Should you pay for your language learning? Even to this day, both students and second-language speakers are divided on the answer. Some say you are better off paying for structured, pre-planned lessons, while others swear there’s enough free material out there for anyone who’s genuinely motivated. As with many questions that have competing valid arguments, the correct answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Free Language Learning
I can understand the argument for using free materials. The web really is filled with tons of useful resources that any language learner, whether you’re studying Chinese, French, or Spanish, can put to use right this minute to help achieve their language acquisition goals.
If you’re willing to take the time to find the right information and separate the wheat from the chaff, you can come up with enough quality material to last you from beginner to advanced stages. And all of it without having to pay a single cent for the actual information.
Right now, there are tons of websites dedicated to curating freely-available language resources. From free books to free videos to free lessons to free flashcards, there are literally places in the web where you can get them in bulk. Plus, there are tons of blogs by language learners that discuss strategies and approaches for successful language acquisition.
There are also a lot of forums where language learners congregate, sharing materials, ideas and experiences. Find a few forums whose general demographic you can relate with, join them and participate — more than the information, you can meet some online friends that can help you in your language learning efforts.
Even websites that aren’t strictly language-focused can be helpful. YouTube, for instance, is filled with videos aimed at language students, as well as foreign language videos with subtitles that you can use as secondary learning sources.
Problems With Free Language Learning
Basically, if you’re willing to spend the time digging through the vastness of the web, you’re going to turn up some very useful language resources. Of course, organizing them into a structure that you can actually use on a day-to-day basis is a whole other story.
And those things above are my main concerns. One, you’re going to have to go through a lot of crap to find the gold. Not everyone has the time, nor the patience, for that. Two, you have to be fully self-reliant in that you can figure out how to use all that material properly without having it overwhelm you completely. If you’ve ever tried collecting free research sources for study for any skill, you know just how hellish that whole process could be.
The Value Of Time
Both of these problems can end up costing you time — a lot of it. The money you spend today can be made back tomorrow. The time you lose, on the other hand, is gone forever. Are you really willing to waste hours, days and weeks just to save a couple hundred dollars?
Before you decide to go the free route, map out a plan. Try to get a rough estimate of how much time you’ll need to spend digging through information, identifying what’s usable, scanning through each material and creating lesson plans to give your lessons a little structure. Once you come to a realistic estimate of the time it will take, you’ll often realize just how much more work going free will require.
On Your Own
Using free language learning resources, you’re left to your own devices. If you enjoy the solitude (a lot of people do), that could be a positive. However, it also means you will lack valuable feedback, unless you manage getting that, too.
If you thought using a language software was solitary, doing things for free is even more so. Most language products come with private forums for customers, where both students and representatives of the company can interact to help learners who use the product make the most of it. While free products can have that, too, they’re rarely organized, if at all useful.
More Skills To Master
Doing things the free route usually means more than just brushing up on language skills. Instead, it requires a working level in a few more:
1. You’ll need to flex your research muscles to find good material.
2. You’ll need to study different approaches to language learning that you can pattern your own lessons from.
3. You need to go into teacher mode, designing your own learning plans and lesson structure.
4. You need to define your own measuring sticks as to your proficiency.
5. You need to create and manage a feedback system, whether this be people you talk with in real life or people you interact with over the internet.
Paid Language Resources
When you enroll in a language classroom, book time with a tutor or use a language software, the problems of doing things on your own go away. You don’t waste time scouring the internet for material and making sense of how to correctly organize it. Instead, you just follow the lesson plan and work hard through it — no time lost.
I’m not saying paid language lessons are the best route for everyone. There are, probably, people out there for whom using free resources will work better. However, I doubt they’re that common. I like using college courses as an analogy. Say, you want to learn discrete mathematics before the end of the year and you want to make sure that it really happens. Would you do it by enrolling in a class, get a textbook or going to Google? All three are valid, but only the first two can guarantee that you have the right resources to learn things.
Should You Or Should You Not?
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. If you value the couple of hundred dollars you’ll save, then use the free resources available to you. If you value the time you won’t waste dealing with the non-language stuff, then pay for lessons. Both are equally valid routes.
If you do go with the free route, always remember that paid lessons will always be available, in case that doesn’t work out. Usually, you’ll have an inkling early on anyway on whether things are working out. If it’s not, don’t force things. Cut your losses and invest in an affordable language software.