How To Learn A Language Without Buying Any Products

avatarMille Larsen
6 mins read

Judging by the number of page views and retweets I've had, this year's exciting new plan for language-learning has got a lot of people interested! However, judging by many of the comments and emails I've received, I haven't done a good enough job of explaining my intentions and my purpose. I will try to clear that up today.

Challenging assumptions

The first, most important aspect of this year's new strategy is that it challenges the popular assumptions. I think today's assumptions are mostly based on a capitalist society, and that they have very little to do with how actual learning takes place.

When faced with the task of learning a language, most people begin in a book store. Perhaps you start with a phrasebook, or maybe you jump right into a 40-lesson self-guided instruction book with an accompanying CD pasted to the back page.

There are a lot of common thoughts on this: "you need something with audio included", or "it needs to be conversation-based", or "it should explain the grammar clearly", etc. But nobody ever questions the need for the product. We all just quietly assume and accept that buying a language-learning product is a benefit.

It's common sense, right? How could that product possibly be a bad thing? But if you're truly honest with yourself, you can see that it could be a bad thing! It might, or it might not. Anything can be bad! We shouldn't just assume all products are helpful.

So this year, I'm going to attempt to turn language learning on its head, by not just learning a language in one year, but by doing it in one year without any of those products.


I want to be very clear about the fact that my goal is, first and foremost, to learn to speak Turkish. I fully intend to be a fluent speaker of Turkish in December, just as I was with Italian last year.

Therefore, when discussing the "rules", it is important to remember that this isn't some "game", and these rules were not constructed for the purpose of making this more interesting or more challenging for me — my goal is not failure!

The point of this experiment is to turn the assumptions of language-learning upside down, and to prove to you that you don't need all those things you buy, and they might even be holding you back. All you really need is a desire to learn, some curiosity, and some practice.

So, the rules are as follows:

I will not purchase any product designed or marketed to teach language. In other words, no Living Language, no Teach Yourself, no Colloquial, no Pimsleur, no Learn in Your Car, no Michael Thomas, no Berlitz, no Rosetta Stone, no Fluenz, no For Dummies.

I will not use any online products designed or marketed for the purpose of teaching language. No Busuu, no LiveMocha, no LingQ, no Mango, no Foreign Service Institute. On this point I want to be clear, however, that I will use Lang-8, which is not a product designed or marketed for the purpose of teaching me language, but rather as a way for me to practice using the language.

Also, regarding human interaction, I will not use any instructors or tutors. No classes. No teachers. No tutors. If someone corrects a mistake, good. That's what friends do! But I will not be hiring, bartering for, or accepting for free, any formal language instruction.

This is, of course, all an extension of a theme from last year, I will not be studying or using any "tools" intended to assist the study of language. No flashcards, no word lists, no grammar books, no Anki, no Byki, no SRS, no "Post-it" notes all over the house.

There's still plenty left on the table. I will be using Google, including Google Translate. I will be using dictionaries, including WordReference.


You may think this experiment sounds difficult, challenging, even crazy. But I think it's going to give me an advantage! Yes, you read that correctly. I actually believe that spending a year learning to speak Turkish without all of these things is going to make me a better speaker!

When you study, you fill your short-term memory with facts. You can remember, use, and recall those things for a short time but eventually they slip out of your mind. An emotional trigger is required in order for your brain to move short-term information into long-term memory... and for most people the only emotional trigger they know is boring, tedious study! You study until the point where frustration triggers that memory and now you've learned the material, but it will always be colored by this negativity!

By learning without study, I am left only with the using the language to learn it. And when you use it, you provide more opportunity to connect with it emotionally. When I see something scary, hear something sad, read something funny, I will make emotional connections with those words and I believe I will learn them faster, and remember them better, than I ever did with any study or learning materials.

Moreover, I expect to spend as close to nothing as possible on the task of learning Turkish this year. Every penny I save from the process of learning the language is another penny I can spend next year on the process of using the language while I travel!

And finally, it bears repeating, that I expect this to be successful, and to prove to everyone how much of a waste of time and money current language-learning products and programs are.