September 18, 2013 | Review Period

Living Language!

I try out a new language-learning product and, to my surprise, like it.

Four years and two and a half months into this project, I had still never tried the Living Language products. This was true even though I had repeatedly encountered their ads on the subway and I think also seen them at Barnes & Noble.

Living Language for Brazilian Portuguese

Living Language for Brazilian Portuguese

I was skeptical. Partly because I thought their ads were goofy. And partly because they offered a suspiciously inexpensive book-CD combination product in what seemed like unnecessarily voluminous packaging.

Well, I think I was wrong. I am really enjoying Living Language for Brazilian Portuguese (I’m using their most basic package, the “Essential Edition”). I have blazed through it over the past couple of days. It is a good sign when you don’t feel like putting something down for a break after half an hour. I had to make myself go to bed last night.

One thing I like is that it has the vocabulary I want to see in basic books, the kinds of things I remember learning in my grade school and junior high language classes. The pages are populated with dogs, cats, newspapers, magazines, fear, hunger, buildings, toys, mountains, beaches, pockets, handbags, offices, living rooms, airplanes, rings, keys, headaches, beds, birds, bananas, horses, coats, uncles, mothers-in-law, and so on.

Sure, an ATM shows up somewhere, but this is not one of those ostensibly practical guides that leave you incapable of saying anything remotely interesting to another human being in this enormous wondrous world.

A Living Language Subway Ad, Kind of Dorky

A Living Language Subway Ad, Kind of Dorky

I like the exercises, too. They’re fun and appropriate for the level.

The book design is exquisite. It is simple. I love the lightweight paper, the layout, the spacing, the way they place the answers immediately after each exercise so I don’t have to flip back and forth from the back of the book to the exercise. This latter innovation is a small and simple one—and yet for me, a grammar-exercise addict, utterly transforming.

They offer this Living Language series for a number of languages, including Arabic, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Greek, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and English. I intend to investigate further and will report more in the future. In the meantime, whether you have one of their products or not, you can check out free Living Language resources online in their Language Lab. Plus more free resources here. 

Another thing I like is that this is a relatively inexpensive entry in the language-learning market. For Portuguese, the Essential course is $22.99 for the book plus audio CDs. It is not a monstrous amount of material, but it is paced correctly and appropriately, which is one of the hardest things to find in language-learning materials. It doesn’t bite off more than you can chew.

There is also a Complete course, with roughly triple the material of the Essential course, for $49.99—or you can pay $150 for an online version that includes tutoring with native speakers and I’m not yet sure what else. As I said, I will investigate further.

Here is a snippet of their underlying philosophy from their website:

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 totally agree with this philosophy.

Comments (18)

Farschied • Posted on Wed, September 18, 2013 - 1:02 pm EST

Yay! Another lovely post! That’s an interesting method. I’ve been trying Living Language for Arabic.

-Some methods tell you that you can learn a language without hard work. 

-Some others tell you that you can learn a language with hard work. But they provide the learners with some tools that make this process moving faster. 

At least they are telling the truth!

But I believe to start learning a language you have to build a foundation for that. And that’s Grammar. Pure Grammar!

For starters 200 pages will do!

And after that, start using other multimedia resources. But don’t forget to lay the foundation!

A firm foundation of Grammar is essential for a firm start!

I used too foundations and too firms, didn’t I? :)

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, September 18, 2013 - 1:24 pm EST

Ich habe deinen letzten Satz nicht verstanden…

How do you like Living Language for Arabic? I am very interested in seeing what they have for that. As I think you know, I was not fully satisfied with the print materials I found for Arabic. What Living Language offers is really very simple, it seems. It’s interesting. Now I need to look at their approach for a language where I have less basic comfort, to see how it translates for that.

Yes, grammar grammar grammar. I’m with you there.

Alex • Posted on Wed, September 18, 2013 - 1:54 pm EST

I’m still looking for new things to pad my French quota, so I’ll be sure to give these a look. Thanks for the heads-up!

Farschied • Posted on Wed, September 18, 2013 - 1:56 pm EST

I said that I used the words “foundation” and “firm” a lot in my comment!

It’s a printed book with 542 pages which is accompanied by an Audio CD and a Video CD which is related to the book topics of course.

The accent being used in the book is eastern but it’s based on the Arabic that Jordanian people speak! Still It’s eastern and similar to Syrian and Lebanese Arabic! The difference isn’t that much.

But I myself don’t use the printed version, I read the PDF version on my tablet. I’m trying to get used to non-printed materials. You know , because It’s more portable. I can have my German ” Practice makes perfect” series and all my Pimsleurs and other materials with me where ever I go!

But if I wanted to use the printed materials I would have to use a cart !

Here’s one interesting thing I wanted to share, not relevant to the topic though , but funny!

I changed my Facebook status to ” Linguistics is my lady ! ”

Do you think it’s better if I switched it to ” Language is my lady ! ” ?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, September 18, 2013 - 2:18 pm EST

I can’t indulge my copying-over habits on tablets. But at least YOU are saving trees. Thank you.

I actually HAVE a cart! I’ve posted pictures of it before. Recently, I think.

I am preparing to give away a bunch of non-language books to make room for language books. I’ve run out of room.

I like “linguistics” better.

Thank you for the information on Living Language Arabic. That sounds good!

Farschied • Posted on Wed, September 18, 2013 - 2:21 pm EST

Yeah , I saw your cart!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, September 18, 2013 - 2:36 pm EST

I may need a bigger one.

Farschied • Posted on Thu, September 19, 2013 - 10:20 am EST

Hi Ellen

I have a question for you now that you are in the review period.

What is the pattern of your Review ? I mean like 2 languages a day, 1 language withing two days , 1 language a day, etc?

I suggest you visit this website, this might help you to review,

I have told you about this website before, I wanna know your idea about it. But no pressure!

jose luiz serafini • Posted on Thu, September 19, 2013 - 10:45 am EST

I am halfway through Japanese Living Language (the $50, three-volume edition) and enjoying it. For me too, a pleasant surprise..  Since the three volumes cover a little more than 1,000 words in almost 1,200 pages, naturally there’s plenty of (welcome) repetition, explanations and space for scribbling. And it has a good (elementary) introduction to the written an additional fourth volume.

I"d hate to run out of room for books. Mine are stored in five diferent places (or six, if Kindles are placeable), and there always seems to be space for more.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, September 19, 2013 - 2:18 pm EST

José Luiz, I have some old books that are so musty I can’t open them without sneezing. Since I can’t read them, my philosophy is that I should give them to someone who can enjoy them without suffering an allergic reaction. That will free up space for language books. I NEVER give away language books! Even old and dusty ones.

You, too, are doing Living Language? Wow, where have I been?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, September 19, 2013 - 2:26 pm EST

Farschied, thank you so much for reminding me about that website! I am accumulating a backlog of unexamined resources. I just bookmarked that site to remind me to try it out.

In answer to your question, I am doing as many languages as I can fit in during a day around my work schedule. This is out of the five I am studying/reviewing at present: German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Usually I am working on three a day. Mostly French, Italian, and Portuguese right now - German and Spanish are getting neglected because I am more confident in my skills in those.

Farschied • Posted on Thu, September 19, 2013 - 3:14 pm EST

Thank you for the answer! Just one last thing, you forgot to change ” Who knows? • Sep ‘13… ”  part of your study schedule to Review Period.

By the way, what is that ” Brain Exploded” ?  It means that you did nothing for a month?

sorry for asking too many questions!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, September 19, 2013 - 3:40 pm EST

I like questions. You keep me on my toes, Farschied.

I didn’t forget; I just hadn’t quite done it, is all. But you have spurred me to action. Thank you.

Yes, the “Brain Exploded” period involved rest and recovery after 771 consecutive days of language study. I needed a break. I touch on this need in the entry at

Ask away!

jose luiz serafini • Posted on Fri, September 20, 2013 - 7:15 am EST

I’ve heard of a couple of people who had to part from their books because of allergic reations. And a doctor, years ago, threatened me with a similar fate if I don’t behave. Ugly.

And I happen to enjoy of plenty of space for books (at a farmhouse, beach cottage, downtown office, even my parent’s home) because I don’t live in a very big (and expensive) town…

James LaRue • Posted on Wed, April 09, 2014 - 10:37 am EST

Living Language courses were always so good.  I used to buy them when they came with cassette tapes and the books were 8x11 size.  I was never disappointed with any of the Living Language series. They provided a basic foundation for me in German and Russian.

I got my basic introduction to Spanish and Italian through the Spanish Made Simple and Italian Made Simple books.  Have you done a review on this series of books as well?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, April 09, 2014 - 10:56 am EST

James, I have all the “Made Simple” books and intend to make my way through each. I began with the Italian and so far am very impressed.

Oops, I just looked up the series again on Amazon and realized there was one I didn’t know about: “Inglés Hecho Fácil”!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, April 09, 2014 - 10:58 am EST

Oh, I see even more now! Latin and Sign Language! Wow! I have Spanish, French, German, and Italian, I believe.

James LaRue • Posted on Fri, April 11, 2014 - 9:45 am EST

Have you ever reviewed the French In Action series?  This came out in the 80s and was quite popular for a while.  PBS sometimes shows it.  It’s also online at:

I just picked up the accompanying book for a dollar at a used book store.  The book was like new. It is a great foundational course in French and also entertaining and fun. 

I’d like to see you do a review on it

Post a Comment