September 18, 2013 | Review Period
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
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
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.