There’s plenty of language learning resources out there. But where to find honest product reviews in the age of influencer marketing?
By STEFANO LODOLA
There’s plenty of language learning resources out there: apps, books, audio courses, spaced repetition software, flashcards. Some are produced by large corporations, while others are the result of effort a small team or an individual. Many companies set up an affiliate program, by which they pay a commission to anyone who helps them sell their products.
There’s also a crowd of language gurus ranging from real polyglots to “language lovers” who run blogs to give advice on how to learn foreign languages, including which learning material to use. Some of them offer their own courses and guides, but most make money by recommending products to their followers. They must have an extremely positive view on life because, in their reviews, no product is devoid of charm and unworthy of your money. That reminds me of a travel guide I read on Lonely Planet about what turned to be an ugly city that “won’t impress you with its beauty but will still charm you” (or something like that).
I understand that commercial writers need to make money, and I don’t mind paying them to give me honest recommendations, also because their margin comes from the product provider, not as an extra fee from me. However, I wish that they did so by recommending what they really think is good.
It’s like being in a Chinese pharmacy full of obscure remedies among which there are certainly some that can cure your illness, run by someone who never takes any of those drugs and rather goes for an aspirin.
So, how to judge if a review is reliable? Having acknowledged that there’s nothing wrong with sharing profits on a good product that you sincerely endorse, affiliate links alone are not necessarily evil. And, if a product is excellent, it’s perfectly normal that its reviews are enthusiastic. That said, what is left to judge? Reviews of other products written by the same author! If to them any product is worth the money, probably they’re biased. How come that you only find reviews with ratings from 9/10 up? I’ve tried many of those products, and I wouldn’t use them even for free.
In this game of hidden interests, is there any blog or website from which you can expect an honest review?
In August 2018, I decided to launch my audio course “Ripeti con me!” on Amazon 3 months later. Since I’ve never been a social animal, I lacked any presence in the language learning online community. I knew that the claims on my website about the virtues of my product wouldn’t be convincing to the visitors and I acknowledged the need for independent reviews. Thus, I ventured to ask influential language bloggers for reviews of my product.
I sent requests to about 40 people, including names that you certainly know if you’ve ever looked for study tips to learn foreign languages. Only a handful of them took the trouble to reply. Some were not interested because they focus on other languages than Italian, others were just busy. Two were willing to do review my product, but not for free. Submitting a blog post (written by me) would cost 300€, while a review sells for 1,000$. Next time you read the review of a language learning app or course that looks like advertisement, remember that it might just be the case.
Only one showed genuine interest and volunteered to review it for free. That’s Nick Dahlhoff of All Language Resources.
With Nick, language courses aren’t roses all the way. He knows what he likes and dislikes, and doesn’t hide that in his reviews.
For example, in the title of his reviews, he candidly warns that Glossika audio courses are “overpriced”, while “Busuu isn’t worth paying”. My favorite is “Don’t Buy Rocket Chinese!” because “it’s pretty terrible”, where not only does he point out the flaws in the product, but also denounces the “high affiliate commissions which lead a lot of people to write biased reviews”, so “there’s a lot of money to be made in leading people astray”. Nick, you’re my hero!
I have used myself many of the products reviewed on All Language Resources and I generally agree with the conclusions that I read about products I have tried. Negative or mixed reviews are also useful because they come with recommendations for better alternatives, which shows that Nick is knowledgeable about the various approaches to language learning.
On ALR’s about page, Nick relates: “I started All Language Resources because I was trying to figure out which resources I should use for studying Chinese and it was far more difficult than it needed to be. There are tons of different courses, apps, podcasts, websites and so on, but it was hard to figure out which ones I should actually spend my time (and sometimes money) to use.”
“Nearly every website I came across that had reviews or recommendations felt dishonest. And, the longer I’ve been running this site, the more I realize just how shady many of these other websites can be.”
“There are lots of really cool resources for language learners online with more coming out constantly. There are also some insanely overpriced resources that aren’t as good as free alternatives. But because many people earn money by referring others to these overpriced and poor-quality resources, those are the ones that you constantly hear about.”
“Since generally reviews are made to sell and not to inform, you often end up with the vague feeling that you should try the product”
Then comes the point I made about an author’s overall product rating habits: “My goal with this site is to always recommend the best resource, regardless of whether or not I can make money from referrals. There are far too many sites that rate every resource as a 9.5/10 or higher. Thus far, after having reviewed around 50 resources, the average rating on All Language Resources is around a 7.5/10.”
Since generally reviews are made to sell and not to inform, you often end up with the vague feeling that you should try the product. Even if there’s a free trial, you still need to spend time to try it yourself. Nick also expressed frustration with inconclusive reviews: “Far too often I read an article or a review and end up learning hardly anything about what it’s like to actually use that resource. My goal is that every post on this site will be the most in-depth and honest one that you’ll find.”
I also like it that ALR’s visitors are not distracted by freebies like useless “study tips” that language gurus scatter on their pages like baits to build up mailing lists. The side column on ALR reads: “I don’t have a lame ebook to offer you. Sorry. Signup if you’d like to receive the occasional email when we find cool new resources or discounts worth knowing about.”
Next time you’re curious about the latest language app with rave reviews, check the in-depth reviews and recommendations of All Language Resources – without the BS.
As a language learner, I was raised speaking only Italian, but now I speak nine foreign languages.
As a teacher, I’ve taught Italian to adults in language schools and universities.
I’ve lectured in polyglot clubs and coached students on their way to fluency.
I’m eager to share my secrets with you.
Online Lessons Done
Rating from students