar brand.

This is of course not necessarily true.

Oddly enough, after sampling and reviewing many different language learning programs over the past 5 years for this site, Living Language is one that I had never extensively looked at until now.

I finally decided to sit down this week and meticulously comb through the Online Edition (same content as the Complete and Platinum box sets) of the Arabic version of Living Language to look at the approach of the method itself, the company’s claims and the overall quality of the course material.

This review will take a brutally honest look at the course content, method and value of the Living Language series.

Does it work or is it a waste of money?

Let’s get started.

Living Language’s hyperbolic trashing of competitors is off-putting

And by competitors I mean Rosetta Stone.

If you research the company on its website, the first thing you’ll notice is the opening section of their ‘About’ page which is full of comparisons to Rosetta Stone.

RS isn’t explicitly named but it’s painfully obvious.

NOTE: I am not a big fan or affiliate of Rosetta Stone (see my review here and you’ll see why).

Check out Living Language’s opening paragraphs:

Most of us have played charades at some point or another. As a game, it’s a lot of fun. We watch as someone gestures, pantomimes, and jumps around, trying to guess what it could possibly be that they’re trying to convey. In the game, we expect a lot of ridiculous wrong guesses, and we even like the torturous frustration of having no clue what the answer is. The urge to yell “just tell us the answer!” is all part of the fun. But why would anyone want to learn a language this way?

The Living Language Method™ is not a game of charades. It doesn’t force adult language learners to try to absorb a new language, like they could when they were babies. It makes use of all the tools that adults have at their disposal to learn efficiently and effectively, without clumsy guesswork or frustration, in order to really learn how to speak a new language.

I’ve bolded the hyperbole for you.

Now, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a bit of negative comparative advertising.

In other words, when a company points out the flaws or shortcomings in a competitor’s product it is okay if it’s done the right way.

But I think the fact that the main ‘About’ page of Living Language begins with and is taken up largely by an indirect, hyperbolic attack on an unnamed (yet clear) competitor tells me that they don’t have anything of higher substance to offer.

In contrast, Rosetta Stone’s ‘About’ page is only about Rosetta Stone and what it offers (i.e. no trashing).

As a general rule: if your product is amazing, you don’t need to trash your competitors. Focus on the quality and benefits of your own product and let it speak for itself.

If your product is not remarkable however, you have to resort to denigrating your competitors to boost your own appeal.

The Living Language product options and prices in a nutshell

NOTE: This review will not be covering the ‘Passport’ courses that Living Language offers which are basically just watered down, ‘phrasebook’ versions of their online courses.

I will say however that based on my experience with the full online courses, I would not recommend paying $50 – $75 for the Passport editions which limit you to only 3 months access to their content.

There are basically 4 paid options for Living Language courses (disregarding the Passport courses).

They are:

Essential Edition: This includes the first 10 lessons of the foundational level (very basic foundational material).

Price: $22.99

Complete Edition: Essential Edition + 5 intermediate units + 4 advanced units.

Price: $49.99

Platinum Edition: Complete Edition + 1 year access to the online version (identical content), iPhone app access, online forum access and 12 e-tutoring credits.

Price: $179

Online Edition (subscription): Platinum Edition minus the physical product and iPhone app. Only includes 2 free e-tutoring credits.

Price: $150 (1 year), $75 (6 months), $50 (3 months) and $39 (1 month)

Not all levels/products are available for every language however.

I should point out that only seven of the languages (Arabic, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Mandarin) include a Platinum edition and some languages (such as Dutch and Farsi) only offer the Online edition.

E-tutoring is where Living Language’s real financial black hole is

Living Language e-tutoring

There are a few important points I need to make up front about their deceptive tier pricing and e-tutoring.

In order to get native speaker practice and help with the lesson content, you need to schedule e-tutoring sessions using the booking tool on the Living Language website. These are 30 minute sessions which correspond to each completed lesson.

Just like Rosetta Stone’s live-tutoring, these are highly restricted and controlled practice sessions that can include up to 4 people at any given time.

You do the math: 4 students + 1 teacher in a 30 minute session = at most about 6 minutes of actual speaking time per student.

6 lousy minutes!

This 6 minutes of practice will set you back a ludicrous $25 (that’s the cost of each e-tutoring credit).

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this is not a wise way to spend your money.

To give you an idea: you can use a service like italki and potentially get 2 or 3 hours of one-on-one Skype practice/tutoring for the same price!

And you wouldn’t be restricted in what you can talk about.

But the Living Language course content is set up in such a way that people who are new or not savvy enough will need some direct help and therefore continue to buy more credits. The trap then is that every time you need clarity on something or want to practice what you’ve learned, you’ll go and buy another 6 minutes for $25.

I’m also not sure why anyone would choose the Online edition over the Platinum edition.

The Online edition offers the exact same content as the Platinum (for almost the same price) except you receive no physical product (i.e. books and CD’s).

You also have a time limitation on your subscription which means that once your time is up, you can no longer access what you’ve paid for. It makes no sense whatsoever to buy the Online course with a time limitation when the Platinum edition comes with books and CD’s that don’t expire.

For the Online edition there’s also no mobile app access and you only receive 2 e-tutoring sessions (as opposed to 12 in the Platinum edition).

To take it a step further – both the Online and Platinum editions offer no additional value to the Complete edition as they all contain the same lesson content overall.

There’s a $129 difference between the Complete edition and the Platinum edition; the only clear reason for this being the included e-tutoring credits ($300 worth of 30 minute sessions which as I pointed out above, give you approx. 6 minutes each to practice).

In other words, if you’re determined to buy a Living Language course then my advice is to only get the Complete edition and not waste $129 on the Platinum or Online versions (use italki for cheap e-tutoring instead).

Living Language Arabic makes the same mistake as Rosetta Stone

Living Language Dashboard

Just a specific point on the Arabic edition of Living Language.

If you’ve read my Rosetta Stone review, you may remember me mentioning that the worst mistake they made with RS Arabic (rendering it practically useless as a learning tool) was choosing to use Modern Standard Arabic instead of a spoken dialect.

Living Language is the same – only it has even more atrocious dialogue than RS.

Listening to the robotic, formal dialogues in the Living Language course is a painful ordeal to sit through.

Nobody anywhere speaks MSA as a native language (see here). It’s not a naturally spoken language in any part of the Arab world. Since it’s only used in formal situations (e.g. politics), it makes no sense to offer a course that teaches Modern Standard Arabic as a way to converse about everyday topics.

The Living Language website states:

Whether you want to visit the souks of Dubai, connect with new friends, or order shawarma with authenticity — Living Language has the programs to learn effectively and efficiently.


Modern Standard Arabic (and therefore Living Language) will not adequately prepare you for any of these real life situations.

NOTE: I will add that the only comparable online course I’ve seen that actually teaches a spoken dialect with natural (not robotic) dialogue is Rocket Arabic (review here).

The Living Language Method™ and course explained

NOTE: I’ll be commenting on the Online edition which is what I sampled for this review.

The content is the same for Complete and Platinum but some web interface features I mention obviously won’t apply to those who purchased the physical product.

What’s worth remarking on here is that Living Language really emphasizes using one’s native language as a “bridge” to learn foreign languages.

Their approach entails explicit instruction of grammar.

This is along similar lines to other well-known methods such as Michel Thomas and Pimsleur, all of which emerged decades before communicative language theory rose to prominence.

In other words, it follows an outdated and deprecated methodology from a bygone era.

Language instruction (generally speaking) has moved far away from explicit instruction over the past two decades and more toward implicit methodologies that emphasize interaction.

Both in terms of classroom teaching styles and products for self-teaching, explicit grammar instruction has become a thing of the past (also see my article on why you don’t need to study grammar to learn to speak a foreign language).

The Living Language edition that I sampled is structured as follows:

Essential: 10 lessons covering basic topics such as ‘people and family’, ‘numbers’, ‘restaurant’, ‘work’ and ‘entertainment’.

Intermediate: 20 lessons in 5 units covering the same topics from Essential level.

Advanced: 16 lessons in 4 units covering the topics ‘shopping’, ‘sports and leisure’, ‘work and school’, and ‘doctors and health’.

Firstly, I feel that the designations of the levels are inaccurate.

None of the “advanced” topics are actually advanced by any means and the same is true of the “intermediate” topics (e.g. shopping and restaurant). The grammatical concepts do increase slightly in difficulty however but the designations are not appropriate.

Perhaps a more appropriate way to name these levels would be Absolute Beginner, Beginner, Lower Elementary or something to that effect.

The reality is: by the time you finish the “Advanced” lessons, you’ll be no better equipped to communicate than someone who flicked through an in-flight phrasebook.

Most of the individual lessons are structured like this (or very similar):

1) Vocabulary 1

Living Language - Flashcards

Words and phrases are introduced using an inbuilt flashcard app.

I admit that I do like the inclusion of images and the ability to toggle various features such as transliteration and a vocab list but it’s only a flashcard deck with a small handful of words and phrases (something I’d prefer to use Memrise for).

2) Grammar explanations

These are literally pages that have been lifted straight out of an old textbook with tables of rules and brief explanations of various grammar points. Unclear explanations overall and visually unattractive.

The only good added feature in the Online version is that you can click various words in the tables to hear how they’re pronounced.

3) Vocabulary 2

More flashcards just like Vocabulary 1 (I’m not sure why they split these actually).

4) Grammar explanations

Some additional grammar explanations.

5) Conversation

Living Language - Conversation

This is the only part of the lessons that has at least some potential as far as natural language dialogue goes. They play a short conversation in the target language which you can toggle back and forth to English in the Online version.

Unfortunately as I mentioned above, the Arabic dialogue is horrendously bad and they’re in a dialect that nobody speaks as a native language. Some of the other languages I listened to sounded very robotic as well.

6) Games

Living Language - Game

When I wrote my original review of Rocket Languages, I made some criticisms about the uselessness of the games they had (Rocket has since removed them).

Living Language includes them too and even uses them as a selling point.

The games in the Living Language course are utterly pointless and provide little to no educational benefit (e.g. clicking floating bubbles, memory match, etc.). They’re low quality, time-wasting distractions that are just there to add extra sale value.

Living Language Arabic

NOTE: One additional thing I noticed with the Arabic course specifically is that the ‘Fill-In’ activities require you to input tashkeel/7arikat (vowel diacritics) when typing words.

If you don’t input these 100% accurately, it’s marked as completely wrong.

This is frustrating for two reasons:

1) Tashkeel isn’t necessary or used in most Arabic writing and 2) Living Language could and should at least highlight ‘partially correct’ answers like Rocket Languages does so that if one letter is missed or tashkeel is omitted, what you got right is highlighted.

So is Living Language worth the investment?

Just looking back over this review now I can see that it’s almost entirely negative and that’s a shame really (I try to keep these reviews as balanced as possible).

Apart from the wide selection of languages available, I just don’t see a justifiable reason to invest in a Living Language course (especially the Arabic one).

Even the forum which is used as a selling point (touted as access to “an online community of language experts”) is mostly inactive.

Granted that Living Language is significantly cheaper than the other big name language product brands (e.g. RS, Pimsleur and Michel Thomas) but in all honesty, I think it’s still overpriced for what it is.

The content is inadequate, follows an outdated grammar-heavy methodology and is inappropriately levelled.

The Living Language e-tutoring service is nothing but a financial black hole and you’d get far better value out of personalized, one-on-one Skype lessons via italki.

If you are determined to buy a Living Language course, my advice is to go no higher than the $49.99 Complete Edition as the Platinum and Online editions are an excessive waste of money.

Have you/do you use a Living Language course? What are your thoughts?

Comment below!

Living Language
Pricing: $49.99 on Amazon

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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I started out with Russian with a Living Language course, albeit a 2000’s course called “Complete Russian: The Basics” and I was satisfied. I didn’t have a problem with the grammar. If anything it had too little grammar. I had to use a grammar course that I found on to advance, after which I could go to LingQ and learn the vocabulary, which I did. This worked out well for me.

I have learned Serbian also using a “grammar heavy” method and I found it very useful. Serbian is like Russian a complex language with seven cases and three grammatical genders, verbal aspect and whatnot. If it weren’t for the grammar I would be understanding Serbian very poorly.

Also, no language course will get you to an advanced level. To get to that level you need to study university level grammar and learn tens of thousands of words. Truth is you can’t even expect a beginner’s course to make you conversational. You need LingQ or Wikipedia or a news site to learn the words in addition to the beginner’s course and only when you have a large vocabulary can you become truly conversational. This is step two for me. Learn the words and if necessary the grammar. Then learn the grammar anyway.

I’m curious what scientific basis there is for claiming that grammar is outdated. If I were to learn Slovene or Bulgarian or whatever other slavic language I’d like to learn I would choose the grammar based method and not waste my time trying to decipher the endings of the words myself. Also, pictures don’t work for me. Show me a picture of a jar of hunny when I look up the word “med” and it could just as well mean jar or syrup. Pictures are useless. Just show me the definition goddamnit.



Thanks for yet an other well done evaluation and review!

The Living Language Spanish Complete program , at least on Amazon, offers the option of choosing either “Audio CD’s” or “Multimedia CD” (albeit at c. 2x the price.

Which do you prefer and why?

And, do you happen to know if Multimedia CD’s will play in a regular CD-player, e.g., your automobile…sans any video components?

Thank you!




Hello sir! I thank you for creating this review site! I can and will agree with you about the pricing and accuracy of the “Living Language” books! The pros and cons are some of the same that I’ve found myself! I am a native Portuguese and English speaker, but I bought the Living Language {Brazilian Portuguese} book just to give feedback for people who wish to study the language. I’ve found that there are words & phrases that aren’t really used anymore, especially by the younger crowd. Also, consonants/pronunciation/grammer is scattered around in the book instead of
being placed in the beginning, as it should be, in order to feel rather comfortable toward speaking words/phrases that ACTUALLY ARE placed in the beginning of the book. Moreover, I was wondering would you be willing to give reviews on “For Dummies” books, as well?



I purchased a LL Spanish set second hand. It hadn’t been used at all and my Spanish is rusty so it seemed like a good idea. In the 2nd lesson, we are asked to translate English sentences into Spanish . The first half of this lesson includes practice with the verb ‘estar’ but there is nothing for the verb ‘ser.’ The sentence, “Mrs. Martinez is a woman” should be “La senora Martinez es una mujer’ when translated but since we don’t know the correct verb, we’d use esta’, as in “La senore Martinez esta‘ una mujer.” Then, when we check the work, we’d discover we were wrong. Thanks for the stellar guidance Living Language!

Lance Gough

Lance Gough

I have the Living Language Tagalog (Filipino) on-line course. I purchased it because my italki instructor uses the hardcopy version. I have been studying Tagalog off-an-on for a few years, so I have several resources, including Rosetta Stone and 3 other on-line courses, and several textbooks that have mp3 audio instruction. They all vary in quality.

In my opinion, nothing is even close for being the ABSOLUTE WORST!!! The grammar has very little explanations, the exercises are short, much of the vocabulary is presented in a list without any context (and then never use the word again), and there are so many errors. The errors are what aggravates me most. There are misspellings, incorrect vocabulary usage, incorrect grammar usage, and more.

Since my italki instructor uses this, I am able to compare the print and on-line version. The on-line version has more errors, but that’s because it has more content and exercise (where most of the errors occur. Any errors that occur in the text that is common to the print and on-line forms occurs in each.

Luckily, the book only has 15 lessons. I asked my instructor to go with a new textbook that I found, and she is OK with that. However, since I’ve already finished 12 lessons, I think I’ll stick it out.

Bonnie Yelverton

Bonnie Yelverton

Thank you for your review of LivingLanguage. I have used the Complete Version for Greek - but only after doing RosettaStone (which only has 12 units for Greek, compared with 24 in the other languages I’ve used.) I have also been through DuoLingo Greek several times. I bought LivingLanguage specifically as a grammar course, to clear up some things I thought were mystifying. The textbooks have a great grammar compendium of everything they cover at the back of each volume. There is audio available for everything, which I find good to listen to, particularly the dialogues (which are stilted, but I’m a learner!)
What has helped me most - on top of the 3 mentioned - are Easy Readers in Greek, which, unfortunately don’t include audio. (The ones I found for Catalan, and some other languages, do. It’s a really great resource.)
But I’ve been talking with an italki tutor now for a year, and that’s when I went from one word at a time to being able to communicate on a long range of topics, including our upcoming trip to Greece.
I go back to the LivingLanguage books every once in a while to review something. Everything else is online. It’s nice with something physical as well!
And I continue to practice vocabulary and grammar points with DuoLingo as well. (I’m working the lessons backwards, now.)

Bonnie Yelverton

Bonnie Yelverton

I forgot to say that the “Learning Lab” part is available for free to anyone.

John Bartley

John Bartley

I got an old circa 1995 edition of Living Language Spanish 3: Advanced Conversation. Has 4 hourse of audio cassettes to accompany the dialogues. I made MP3 files of them. I like the book, half of which is a pretty good grammar. Now all I have to do is practice.


Jay you recommend any good Mandarin Chinese program to learn for beginners?

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Hi Jay. All my Mandarin Chinese recommended resources are here.



Hi. can you just listen to the CDs without looking at the book? I want something for the commute, and Ive heard there is another brand that is good for that, but expensive. Another product I had seen also had CDs but they only made sense if you read along in the book.
So, I’m asking, do the cd’s function autonomously, with a listen and repeat type structure?

Virginia Wisdom

Virginia Wisdom

I’m working through the German version, and I really like it. I took some German in school, so a lot of this is review for me. I like the sequence of the LL lessons and enjoy the games as review. It is heavily grammar-based, but that’s the most challenging part of German. My German friends tell me my pronunciation is near-native.



I bought the Hebrew version which by the way I notice was not mentioned and it is excellent. Learning very quickly.



Would you be able to recommend a program to learn Hindi? I prefer to have a physical product and am a complete beginner. I just dont want to waste my money. However my husband speaks Hindi so I will have a free tutor 😃.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Hi Stephanie,

This one is the most comprehensive course available (online). Physical product though I’m not sure.

jennifer bulka

jennifer bulka

so who has the most comprehensive visuals in their learning programs for Spanish and french? my students are more like Asperger’s and they follow rules really well which is why the communicative theory doesn’t work; implicit doesn’t work for them. they need visual-data networks like visual link but I’m looking for something better. thoughts? tku

Bonnie Yelverton

Bonnie Yelverton

I expect LivingLanguage would be very good for them. I have used a number of different methods for a variety of languages. I think LL would be great for the students you describe. But also supplement after a short while with easy readers, particularly with audio, and get them on italki when they have a little confidence.

Athena M.

Athena M.

Hello, thanks for this review. I have the Essential Arabic and struggled to use it so I stopped. I’ve since picked it up again after discovering (maybe through you, I’ve looked at this website on and off,) Innovative Languages’ YouTube videos and Teach Yourself Arabic by Farooqi and Khan. For what it’s worth, it’s cheap and doesn’t require me to be in front of a screen. And it explains a lot of things that I easily forget if they’re explained in a YouTube video.

Btw, my 10yo daughter likes LL’s games. So I guess it depends on the age of the learner. Also, I’ve lived for 12 years in an Arab country and really, it’s difficult to do immersion in a Muslim culture especially if you’re a female unless you work or go to school (I’m a housewife).

Cia Parker

Cia Parker

I’m studying Arabic with Living Language Complete, and I love it! I have several Arabic books which were too difficult for me to use, but slowly but surely, I’m mastering everything in the LL course. I’m now in the second of five units in the second book, and am thrilled that I’m now able to put together simple, correct sentences on my own. I just memorized all the dialogues in the lessons, plus the five at the end of the first book and the four at the end of the script book, which took a LONG time, with many repetitions, but it REALLY helped me get the feel of speaking Arabic. I really don’t think it matters if it’s not something that anyone really speaks. There is no dialect which will be spoken outside of that one area, and I’ve found that native speakers are easily able to understand what you’re saying in Modern Standard Arabic.

As for the method being old-fashioned, I disagree. I taught Spanish and French for many years, and I can tell you that VERY FEW students are able to learn to say or understand anything at all in the total immersion, only use the language being studied, no English ever, method. Grammatical paradigms are great, and I don’t see how you could learn to use the structures any other way. I’m now drilling myself every morning on the endings of present tense and past tense verbs, and have nearly gotten them all. But when an exercise asks me how to say They (f) did, I simply don’t have any background to find how to say it other than quickly zipping through the chart I memorized. -tu, -ta, -ti, -a, -at, -tumaa, -naa, -tum, -tunna, -oo, -na, -aa, -ataa, then grabbing -na. Hunna faxalna. I’ve memorized all the charts so far, and now I can put together structures using any of them. I’d have to live in a total immersion environment for many years before I absorbed it the natural way, and probably not even then. Grown-ups need to study languages the old-fashioned way, memorizing endless lists of vocab and grammatical paradigms: the physical structures in our brains enabling easy acquisition of a language have long since dissolved. I really think the only-foreign language method, no grammar, was invented by native speakers who aren’t very educated and don’t know the grammar themselves, and hope to just brightly chat to themselves in class and hope no one calls them on their complete inability to help others learn to speak it themselves.



I recently bought LL Mandarin Chinese Complete Edition. It is so ironic that even the Advanced book is an “enhanced” version of two previous books for beginners (Starting Out... and ...the Basics). Here “enhanced” means little more than adding Chinese script to the original texts and teaching how to read the characters. And calling it “advanced” is ridiculous also because the complexity of the rather short dialogues barely approximates the intermediate level.



Im another surprise one... Im using English Living Language and Im happy to say its working with me. For the price (I paid U$49,99 for 3 levels + audio) its a great deal.




Totally agree!



I am really surprised to see a review like this. I have used Living Language for Spanish, and it was amazing! There was some vocabulary in the Intermediate book that i didn’t learn since it wasn’t practical and unnecessary at the time, but overall I loved it. I did go back and purchase the Korean version, and it was really off-putting at first. I goes in really fast at the grammar aspect, which is extremely difficult for English speakers to understand. I was stuck on the 2nd grammar lesson for quite some time. It also doesn’t give any real help with the difficulties that lie in Korean pronunciation. I haven’t found a method yet that explains it to be easily understood. Integrated Korean explains it, but in a college-like manner making it really difficult.
I was just super shocked to see how negative this review was. At least for Spanish, Living Language is the bomb!

Bryan Schmidt

Bryan Schmidt

I totally agree I’ve had a good luck with the Portuguese and the Thai and I’m looking forward to trying a few other versions. Though they are getting hard to come by because it looks like living language went out of business.




I did not find the Living Language that bad. But, I tried Russian.

But, I doubt MSA could be done well with any method, that is like learning Spanish in the US and moving to Mexico. You didn’t learn Spanish, you learned American Standard School Spanish.




Hi, just fell upon your blog, trying to find a good adjunct to my beginning Italian course (which is only 6 weeks!). I thought playing something in my car would be helpful but see you don’t care for Rosetta or Living... what do you like if anything (audio)?
I’m eager to learn the language as I am Italian, but only speak English and some Spanish. I thought it would be fun to speak with some family members as well as teach my kids since my grandparents dropped the ball on that one! Thanks for your (unsolicited I hope?) advice!



Hi Jamie,
Futurelearn has just started an Italian course (free!), which I’m taking (yet at Lezione 4). Second week has just been released (10/23/17)! I’m enjoying it very much and learning a lot - I’m a beginner. I have also bought Living Language Italian, but haven’t “officially” started that yet, but so far from browsing the books and ripping the CDs I found it to be a quite interesting course. Of course, one will NOT be fluent by studying through CDs, books or online... Mi dispiace. One needs “immersion”! Otherwise, you can learn the basics (the “skeleton” of the language). I speak from my own experience - I speak 4 languages and only became REALLY fluent when I spent some time/lived in different countries.
Also there is the issue of the 4 skills: speaking, listening/understanding, reading and writing. I understand some people just want to be able to understand and speak; but others would like to master the writing and reading. So, no course will please all!
I really like Living Language Italian (Complete Edition) and would definitely recommend it. And, personally, I do like clear and straightforward grammar explanations! Don’t waste your money with the only tuition; there are free sites out there, or just take a vacation to Italy!!! :-) Listen to music, watch movies; radio is a great way o familiarize with the language - just let it play on the background... don’t pay attention... and new vocab will sink in!
In bocca al lupo!



Oh, And I must say I’ve paid $29.45 for the Complete Edition of Living Language - Italian!!!! ;-)



Really enjoy your brutally honest reviews. Maybe they’re not as brutal as they could be, but I’m glad you’re approached is measured rather than nasty or snarky.

Will you be reviewing Rebilder U? At least, when it stops being vaporware?

Dora Benn

Dora Benn

Dear Mr. Donovan,

Thanks a million for your reviews.

I would like to share an Arabic learning issue:

I almost enrolled in a school called:
Arizona Language Institute. I was shocked to hear how much they request for a an 18 hours course (around 470 dollars! plus registration fee).
More so, they are reluctant to provide any relevant information about the various levels, the material, etc. unless one first pays 250 dollars to enroll.

I truly would like to learn Arabic.
But at lost where to learn it? From what I gathered, ASU does not offer graduate or undergraduate Arabic studies. I have a BA degree and was willing to have a second BA degree in Arabic. None is offered.

I understand that the only “low cost” Arabic courses offered are mostly or only on line, correct?

Thanks Much




The California University of Pennsylvania offers a completely online degree in Arabic.

Jay Howard

Jay Howard

I have the German and Hebrew “Complete” editions. Paid 30ish dollars for each on Amazon. I agree with all that has been said above. Yes, it is a heavily grammar-book based program, but there is still much to be gotten from it. The “Builders” section- word, grammar, phrase and sentence is good. The vocabulary and grammar essentials, pronunciation guide, sound combinations, and the grammar summary in the back of the book is also very useful. The cost being so reasonable, I can’t complain. You have to be diligent and work through the books and dig out what is useful for you. Would I recommend this series to an absolute beginner, probably not. Nothing special about the audio. The meat is the grammar books. The audio seems more like a throw-in to give the course some life.
Complaints: I don’t like the light blue color that they use for the target language. In the Hebrew course, the print size is an issue. It is very difficult to see the vowels when reading the Hebrew. I’ve heard this complaint about the Teach Yourself course as well.



Yes. I am referring to the White Teach Yourself Book. It was also an excellent course. I may not have stated my position correctly. By more in depth I meant there were more sentences on a specific topic, say going to a Doctor, than in the Living Languages course. It didn’t even seem close. I did find the Complete Russian course to be more difficult. Specifically I found it was hard to follow the long dialogs sometimes. By the way, it was at that point where your Audacity tip came to the rescue. I entered the dialogs into Audacity and made a labeled track in English above a labeled track in Russian. I have found this to be the most effect tecnique of all, though time consuming. At anytime I can pull the Audacity tracks and see it all. Thank you so much for the tip.
If I had it to do again I would have done the Living Languages course first followed by the Complete Russian course. I have begun to become addicted to trying different courses. As soon as I finish Modern Russian, I may try Glossika. Did you try the Modern Russian course?

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

I haven’t used the Modern Russian course, no.

Really glad to hear my Audacity tip helped you though. Thanks, Dan.



Hi Donavan,
Wow that was a little negative, but if it stinks, it stinks. I agree wholeheartedly that these online tutoring sessions every language company is coming out are outrageously expensive. If you do not have access to native speakers you would have to be rich to learn using online chats via Rosetta Stone or apparently Living Languages. I used the Living Language Complete Russian course and was not aware of the online tutors (you indicated they don’t have them) but would not have done it anyways due to outrageous cost. That said, I found the course itself to be very good. It had the same topics of other courses I had done such as Complete Russian, but it was more in depth.



I wanted to add to my own post to say I agree also with your comment on the levels. The Advanced and beginner levels are really the same level, just different topics. Nothing advanced about it. I did like the organization and it was very cheap, I think I got mine new for $30, so to me it was well worth the cost. Lots of recordings and phrases and the books were easier reads than the Complete Russian course. I can’t compare them to Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur or Michel Thomas (all of which I did ) because they are completely different methodologies in my opinion.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Thanks for chiming in, Dan.

Interesting to hear that you found the Russian course to be more in depth than the Complete Russian one (I’m assuming you mean Teach Yourself Complete Russian?).



Tried the Living Languages Essential Portuguese edition and found the speakers spoke way to fast for a “beginners” level course. I guess if you sit and listen with the book you may get some benefit from this course. However I prefer listening to a language while hiking or driving (lots of traffic here in NYC area.) to improve listening and speaking skills watch short videos on my PC and look up grammar as needed. My Method: Portuguese Brazilian Semantica Video course ( Grammar and holds my interest on the while working on the PC. Glossika ( For speaking and listening ), while hiking and driving. While I agree grammar can provide some shortcuts and I do find it interesting I found that it actually slowed me down in learning Portuguese or maybe I have not found the correct method?

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