It's always difficult to review a topic as broad as computer-assisted language learning software, especially in this day and age of aggressive marketing that often skews any particular product review towards something else.

Even more so when you talk about self-directed learning - because, as the name itself implies, every language learner has his or her own particular learning style. For instance, some learners prefer a visual style, while others excel better using audio courses. Some prefer to get lost in the technical aspects of grammar and semantics. Some prefer a classroom environment. You get the drift.

So what qualifies as the "best language learning program", I say? As is the usual answer for any sort of decision we have to make before making a purchase, IT DEPENDS.

It depends on YOUR particular proficiency in the language you are trying to learn.

It depends on YOUR native language.

It depends on YOUR learning style.

It depends on YOUR particular reasons for taking up a foreign language in the first place - are you learning to prepare for a short vacation in Peru? Are you learning because your scholarship requires a certain level of language proficiency? Are you learning in preparation for an overseas assignment by your organization? Are you learning to impress your German boyfriend or Italian girlfriend?

What's YOUR motivation?

These are the most important considerations you need to be clear with yourself before you even start to consider purchasing what could be a costly (in this day and age) investment. Thus, there is a need to qualify what language learning program is best for what particular situation you need the course for - which is what we'll be doing.

We can assume that a great majority of aspiring language learners choose to do so because they want to travel to where their target languages are spoken - whether it is for a holiday, a business trip, or a weekend. For the purposes of this review or countdown of sorts, we are going to focus on that target language learning demographic (we'll discuss the top language learning programs for the more experienced learners at another time).

Take a look at the top 4 language learning programs first:

Rank Program Main Point Action
1 If your expectations are realistic before beginning the course, then yes, you'll have a blast learning through Rocket Languages

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2 In the final accounting, the Pimsleur Language Programs are a great course to take - if only to improve your speaking and listening skills.

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3 Temper your expectations about the product, use it as a supplement to your existing learning, and see the course through (or ditch it, if it is too slow for your tastes) - Rosetta Stone is a fine language learning product.

 

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4 It's a perfect start for beginners who want to know HOW the language works, and that is the main selling point of the course.

 

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So, are you ready yet? Tired of the chit-chat? Then let's start off our countdown with #4.

4. The Michel Thomas Method

PROS: Great mix of grammar training, listening comprehension, and conversational skills; clearly structured coursework and methodology based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages; good value for price (especially if you can find it second-hand).

CONS: Very learner-centric (all responsibility for failure or success is on the method itself); the whole class is conducted almost entirely in spoken English; not enough interaction from native speakers; despite being an audio-based course, there are not enough opportunities for actual dialogue

There is a lot of fair criticism on the Michel Thomas Method - particularly due to the fact that all responsibility for your success or failure on the course is solely on the course itself, and not the learner, and for the reasons I've listed above....but as we're talking about the best language learning courses for beginners, a beginner could do worse than start off with the Michel Thomas Method. First off, it's due to the pressure-free methodology of Michel Thomas (which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the learner), and the reality that in today's world, no one wants to take responsibility for failure. Furthermore, the class is conducted almost entirely in English (which can also be a good or a bad thing), which encourages the learner to think about the answer in English before answering. Last knock on the program is the fact that while it is an audio-only course, it doesn't do enough to build your conversational skills nor your listening comprehension, as there are hardly any opportunities for you to actually practice your newly-learned vocabulary.

HOWEVER, its focus on breaking down the basic elements of a target language's grammar is perfect for the absolute beginner - I personally learned more from this course than the expensive recurring courses I took for my Italian classes at a language school I will not name - because it clearly discusses the most important elements of grammar that you will always remember as you progress further into your language learning journey. If you purchase this course for anything, do it for the grammar. You won't become a fluent speaker with this program, but none of these programs will really make you fluent just by taking them, anyway. It's a perfect start for beginners who want to know HOW the language works, and that is the main selling point of the course.

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3. Rosetta Stone

PROS: You don't have to worry about endless discussions on grammar and semantics anymore: Are you the type of learner who HATES grammar? Then this just may be the course for you. The linear nature of Rosetta Stone ensures that sentence construction concepts are introduced slowly (expect to start with very basic sentences at the beginning) until working towards more complex structures as you progress onto more advanced levels.

CONS: Inconsistent voice recognition system: This is a common lament with a lot of computer assisted language learning programs - that of a balky voice recognition system.

Temper your expectations about the product, use it as a supplement to your existing learning, and see the course through (or ditch it, if it is too slow for your tastes) - Rosetta Stone is a fine language learning product. Probably the best computer language learning program out in the market, for that matter.

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2. The Pimsleur Language Programs

PROS: Excellent resource for listening comprehension, conversational skills, and pronunciation; rock-solid structure and methodology; portable (audio-only) and requires only a modicum of active listening; will improve your conversational skills faster than most other courses; has over 50 course offerings in its catalog; well-established pedigree from Dr. Paul Pimsleur.

CONS: Lack of reading comprehension and writing instruction; could get repetitive after the first course; lack of interactivity through interaction with a community of native speakers and language learners

As a beginner, you could do worse than start off with the Pimsleur Language Programs - based on my experience with 2 Pimsleur courses (Brazilian Portuguese, then Italian), I could say, without a shadow of a doubt, that it is the best audio language learning course I took early on my language learning journey. It undoubtedly boosted my listening comprehension, accent, and fluency with basic conversational skills in everyday situations. And I think it's safe to say that for the majority of learners, their main objective is to be able to first carry on a basic conversation with native speakers - for this reason, Pimsleur's course offerings are a great way to begin. Granted, as I took my second Pimsleur course, the content was rather similar (that is, it repeated most of the dialogues and the situations) from the Brazilian Portuguese course I took earlier, thus though things became rote, I can't say enough about how it helped me to be intelligible to native speakers of the language. As Michel Thomas says....think of speaking in a foreign language as a game of tennis - all you need to do is to get the ball over the net.

And Pimsleur will take you there, provided you are religious with its tried-and-tested methodology that has stood over 50 years and counting. Click here to learn more about Pimsleur.

1. Rocket Languages

PROS: Well-balanced and thought of course content; excellent interactivity and integration with social networks to learn with native speakers); well-structured and clear progression; excellent mobility and integration with smart devices and smartphones; lifetime updates without recurring or hidden charges; great value for money; reasonable price point.

CONS: Too much focus on "fun" activities and user engagement (we'll get to this in just a second); clunky voice recognition software

No, it may not have been the first player in the computer assisted language learning software scene, but it definitely changed the game. Prior to Rocket Languages, all you had were either overpriced solutions (Rosetta Stone), or audio-only courses that you had to lug around on cassettes and CDs. Rocket Languages, however, can lay claim for being the first to really take the whole computer assisted learning game up a notch. Beneath all the hype and the marketing strategies, Rocket Languages clearly offers the best value for money for the language learning demographic it targets (beginners), thanks to the depth of its instruction, and the interactivity of its software. It's also supported by a lot of additional (USEFUL CONTENT, that is, not filler), even throwing in culture and grammar lessons in bite sized chunks throughout their courses. Plus, there are no sketchy tricks with your subscription - it's a one-and-done deal, that sets you up with lifetime updates that are designed to motivate you and keep you on track with your language learning. Obviously, don't let the ads fool you - there is NO WAY for you to become fluent in the truest sense of the word just by using a single learning method, so you ought to get that out of your head before you disappointment strikes; but a beginner in any language could not go wrong with the instruction that Rocket Languages offers.

Yes, its focus may be too much oriented towards the learner having fun, but is that really a bad thing? Not if you balance it by having, say, conversation practice with a language partner or a one-on-one class with a local teacher, or if you just want to brush up on your vocabulary after a long layoff. Temper your expectations - this is a GREAT product that beginners could not go wrong with - at a much more reasonable price than some other "established" language learning software out in the market today.

Click to learn more about RocketLanguages learning courses: Rocket Spanish, Rocket French, Rocket German, Rocket Italian, Rocket Japanese, Rocket Chinese, Rocket Korean, Rocket Hindi, Rocket Arabic, Rocket Russian, Rocket Portuguese, Rocket English.

Happy Learning : )

 

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