by Simon Ager
In October 2011 I was asked to review of the website
was given free access to all the courses on the site. I
chose to have a go at Russian because I'd like to be able
to speak it, and I have only learnt a little of it before.
I decided to focus on learning Russian during November and
December 2011 using mainly Language101, but also some other
online and offline material, and by listening to Russian
language radio every day.
Details of the course
Language101 was set up by Brent Van Arsdell in 2007 and is designed to
be an effective and fun way to learn languages online. It uses an SRS (Spaced
Repetition System) to teach words and phrases in
Irish (Gaelic) and
The amount of material for each language is different - for example
there are currently 66 lessons for Spanish, 48 for French, 42 for
Russian and just 10 for Irish and 2 for Danish.
Each lessons consists of a short conversation, or series of phrases
or words, or a song or a poem. The basic lessons include such conversational
phrases as 'Hello', 'How are you?' and 'What's your name?'.
Other lessons might teach you numbers, colours, dates, or focus
on a particular situation, such as getting directions, shopping,
staying in a hotel, eating out, and so on. You can listen to the
all of the material together in some cases, or to each bit separately.
The recordings, which are made by native speakers, are available at
normal speed and slowly with each word pronounced separately.
There is a dictionary feature which includes translations
and examples of usage - words in blue are included in the
dictionary. You can add any of the words you look up to
your study plan, which means they'll appear when you're
using the SRS.
The SRS tests you on the words and phrases by giving you them
in English and asking for the equivalent in the language
you're learning. You try to say the phrase then click
on the 'I've tried' button, or you can click on the
'I don't know' button if you don't know it or can't
The blue bar across the bottom is a 15 second timer that
encourages you to answer as quickly as you can, though
you can ignore this.
Once you're tried or failed to say the phrase,
you can hear it spoken and see it written, and assess
how well you know it - the options are Wrong, Some mistakes,
Shaky, Good and Perfect.
Next you can listen to the phrase again as many times as
you like before moving on to the next one. A literal word-by-word
translation is also given of each phrase. This shows you the
structure and word order, and gives you an idea of how the
As well as the lessons, Language101
includes guidelines on how to use the site, and a number of
articles which provide advice on language learning.
The Russian course also includes a lesson on the Cyrillic
alphabet which shows you the printed form of each letter
and the pronounciation.
If you complete all three levels of a language, which can
take between three to six months, depending on how much and
how often you study,
The system seems to work well for me, and there is a good
selection of lessons for most of the languages covering practical
and useful words and phrases, as well as some songs and poems -
a feature that particuarly appeals to me.
Another feature that is very useful is that you can
listen to phrases at slow speed with each word pronounced
clearly and separately. When learning a new language
it can be difficult to hear the individual words, at
least until you've had plenty of practice listening to
the language, so being able to hear the individual words
The courses don't teach you grammar overtly, but the
literal translations do give you a basic idea of how the
words go together, and of some other aspects of the grammar.
This is an online course which can only be accessed via
a computer, smart phone or other internet-enabled device.
So it's not ideal if your connection to the web is
How much does it cost?
You can get access for all the lessons at all levels
for US$727. For US$527 you get levels 1, 2, and 3 for
one language. You get two levels (1 and 2) for one
language for US$377, and one level for one language
The prices for a single language are simliar to those for
Rosetta Stone, but Language101 seems to be much more effective course
that covers a lot more material that you can use in ordinary
Do I recommend it?
I have found it useful so far. This is the first
time I've managed to continue using a spaced repetition system
for more than a few days, and it seems to work well, especially
if you study every day.
About the author
This Language 101 review is brought to you by Simon Ager, the
author of Omniglot and who has
studied quite a few languages. He speaks five of them fluently,
can get by in six others, and has a basic knowledge of seven more.
Russian pages on Omniglot