3 Steps To Choose Self-study Language Programs

language programs logo


If you have read some reviews about a particular self-study language program, you may see that:

There are some particular points where most people agree with each other. In this case you should take these points into account when deciding on a program to learn from.

At other points people’s opinions can be very different. One review may even conflict with another. When I read these reviews, I was confused; I did not know who was right and who was wrong. However, after thinking deeply, I figured out the reasons for those contrasts. I think there are two basic reasons:

Reason 1: a mismatch between what a language teaching company offers and what a learner wants to get

  • Each person has his/her own goal and is suited to a particular instruction type in language learning. (For further explanation, I call this information “A”)
  • Each program was designed for a particular type of learner. It uses a different teaching approach and intends to help learners to achieve particular levels in particular language skills. (I call this information “B”)

If John chooses a program where the “B” information matches with his “A” information, he has a high chance to succeed. In this case if John writes a review, it will likely be a positive one. John is enthusiastic and may recommend it to all other learners. However, it is not certain that you can repeat his success, because your “A” information may be different from his “A” information and thus different from the program’s “B” information. The program is not suitable for you.

If John chooses a program where its “B” information does not match with his “A” information, he may struggle with it. In this case if John writes a review, it likely be a negative one. John will recommend for people not to use it. However, you may still succeed with the program, because your “A” information may be different from his “A” information and thus match with the program’s “B” information. The program is suitable for you.

Reason 2: dishonest reviews

Language program publishers often pay commission for people who advertise their products through website ads, reviews (such as my website), and some other forms. Some companies pay higher commission rates than others. Therefore, some people try to promote products which give them higher commissions and do not care about the real quality of the program. In fact some exaggerate with the purpose to get money from the review’s readers.

Therefore, to have a good decision when choosing a program, you should determine your own goal, figure out your learning preference (“A” information) and do some research to collect “B” information, and also avoid dishonest reviews.

I have been working on langreviews.com in the last 3 months to give you the B information of some programs, which are either most popular or generally considered to be most effective. I try to provide the information as completely and accurately as I can.

In detail, I suggest you follow these 3 steps when choosing a program:


Step 1: understand yourself

a. Determine your learning goal

b. Think about your learning preference

Prof. Alexander Arguelles suggest that we can divide learners into three basic categories

  1. People who prefer the learning-by-doing approach. They like short explanations and want to apply the knowledge they received immediately into speaking practical phrases.
  2. People who like to observe the language to discover it themselves before receiving detailed explanations.
  3. People who like many explanations and grammatical rules given so that they can have a systematic view first.

Step 2: understand the programs

This step includes 3 small steps.

Firstly, read the introductions on official websites or on the printed books

Be careful of marketing hypes. Many marketers in the self-study language program market, even in reliable companies, are either aggressive to get you buy or lack information about the program or both, therefore the advertising words may contain wrong or exaggerated information.

Secondly, try the program for a while

There are some ways to do so:

  • Try the free trial offer (if available)
  • Invest a small amount of money on the introductory package
  • Try it in your local library (if available)

For audio-based courses like Pimsleur or Michel Thomas you can get the introductory package for free from this Amazon Audible site. (Registration required)

Thirdly, read reviews

As I mentioned before, when reading reviews, it’s important to know why people write the way they write. You should know a little about their background information, their language learning goals, their learning style.

To write this website, I frequently refer to review articles in these websites:

1. Prof. Alexander Arguelles website and Youtube channel

Prof. Arguelles is an expert on language acquisition. He is also a well known polyglot, who has learned more than 50 languages and fluent (speaking, reading, writing) around 10 of them. His words are trusted by other experienced language learners.

2. Ellen Jovin blog

Ellen is a freelance writer, a communication skill coach, and a language lover.

From 2009, she began a “language project”, in which her goal is to learn as much as she could of many languages spoken around New York City, her hometown.

3. How-to-learn-any-language.com forum

It is one of the most reliable forums for language learners. The forum members are amazing. Some of them know 3, 4, 5 or even 10 languages.

Step 3: decide

After doing step 1 and 2 for several programs, I hope you find a program that sounds like it is the best fit for you.

Let’s consider one more thing: the cost. As you can see the prices vary between different programs. Some may be cheaper than others. Some may be more expensive. Despite that there is one point where most polyglots agree with each other. It is that investing their time and money on self-study programs is one of the best investments they have made in life. The reason is if you work hard on a suitable program, the result will usually be great. If a program sounds expensive, but your gut tells that if you work hard, you are going to be successful, then just go with it.

Whichever program you choose, use it the right way and try to get the most out of it. Even in cases where you work on a program that is generally considered to be ineffective, if you work hard you can still succeed.


1. Make sure you choose the right dialect/accent

For example, Chinese has several dialects. The two most popular are Mandarin and Cantonese. Their writing systems are almost the same, but their pronunciations are totally different.

There are several kinds of Arabic such as the Eastern Arabic, the Egyptian Arabic, and the Modern Standard Arabic. Choose a course that suit to your need.

2. The best course for travelers

If you learn languages for traveling purposes (short trips or even stay in the country for a couple of months) then Pimsleur is likely to be your best match despite whatever learner type you are.

3. A suggestion about choosing materials to help you go to advanced levels

If you want to go to advanced levels or even fluency, then speaking practice with teachers or native speakers is a must. However, self-study alone can guide you to upper-intermediate level. Prof. Alexander Arguelles, in one of his videos, suggest that you can do so by working through a set of 5 or 6 different teaching manuals.

(You should follow the order of these materials)

For people who has a learning-by-doing mind

  • Work first and foremost through a full scale Pimsleur‘s type course if that exists to give you some familiarity with the contemporary spoken sound of the language.
  • A Foreign Service Institute (FSI) type full pattern-drill style manual.
  • Bird’s-eye overview type grammar book to make sure that there were no loose points.
  • Take another shorter style of the same pattern-drill type.
  • An Assimil type annotated textbook to make sure that you had everything internalized before you actually go and activate the language.

For people who prefer to learn by doing observation

  • One or two Assimil type manual(s).
  • One comprehensive grammar translation style manual to make sure everything had gelled completely.
  • A FSI type manual of drills to go specifically to those areas that are difficult and problematic for you and iron them out by working that way.

For primarily analytical, logical minds that would work best by explanations

  • A short overview-type grammar, a bird’s eye grammar that will give you an overview of what you’re going to see.
  • Two different thorough and comprehensive grammar translation type teaching manuals.
  • The observation type manuals (such as Assimil or Linguaphone) that you could use precisely because it’s annotated as a sort of a test to see how much you have integrated from the explanatory style learning that you have done.
  • There are always going to be some particularly sticky hard points that you need to iron out. Then use a pattern drill type manual to make them a bit smoother.

He also suggest that:

“for all of these methods if you have any degree of anxiety or fear about learning a language in the first place you might do well to begin with a different kind of method altogether, one of these Michel Thomas type audio methods that would get you a bit familiar and comfortable with the language”




    • Bao Kieu

      Thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate it.

      Below is what they sent me when they removed one of my post (I had not noticed this email and kept posting around 3-4 more links, then they terminated my account):

      “Good morning,
      recently one of the moderators had to remove a promotional message you posted on the forum at How-to-learn-any-language.com.
      Our forum rules do not accept messages, posts or threads that promote websites or products. This includes including non-commercial, pimp-the-link, drop-my-url-and-go messages. This is a policy and does not reflect on the quality of your website, the truth of your heart or the nature of your motivations. We remove links to hobby and non-profit websites every day unless they are posted by long-standing forum members with a history of meaningful participation to our discussions other than just registering and account, dropping a link to one’s own website and leaving. While this can sound harsh, our policy enables us to keep a clean, legible forum However, if you are selling language-related products or services, we will gladly offer you a SPONSORED LINK or banner for a reasonable cost. Our forum has more than 10 million page views a year (source: Google Analytics), all by people who try to learn foreign languages on their own. If you want to know more please contact the owner at Francois.Micheloud@micheloud.com or call +41 21 331 48 48.
      Thank you

      The team of how-to-learn-any-language.com”

      Now I know that they do not allow links in posts.

      Because I understand that htlal is owned by some people. I think it it their right to do that. They have to control spams, etc. It is a trade-off for them, strict control ->loose some forum members, less convenient if a person thinks a link is good and wants to post it —- but less spams.
      Although I feel that it is unfair to me, but which forum is perfect?

      Again thank you very much, I just have a look at your forum, it looks great.

  1. Adson Vidal

    Bao Kieu, i really appreciate your website, it gave me enough information for me to build my own study method.

    I’m really curious about Hugo’s Complete Series (In 3 months and Advanced books), would it be wise to expect a review from you in the upcoming months?

    And again, thank you very much for creating this wonderful website.

  2. Andy

    Hey Bao,

    I don’t know if you still check this website, but I was wondering how you’ve been doing. We used to talk on Lang-8.com but haven’t seen you on there. I was wondering what you’ve been up to.

  3. I have checked your blog and i have found some duplicate content, that’s why you don’t rank high in google, but there is a tool that can help you to create 100% unique articles, search for;
    Boorfe’s tips unlimited content

Leave a Reply