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"Excellent production values with an academic approach."

Living Language Review

Living Language - The ReviewLiving Language is a series older foreign language instructional courses on the market today. These courses are based on methods developed by the US Department of State to teach their diplomats before they are posted overseas. Living Language courses are invariably well regarded by their students and have a reputation for high production values.

Below I will be sharing my experience using the programs and provide an in-depth personal review of their products. Here you will find a complete overview of the range of products and courses offered by Living Language. I will explain the major advantages and disadvantages I have found working with the programs. Finally, I will provide a comparison with some other leading foreign language courses on the market and give my overall recommendations.

What Languages Are Available?

English, French, Arabic, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish.

What Type Of Courses Can Be Purchased?

There are five different packages: online course, mobile apps, the Platinum, Essential, and Complete Edition.

The Platinum Edition is the most comprehensive option on sale. When you purchase this edition you'll receive the whole package which includes three course books, nine audio CDs, apps, the online course, access to an e-tutor, and the online community. Depending on which course you are taking you may also be provided with a character guide for the alphabet.

The online course includes the same instructional material as you'll find in the Platinum pack, but you do not receive any physical products. The online course can be accessed on the internet. This is a flexible option which allows you to access the course using any device and from any location provided that you have the Internet. A typical online course will include 46 language lessons which cover grammar, vocabulary, cultural notes, and conversations. You will be provided with access to an e-tutor and the online community. Online courses also come with games and puzzles to help reinforce your study.

You can also buy a number of mobile and tablet apps in addition to any program. These enable you to study your language on the go. You can buy them directly from the iTunes store, Google Play store, or Nook app store. The apps come included if you purchase the complete Platinum course.

If you are looking for a less expensive option, you can choose the Essential components or Complete components course. A typical Essential components course will have a text-book which includes lessons, exercises, dialogues, glossary, and a grammar summary. It will also include three audio CDs and access to the online learning through the language lab. This includes flashcards, quizzes, and games. A Complete components course will include three books which cover grammar, other exercises, and nine audio CDs.

How much does it cost?

The cost will depend on which course additions you purchase and the language that you are studying. Below is a general guide to the pricing of the course options.

The Platinum Edition is usually priced at $179. Access to the online course typically costs $150. Purchasing an individual app can range from $3.99 for a single stage to $9.99 for the complete edition. An Essential components course will typically retail for about $22.99 and the Complete components course is usually $49.99.

How does it work?

All courses follow a similar approach to language teaching. This approach is called the "Living Language Method". This is not an immersive approach. At no point are you asked to simply guess what a word or phrase means. Instead you are given specific instructions and translations into English. There are four stages to the method.

  • The first stage is called building a foundation. In this stage you learn the most essential words and phrases the language you are studying. This is achieved using reading and writing exercises. You will be familiar with this method if you have ever taken a foreign language class at high school or college.
  • The second stage is called progressing with confidence. During this stage you learn how a language can be broken down into smaller pieces so that you can move from memorizing a few words to making a full sentence.
  • The third stage is retaining what you have learned. To help you achieve this you'll get involved with both audio and visual instructions. The idea is to take the material you learn in the first stage and move it to your long-term memory.
  • The fourth stage is called achieving your goals. In this stage you make sure that you aren't simply mimicking or memorising the course material. Here you learn the underlying grammar principles of the language so that you are able to converse fluently.
  • If you encounter problems with this approach, you can find help from the e-tutors or by posting a question in the community forums.


The Living Language programs have a number of advantages that set them apart from other foreign language instructional courses. Some of the best things include:

  • High quality tutoring sessions - Some people choose to purchase the Living Language courses just to get access to the tutoring sessions. For $179 you can get access to a full year's worth of tutoring. This is fantastic value and almost justifies the purchase price by itself. The tutoring sessions allow you to ask questions about the course material and review your lessons. There are plenty of classes available for you to book and you should be able to find one to meet your schedule. A class will have no more than three students attending it. This means your have plenty of time to ask any questions and to receive one-to-one attention. The classes are well organised and the tutors are usually well prepared. The e-tutoring sessions are powered by Citrix GoToMeeting, the leader in online video conferencing. In order to take advantage of the e-tutoring you'll need a high speed broadband connection and Windows XP or higher. It is also recommended that you use a USB microphone and headset for easy communication with your teacher. You don't need to have access to a webcam, as only the tutor broadcasts during the lesson.
  • Excellent reading and writing instruction - One area that Living Language really shines in is the reading and writing instruction. Some language courses neglect these areas because they can be difficult to teach effectively. This is particularly true for some of the "harder" languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. There are plenty of exercises and instructional material to ensure that students can speak, read, and write the language. In the case of non Latin based languages such as Japanese, they also provide a full character guide to help students with their studies.
  • Nice Range Of Purchasing Options - There are options to meet any budget. For students who don't want to purchase the full platinum course there's the option of the smaller essentials and complete components. Other courses, such as Pimsleur, also offer more limited versions of their full product. The difference is that these smaller products are very good courses in their own right.
  • Clear explanations of grammar principles - Some other courses use an immersive approach to language teaching. This involves learning in the same way as a child does by following the example of people around them. In contrast Living Language uses a more academic approach and provides full explanations of the grammar principles and vocabulary. People who prefer to learn the rules of a language will appreciate and enjoy this approach even more.


Living Language courses have downsides. Here are some of the major issues I have encountered with their products:

  • There's a lot of English - Given the amount of explanations of grammar concepts and vocabulary it's not surprising that there's a lot of English text to digest in the program. For the most part this is very helpful, especially with languages quite different from English such as Korean or Mandarin. But there's a danger that people will use the English texts as a crutch which could slow down their ability to learn the foreign language naturally.
  • Reading passages are often uninteresting - there's a number of reading passages which are used to illustrate grammar concepts. While these passages are useful, they can be a little boring. Slightly more interesting reading material would make the experience more immersive.
  • Flash card system is hardly engaging - The main method to teach new vocabulary is flash cards. The new word will be associated with an image on the card. When you flip the card, you need to provide a translation. If you don't know the word, it will be marked to "study", if you guess the word correctly, the marking is "mastered". The system works, but is hardly engaging.

Comparison with other courses

Each language company has its own approach to teaching foreign languages. In this section I will look at how the Living Language method and products compare with other leading companies on the market. One of the main competitors is Rosetta Stone (my review). Rosetta Stone offers quite a similar product to Living Language with many of the same features. For example, e-tutoring, an online community, and interactive conversational practise. In my opinion the content of Rosetta Stone courses tends to be a little more interesting, but overall Living Language's quality of the e-tutoring sessions provides great value.

One of the weaknesses of Living Language compared to some other programs is the audio component. When using the program you typically hear words either as a sentence or as a stand-alone word. The content does not have much context. Studies have shown that deep listening exercises with prolonged audio are an effective way of learning a new language. Two courses which do this better than Living Language are Pimsleur (my review) and Rocket Languages (my review). Pimsleur is primarily an audio-based course which requires you to listen to sentences and fill in the gaps. Rocket Languages is a multimedia course in the same way as Living Language, but has a stronger audio component. With Rocket Languages you typically listen to up to 25 minutes of continuous audio content.

The main rival to Living Language is Rocket Languages. Like Living Language, Rocket Languages offers a wide variety of foreign languages. It uses a number of the same teaching techniques including reading and writing exercises, audio listening, practice conversations, quizzes, games, and online learning. But Rocket Languages is priced at just $99 95 for access to the online courses. With a significantly lower price it's a more attractive option than Living Language. Rocket languages also provides a six-day free trial of its language courses (available here). If you're deciding between the two, I recommend that you take the free trial with Rocket before you commit to one or the other.


  • The online tutoring sessions provide good value, even though initial access is limited to one year and based on a renewal fee.
  • Reading and writing gets covered well.
  • Clear instructions and explanations on grammar and writing rules.
  • Reading lessons can be a tad boring and repetitive.
  • The flash cards system lacks volume.
  • The volume of complex instructional English texts can be difficult for foreign English speakers to understand.


Overall Living Language offers some high quality courses with excellent production value. Their system has been proven to work after more than 50 years in use. If you are willing to apply the time and effort that Living Language courses require, you'll see good results. The downside is its highly academic approach to teaching languages. If you struggled with the teaching methods used in high school or college, you may find the courses difficult to work with. As noted above, before purchasing I recommend that you take the trial version of Rocket Languages. Rocket has more enjoyable products to use and a lower price tag. If you are looking to get access to the e-tutoring classes, Living Language is an excellent choice. Otherwise I recommend trying Rocket first.