Return on Investment: Language Learning Efficiency has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel.  The original video was published on May 10, 2013


Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today I want to talk about return on investment or efficiency in language learning. What do I mean by return on investment? Well, when we learn a language, we invest mostly time and money. We also invest our passion, our feelings and a sense of commitment and so forth, but those are harder to measure. If we look at money and time, let me show you where I get the best return on investment.


Let’s take Romanian because that’s the most recent language that I’ve decided to learn which I started up on about five weeks ago. At first, we had no Romanian at LingQ. I went out and bought Pimsleur. It cost me $25 or $30. I listened to it once. So while I have said that I think it’s a good icebreaker into the language, I can’t listen to it again because there’s too much English. I don’t like being prompted to speak. I didn’t learn all the words that are in that first Pimsleur recording, but I’m not interested in going over and over and over the same questions about do I want to eat, do I want to drink, do I understand Romanian and so forth. To me, that’s a relatively poor return on investment. It becomes a much better return on investment if you borrow it from the library.


Now, the second thing I did was I found I had an old copy of Teach Yourself kicking around without a CD, so I started reading through that. Then I went to the library and borrowed Teach Yourself with the CD, so I was able to listen and read. Again, the CDs I only listened to once because, again, there’s English on them. The book, however, is quite useful. There’s a better return on the investment in the book because I am constantly referring back to the book and I’ll explain why in a second.


The third thing I did is I went on the Internet and I saw that there was a thing called Complete Romanian available on Amazon, so I ordered it. It’s also from Teach Yourself. I believe that with these starter books, it’s actually quite a good return on investment to cover the same material from different angles. So I thought this would be a different book, but much to my disappointment, I discovered what Teach Yourself markets as Complete Romanian is absolutely identical to what they call Teach Yourself.  So now I’ve paid, again, for something that I already had. That is, I had the book and the CDs I could get from the library. I’ve returned them, I don’t need them anymore. So that was kind of a waste of money.


But the reason why these little books are quite handy is that, first of all, you have the little dialogues which after a while get a bit tiring, but they do have a number of grammatical explanations with lots of examples and I find myself constantly reading these examples and picking up on stuff. The other useful thing in these is you can go to the back of the book and there they have the answers to the questions.


Now, I don’t do the questions because I just don’t like doing them and I’m not convinced that it’s that useful to be forcing my brain to try to remember stuff, but here you can see the answers to questions. So, typically, it will deal with one issue, pronouns or a certain tense or something. Again, you’ll get 10 examples of that in use. Of course you think they’re making an impact on you when you’re looking at them, but you very quickly forget them and so it’s useful to go back and look at them again.


So I find that having some kind of a starter book is a good return on investment. Whether it be Teach Yourself, Pimsleur, whatever your preference is, some kind of a starter book that you can constantly refer back to. Not that you remember the explanations, but it helps you, again, to notice the language better. So I think this is a good return on investment.


So return on investment, computer, absolutely, mp3 player, absolutely. For Romanian I went to Elance, as I’ve said, which is this website for outsourcing and I found people in Romania who would record these 150 example sentences of some of the more common patterns of what I want to say in Romanian, ‘why’, ‘because’, ‘when’, ‘therefore’, ‘would’, ‘should’, ‘could’, all the different types of things you’re going to come across. I got a whole bunch of these translated into Romanian and recorded for me, so I was spending a fair amount of time listening to these simple sentences that illustrate the basic patterns of the language.


Now, that’s pretty expensive to do. That’s quite expensive to do. It becomes more cost effective if I can share these with other learners, for example, at LingQ if we had a lot of people studying Romanian, which we don’t. Although, I have put these up on LingQ as lessons and they’ve been studied by 25-30 different people and, again, on LingQ I will eventually get points. Every month that people are using these, I get points which I can use for learning other languages. So, to that extent, that investment I can amortize by having other people also share in them. So that was effective.


Steve Kaufmann


The other thing I did was I found Radio Romania which has excellent podcasts, both the daily news as well as podcasts on history. So again through Elance, I got some Romanians to help me transcribe these so that I could read them and have a better chance of understanding them and, again, import them into LingQ and save them and so forth and so on. Again, that’s not cheap. Of the 15-20 different quotes I got, the cheapest was $15 per audio hour. Then when they did it they found that it was just too difficult to do. You really have to find someone who’s an expert transcriber who can do it very quickly, which is what we do for some other languages where we have people who are very good and who charge us quite reasonable rates for transcribing.


Here again, because I don’t have permission from Radio Romania to share these in our library, even assuming that there are people who want to study them at LingQ, I can’t share them so I can’t amortize my cost. What I’ve now found is that on the Radio Romania website, if I poke around, I can find bits and pieces that are transcribed and so I just use those and hope that what I’m listening to, eventually, I’ll find something that has actually been transcribed. So, again, the return on investment in doing those kinds of things, where you’re getting people to record things for you or transcribe things for you, is better if you have a lot of people sharing in that.


Also, things to invest in, obviously, you’ve got an mp3 player. I have several on the go. I’ve got my little Nano, which is the latest one, but I also have my older Nano and this has the advantage that I can put it in a dock so that if I’m exercising I don’t have to wear my earphones. I’m not convinced that wearing earphones all the time is so good for you. These are the ones I use when I go jogging. At one point I had the kind that plug right into your ear, but I find them not very good for me ear. I think one has to be a little bit careful about how often you have stuff plugged into your ear.


Then I went out and got these Bluetooth. It’s about $70, it’s an expensive set. Extremely comfortable and I think that’s important. The sound quality is very good. It’s a Bluetooth earphone thing and, therefore, I don’t get my wires snagged. Like if I’m doing the dishes, every time I turn around if I have my headphone on it will snare on one of the knobs or something and it goes falling to the ground, quite annoying.


So I bought those after I had these. In other words, I don’t mind investing a bit of money in good listening equipment because it’s very important to be comfortable when you’re listening and, obviously, to not do damage to your ears. I should also mention I have my iPhone or whatever people have, Blackberry, Android and, there again, that’s kind of like an extension because I can do all of my listening of mp3s on this if I want and I can also reading using iLingQ, which is our LingQ app for iPhone, iPad, which reminds me that I also have an iPad. Often, I’ll just save my links on the computer because it’s more convenient to do it that way, but then I actually read the text and point at the different words that I have saved or listen to it on my iPad.


So, all of these investments are a relatively good return on investment of money and even time. I’m not sure whether my time is best spent. I don’t spend that much time reviewing little grammar rules, patterns and examples in the grammar book because I feel that I get more out of identifying or noticing those patterns when I’m listening to interesting content. So I’m actually stealing time away from that continuous exposure and immersion to meaningful and interesting content. I’m taking time away from that to look at these rules and stuff, so I tend only to do that in short spurts. I’ll leave a book around, in the bathroom for example.


Here again, along the idea of going at things from different angles, I was sent this Romanian grammar by a friend and it’s in tremendous detail. No exercises. No drills. Thank you very much. That’s what grammar books should be. A quick explanation of the rule, this is what happens in the language, 10 examples and that’s all you need. No drills, questions, fill-in the blanks, multiple choice, you name it. This is another excellent source. This is, basically, going through the same material, the same basic patterns of the language as you find in the Teach Yourself book, but it’s another approach presented slightly differently with different examples.


Obviously, some of these tools, like the iPad, the iPhone, the mp3 player, the earphones, those you can use for a number of different languages. If you buy Teach Yourself or if you pay someone to transcribe or record things for you, then that’s for that specific language. There you want to be able to share the cost around. There are sites on the Internet like RhinoSpike where you can get stuff recorded. I think when it comes to correcting text Ling-8 does that. We at LingQ are going to significantly facilitate this whole idea of exchange of services related to language learning. You can look for that. Within the next three-four weeks that will be happening at LingQ. I think, to the extent that people can help each other, that’s a great return on time and on money.


You take all of that, between the iPad, iPhone, earphones and getting people to do stuff, you’re up to $1,000, not all of which is specific to that one language. Now you compare that to people who come to Vancouver, for example, to learn English. Oh, one thing I also do is I have a couple of tutors. I have two Romanian tutors. I do a half hour on Tuesday with one and a half hour on Thursday with the same person and then I do another a half hour with another tutor on Tuesday and on Thursday, one at 8:00 o’clock in the morning, one at 11:00 o’clock in the morning. So, I’m getting in, basically, two hours a week of interaction with a tutor, which again costs money, but if you compare all of that to going to a school, for example, people who come to Vancouver. They have to come here, they have to stay with a host family, there’s $1,000 bucks a month or whatever it is. Then they go to school, there’s another $1,000 bucks a month.


The reality of language learning is that it takes time and so whether you’re going to a class or not going to a class, it’s still going to take a lot of time. I doubt that if I had gone to a Romanian class and spent whatever, $1,000, $1,500, $2,000 a month, I don’t think I would have learned any faster than I’m learning now. When you’re learning on your own using these resources, you go to the grammar book when you feel like it. You listen to what you feel like listening to when you feel like doing it. You’re more mobile, independent, and I think you learn just as fast or faster.


I mean I have a total of, basically, two hours, which I can step up to three hours a week of intensive one on one with my Romanian tutor and who uses the LingQ System. In other words, the tutor will write down 10, 15, 20 phrases that I misused. I get them and I import them as content to study within LingQ and I save the words and phrases. One of the advantages of that approach or having something like the Teach Yourself book or another grammar book around is you go back to it again and again and again so you’re not making a one-off investment.


I think in all of these investments you want to invest in things that you can go back to again and again and again. So even with the things that I’ve had transcribed or that I had recorded, I can use them again and again and again. One of the difficulties with a classroom situation is you pay every month and that’s gone. I’m not against schools because everyone has a different way of learning, but I think when it comes to a return on investment, given that it’s a long process, one should be a little careful about how you spend your money. I think everyone needs to do their own evaluation of what represents a good return on investment for them when it comes to language learning.


So there you have it, a bit of a ramble, disorganized as usual, but this time on the subject of efficiency or a return on investment in language learning. Thank you for listening.