Textbook vs. Online Language Learning: Find the Best Fit for You

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

In language learning, some people embrace flexibility; others prefer structure. The best part about learning a language on your own? You can have both and reach your language learning goals, without ever stepping foot in a classroom. All you need is a trustworthy curriculum to keep you on track. 

That’s where textbooks and online platforms come in—but which one is the best choice for you? In this post, we’ll take a look at the following factors: 

  • Cost
  • Quality
  • Flexibility 
  • Access to additional resources

Let’s dive in. 

Language Textbooks

If you’re approaching learning a language on your own for the first time, your first instinct is probably to reach for a textbook. Textbooks can be pricey, but with a little creativity, you can find quality books at affordable prices. Unlike online platforms, they rely on rote and repetitive learning, and might have you working harder to fill in gaps on your own. We’ll answer your biggest questions below. 

How much do language textbooks cost? 

A new textbook can cost anywhere from $50 – $250. If the latter half of that sentence has you winded, know that textbooks at the higher end typically include online resources, including audio exercises and interactive activities. 

If you’re willing to forgo the digital add-ons, you can find new textbooks for $50 – $100. Used textbooks are also an option—check out thrift stores, garage sales, or online marketplaces to find books in the $10-$50 range. 

While older textbooks may be culturally dated (rife with 90’s hair and landlines), the fundamentals of language remain the same between textbooks. For beginners looking to improve their foundational knowledge on a budget, it’s a solid enough place to start. 

How do I find a high-quality language textbook? 

While higher prices don’t guarantee quality, it can help you filter through less effective textbooks. Every textbook boasts a slightly different approach to learning, and cheaper (likely, older) textbooks may be drier, less engaging, and more complex than they need to be. You’ll pay more for a book that can keep you tapped in and motivated to learn. 

And with self-study, that’s really half the battle: finding a curriculum—print or digital—that you can stick with for the long-term. Maybe you prefer textbooks that lean on conjugation tables (like the one in our Spanish 101 post) or books that give deep cultural context alongside language learning. The choice is yours! 

Does textbook learning fit my study routine? 

So you’re tackling a language on your own. What are you envisioning for your learning routine? If you’re eschewing the traditional classroom setting for self-study, you’re probably making that decision with flexibility in mind. We like self-study because it gives us the freedom to take our learning on-the-go, whether that’s an early-morning commute, a break between classes, or during reps at the gym. 

Textbooks aren’t as “on-the-go” ready as other options. Textbooks without an audio/digital element will be heavily focused on reading and writing, and you’ll need to be prepared to carve out study time at your desk or local library. Even if you do choose a textbook with digital add-ons, it’s unlikely that those will be available on mobile devices, and are likely much easier to access on desktop. 

Do language textbooks offer a complete curriculum? 

If you’re learning exclusively from a print textbook, you can expect to build strong reading and writing skills in a new language. Textbook learning can be dry and repetitive, but it’s effective in helping you nail down vocabulary and verb tenses through extensive exercises. 

But what about your speaking abilities? Even with an audio component (where you’ll be able to hear exercises spoken out loud by native speakers), you won’t know exactly how to improve your pronunciation. And textbook learning can make it more difficult to unlock the natural learning processes of immersion, which can help you adapt and learn during conversation. 

If you do choose the textbook route, you’ll need to be far more diligent in seeking out listening opportunities—to build your familiarity with the wide range of accents you’ll hear in your language—and speaking opportunities. Joining a virtual language learning group or finding a native speaker to coach you on your schedule are both great options! 

Online Language Learning

Like textbooks, digital language learning platforms offer a great alternative for guided self-study. With built-in audio tools, they’ll also help get you closer to perfecting your accent, while providing more nuanced opportunities for learning. Most platforms make learning on-the-go easy, so the real variations boil down to each platform’s range of features, learning approaches, and additional resources. 

How much does online language learning cost? 

Language learning platforms are all about flexibility, and pricing is no exception. Most offer limited subscriptions (for 3, 6, and 12 month periods, for example) so you can find the package that fits your needs best. 

Depending on which plan you choose, subscriptions can go for as low as $7.50/month—cheaper than your favorite streaming platform—and you can find platforms that offer lessons and audio resources for free. Free versions are great at helping you learn the fundamentals, but paid versions will typically take you farther and have you learning faster than you would with free options. 

Part of the cost of online learning platforms is the guarantee that your curriculum stays up-to-date. Whether that includes a lesson on the latest slang or a new tool to walk you through a foreign alphabet, you can be confident that you won’t miss a beat. 

How do I find a high-quality language learning platform? 

Getting started on the right foot is important for any journey—and picking the right platform can help you stay motivated to learn and become confident in your language abilities. To find the best online language learning platform for you, start by crafting your gameplan

  • What’s more important: writing or speaking? 
  • What learning approach works best for you? 
  • How far do you want to go with your learning? 
  • How quickly do you want to learn? 

If you’re a beginner learner looking to take things slow, any exposure to a language is good exposure. Basic “freemium” online learning platforms will ease you into the fundamentals, and you can firm up your learning roadmap from there. But to really start your journey on the right foot—or get you back on track—you’ll want a comprehensive tool to guide your learning and build a strong foundation. 

Rosetta Stone is the one language platform that provides a deep, multi-level course curriculum to take you well beyond the basics. It teaches through Dynamic Immersion (which experts say is the best way to learn) so that you can confidently hold conversations without blindly memorizing words or phrases. And because it taps into your innate learning abilities, you’ll be able to learn new languages faster. 

Does online language learning fit my study routine? 

Flexible learners will appreciate language learning platforms for how easy they are to use! Most platforms have mobile apps that support on-the-go learning, so you can take advantage of bite-sized lessons between classes or meetings. Rosetta Stone’s app has the same great features as its web version, including Stories and Audio Companion, that you can listen to alongside your favorite podcast. 

They also won’t require you to break out the pen and paper. Your learning happens within the app itself, and most platforms track your progress so you can go back and review the concepts you found tricky. Rosetta Stone even offers the Your Plan feature, which gives you a personalized learning plan based on your learning level and your language goals. 

Do online language learning platforms offer a complete curriculum? 

Quality language learning platforms go above and beyond course lessons. While textbooks prepare you well for reading and writing, online platforms boost your speaking abilities. Most offer built-in audio features that allow you to hear text read aloud by a native speaker, so you can get comfortable with how various accents sound.

Rosetta Stone takes it one step further. With the TruAccent speech recognition engine, you can practice your accent and get feedback in real-time! You’ll be able to hone your pronunciation from the very first lesson. 

And to get you conversation-ready, Rosetta Stone also offers a “milestone” lesson at the end of each unit. It mimics a real-world conversation, and you’ll have the opportunity to think on your feet while applying the vocabulary and grammar you’ve learned over four lessons. 

Which one will you choose? 

Now that you know the benefits of each study tool, it’s time to decide. What fits your study routine best? Are you excited for the opportunity to seek out additional resources, or would you rather have everything you need in one place? 

It’s no surprise that we prefer learning new languages on online platforms. They’re built by experts, easy to use on the go, and perfect for fine tuning accents. While textbooks are helpful, learning a new language isn’t all that useful if you can’t speak it! Online platforms can help you learn languages faster and in ways that stick, so you can feel confident in every conversation. 

Ready to start? With 25 languages to choose from, Rosetta Stone is here for you every step of the way! 

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