It’s only May, but already this year I’ve received several free copies of foreign language-related products, and the only thing asked in return is that I review the products on my web site — and I will give each of them an honest, fair review. But as I see more and more new language learning products, I’m constantly reminded of one of my biggest complaints: everyone is competing in the easy space.
When you look at the offerings of all makers of language learning products, they all start to look the same. Everyone is offering materials for people who want to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and German. Those who have been around a bit longer will probably have added Portuguese and Chinese. Maybe Arabic. Maybe Russian. Maybe. And after those, the field starts to get very narrow.
In spite of large numbers of people who speak Korean, Polish, Japanese, Greek, and Turkish, it is very difficult to find materials to help the new speaker learn those languages. And finding materials for Ukrainian, Catalan, Macedonian, Swahili, Kazakh, Norwegian, or anything else can start to seem nearly impossible — particularly for anyone who is not currently living in one of those places.
The root of this problem is obvious, of course. If we follow the popular saying, and “follow the money”, it is clear that the languages getting the most attention are those with the largest potential consumer base. The motive is clear: These companies are not making these products because they want to help you learn, they’re doing it to make a profit.
Before I continue, let me be clear: I have nothing against people earning a profit in return for providing a good service. But I do question the quality of that service when its primary motivation is profit.
Yes, it is entirely possible that some of these products may have risen out of someone’s passion for the Spanish language. But I have my doubts about how far that passion continues once they make the switch to offering French. Especially when Portuguese is always so late to the game. And if a product was born out of a passion for German, why aren’t Dutch and Afrikaans the next products to follow?
With all the big players fighting over the same four popular European languages, there is still a lot of room left for someone who is passionate about Czech to be the first big player with a product in that space. The same goes for Amharic, or Bulgarian, or Tibetan. And with so many Indian people around the world speaking only English, I’m sure there is a huge market for first-generation immigrants who want to learn Hindi.
All of these opportunities are being missed. Even Rosetta Stone, who have the most recognizable name in language learning, usually only offer their entry-level product, and for only a handful of these peripheral languages. Meanwhile they offer as many as five lesson levels for popular languages like Spanish.
My point is this: The motives are clear. These companies (or at least most of them) are not making these products because of their passion for helping you learn; they are making their products because they want your money. And that is the fundamental reason why bloggers like me spend so much time recommending alternative ways to learn.
Don’t waste your money on products that don’t have your best interests at heart. If you’re going to spend your money, spend it wisely. Find companies and people who are passionate about helping you. Use products that are designed with your best interests in mind. In fact, you might be surprised: some of the best products cost very little, and many are free!