One of the questions I get often is whether or not Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Pimsleur, Frantastique, et. al, are worth the money. I know, because I browse a lot of forums and answer your lovely reader emails.
The thing that bothers me is how people always ask the question:
Is Babbel worth $8/month, is Frantastique worth $20/month, and is Rosetta Stone worth the several hundred dollar sticker price?
Yes and no.
I’ve spent my money on my fair share of stupid things and I would say that all of those programs are viable investments towards your future. If you’re motivated enough and care about attaining French skills then $20/month is a small price to pay. I attended hour-long events that cost more… I even tutored individuals in French at a similar hourly rate.
“But John, couldn’t you learn French without using these programs? There certainly must be ways to learn French for free!”
You could go to Paris right now and sit at a bar. The bartender will ask you in French, “what would you like to drink,” and you can respond.
That’s free practice.
You can open up your internet browser and go to one of the French websites I visit everyday. There are funny articles and videos just waiting for you.
That’s free practice.
Or you can do what I’ve done countless times:
Take the TGV from Lyon to Paris and talk to a stranger on the train, in French, for 3 hours straight. Order a blablacar from Lyon to Montpellier and chat with cute French girls the entire trip down.
That offered me great practice.
“So then why should I pay for language learning software?” you’d ask me.
Well, could you hold a 3-hour conversation if you tried?
Let me paint a picture for you.
The bartender, bus driver, cute French girl, and grocery store clerk aren’t talking to you to help you learn a language. They are talking to you in an effort to communicate. That’s what living in France is about. Now while you may cross the occasional person who’ll help you with your struggling French, the majority of people just want to deal with you and then go back to watching Netflix.
On the other end, you’ll find French teachers and language learning programs. These resources literally EXIST to oversee your improvement. They want to see you succeed because a tiny bit of that success carries on to their own reputation. They want to see you succeed because they love the French language. They want to see you succeed because they understand how knowing a second language can change your life.
It’s the job of language software or a French teacher to help you improve your skills. Because if they don’t – well they go out of business.
That handsome French guy or cute French girl sitting across the night club has no interest in explaining complex grammar rules. Nor do they want to sit down with you as you practice key vocabulary. Sorry to break it to you.
(They may want to do other things behind closed doors though.)
So yes, immersing yourself in France is an amazing way to build your French skills rapidly! But like I explained in my book, you can be immersed in a language and still not understand anything. My grandmother is a prime example – she’s been coming to the United States for the past 20+ years and she still speaks very little English.
You need that little tug in the right direction: a grammar book, a French course, software, or even just a dedicated tutor. These are tools that can help you succeed.
So which software is the best?
All the big names have features that work for some. It’s honestly personal preference and budget that come into play.
The real issue with software isn’t whether or not it’s worth your money but rather your time. Could you be spending time studying in a more effective manner? This is known as opportunity cost. To some people, DuoLingo offers a great amount of instruction for free while others could find it as a waste of time.
Another problem with software is that no matter HOW good it is… it won’t help you if you’re not motivated enough to use it.
I never expected to get philosophical but I acknowledge that life on this planet is rather short. You have 60 – 80 years (give or take) to enjoy everything our current world has to offer.
If learning French is one of those things you want to do and it’s a passion for you… I guarantee that you’ll learn it. Because motivation is a powerful driving factor. It has built empires, forged businesses, and has helped our species survive.
If you don’t have motivation to learn French then language learning software is NEVER worth it. No amount of features in the software will magically transform you into a pro. Just hit the backspace button now.
If you have the motivation to learn French then you’ll find a way. I guarantee it. I never expected to become fluent in French when I started back in 2004 and since then I’ve come a long way.
It’s a dream come true.
So in summary:
No amount of software created me to become a French speaker. It’s always a combination of things. A mélange of courage, confidence, and awesome mentors all molded me into the French learner that I am today.