There are just no two ways about it.
Hands down, Innovative Language is the best there is.
(Or so they say.)
For the longest time, Innovative Language has been touting itself as the “fastest, easiest and most fun” way to learn languages.
They claim that students will be speaking native-level conversation within minutes! With their powerful learning tools, clients will spend less time studying and more time actually speaking the language.
But is that true?
In this Innovative Language review, I’ll dive deep into the nuts and bolts of the language learning software and see what the fuss is all about.
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The Basics of Innovative Language
In December 2005, Innovative Language launched its first language learning program: JapanesePod101.com.
Within a year, the site garnered a membership of 10,000 active learners, signaling to founders Peter Galante, Eran Dekel and Aki Yoshikawa that they must be doing something right.
In August 2007, they launched their second language program: Korean. Over the course of a little over a decade, the company reached a cascade of milestones and achievements.
Today, Innovative Language offers 40 languages, including popular options like French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Chinese.
Innovative Language provides curated content for every type of language learner, from beginner to advanced. In fact, some courses cater to nine language levels: Introduction, Absolute Beginner, Lower Beginner, Beginner, Upper Beginner, Lower Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate and Advanced.
When you become an Innovative Language member, you receive fresh language material (audio or video) every week.
Once you join any of the language programs, you’ll automatically get free, full access to all the premium content for that language course. This unrestricted access lasts for seven days, giving you plenty of opportunities to look under the hood and take the program for a spin.
After seven days, your account automatically reverts to the “free lifetime” category, where you now have only limited access.
There are four Innovative Language subscription levels: free, basic, premium and premium plus.
With the Free membership, you no longer have all the lessons at your fingertips—you now only have the first three lessons of each series.
A Basic subscription will give you full access to the lessons, but it lacks many vocabulary learning tools you’d have with a premium membership, such as “Word Bank” and “Voice Recording Tools.”
A monthly Premium subscription will give you access to all the lessons and all the tools for that specific language course.
Premium Plus, Innovative Language’s highest-tiered subscription, gives you the chance for one-on-one training. Access to a language teacher ensures that every lesson is tailored to your needs and that a professional manages ongoing assessments of your progress. (And yes, there will be assignments!)
However, unlike other language learning programs like FluentU, languages are priced separately. So if you want to study multiple languages, say Spanish, Japanese and German, you’re going to need multiple subscriptions. That said, Innovative Language often has sales, special offers and discounts, so the amount you actually pay may vary depending on the price reductions you find.
Innovative Language Review: Is It Worth the Cost?
Now that you have a grasp on the languages and membership options, it’s time to figure out how Innovative Language actually works. Once you know about some of Innovative Language’s key features, you’ll be able to decide for yourself if the program is worth it, and which subscription tier fits your needs.
Innovative Language’s Core Features
It’s clear that Innovative Language has a huge repertoire of languages to learn, so how exactly does it teach these 40+ languages?
For starters, in your web browser, you’ll begin in the dashboard where you can find your lessons.
The dashboard: Taking control of your learning
The dashboard is pretty much the first thing you see after you set up your account. It’s the starting point of your language-learning journey. Here you’ll see options to go to “Lessons,” “Vocabulary” and “My Teacher.”
The “Lessons” section will probably be your first stop. Here you’ll find the treasure trove of content Innovative Language is famous for. Go to “Lesson Library” and you’ll have a list of topics (or “Pathways”) as well as the number of lessons under it. There will be a lot to choose from, so I recommend you sort the list according to popularity so you identify series that other language learners have found useful.
Once you’ve zeroed in on a Pathway or topic, click on it and you’ll see the full list of lessons under the category. Before starting your first lesson, don’t forget to click the “Add to Dashboard” button so the next time you log in, you can readily see the Pathway on the dashboard. (This will essentially allow you to pick up where you left off.)
Going back to the Dashboard (web version), you’ll also find the “Vocabulary” menu. This houses all the vocabulary tools I’ve already mentioned. Generally, there are two types of vocabulary aids—the ready-made ones and those that you gradually build yourself.
The “Word Bank” is one you build yourself by populating it with words as you go through the lessons, while the “Vocabulary Lists” are pre-made decks you can study immediately. “Flashcards,” on the other hand, can be both. There are pre-made decks, but you can also make your own.
“My Teacher” is another dashboard menu you’ll find. You can only use this if you’re subscribed to the Premium Plus tier of the course, which gives you access to one-on-one language lessons.
For the app interface, you’ll see similar options: “Browse Lessons,” “Newest Lessons,” “My Library” and “My Teacher.”
These sections are pretty self-explanatory. “My Library” is where your downloaded lessons are stored. Downloading content allows you to study anytime and anywhere, without being at the mercy of a Wi-Fi connection.
Anatomy of an Innovative Language Lesson
While the dashboard is incredibly thorough, the real magic happens in the lessons.
A lesson usually has five standard parts: Dialogue, Vocabulary, Lesson Notes, Lesson Transcripts and Comments. So let’s choose one and get started!
These are also present in Innovative Language’s smartphone application, but there are some differences that we’ll talk about later.
Dialogue: The heart of the lesson
Most lessons begin with two podcast hosts who’ll serve as guides. They’ll be talking to each other, introducing the dialogue and discussing the lesson. It’s kind of like listening to amped disc jockeys on your morning commute.
Of course, at the heart of any Innovative Language lesson is the sample dialogue.
One of the hosts will say, “Hey, why don’t we listen first to this conversation?” Then comes a pre-recorded dialogue.
The dialogue can be about anything. It can be about a guy talking about his family, asking another fellow about his job or making plans for the weekend. The hosts will refer to this dialogue over and over throughout the lesson, using it to show the communicative aspects of the target language. For beginner lessons, the exchanges are usually less than eight lines.
The recorded interaction between native speakers may be short and sweet, but you’ll be dealing with this material throughout the whole lesson in various ways.
The whole dialogue will then be fleshed out with the two hosts even talking about their personal experiences on the topic. For example, if the lesson is about calling for taxi service, one of the hosts might share an interesting story of when she called to be picked up at a restaurant.
Students are able to milk the dialogue for every language lesson it contains. You’ll get pronunciation practice, vocabulary, key phrases, cultural tidbits and even a shot of grammar. You’ll come out of lessons knowing the lines like the back of your hand.
You can also read the dialogue alongside listening to it. Under this menu, you can see the dialogue in the language you’re learning as well as toggle the settings to see it in English or your target language and English side-by-side.
Beside each line are two icons: the speaker icon and the microphone icon. Pressing the speaker icon will bring up the audio so you can listen to a native speaker deliver the line.
Pressing the mic icon brings up a voice recorder. Here you’ll record yourself delivering the line so you can actually compare your pronunciation with that of the native speaker.
Vocabulary: Examining the pieces of the puzzle
This section comes directly after the sample dialogue and picks out the key words and phrases from the conversation.
This time, there will be three icons beside each entry: two speaker icons and one microphone icon. The first is a microphone icon for recording, and the second is a speaker that plays the vocabulary entry at a native speed. The third icon (which is a speaker icon but with “X0.5” written below it) plays the audio at half speed, helping listeners really hear the pronunciation of the word.
At the far right of each entry, you’ll see the word “Example/s.” Clicking on this will pull down some example sentences of how the keyword can be used. (The English translations are provided, as well.)
At the bottom of the Vocabulary section are some of the study options available for you. There’s “Add to Flashcard Deck,” “Add to Word Bank,” “Slideshow” and “Take Quiz.”
Lesson notes: The road map to the language’s grammar
This section is an in-depth dive into the grammar-related topics you can learn from the conversation. If you’d like to pick up on your target language’s syntax, conjugation rules or acceptable synonyms, you’ll find it here. You’ll be taken behind the scenes and pointed to the nuances of the language.
For example, if the dialogue used adjectival agreement between the gender and number of a noun, you’d find the explanation of the rules here. This would also come with examples showing when each form is appropriate.
Lesson transcript: Reference for both podcast and dialogue
Remember the two podcast hosts who act as your guides throughout the lesson? This section is the transcript of their discussion and explanations in addition to the sample dialogue. So if your teachers/hosts speak too quickly or have thick accents, you can still follow along.
The only annoying thing about the Lesson transcript section is that Innovative Language has buried it deeper in the lesson (nearly at the end) when it would be super handy to have on hand from the very first second.
Anyway, more on my frustrations later. My advice is to proceed to this section as soon as you press “play” on the podcast.
This is also where cultural gems are hidden. Hosts often share their personal experiences as well as observations of native practices and traditions. This is where you’ll learn just how friendly Italian men can get or how warm Spanish-speaking locals are.
Comments: Interact and get support
The Comments section simply lets you feel that you aren’t alone on this journey. Yes, this is a self-paced and self-taught program, but you’re definitely not going at it alone. You’ll find kindred souls here.
The support team also shows up and posts stuff from time to time. You can pick up lessons and insights even in the Comments section as well as post your own questions.
The Smartphone Application Format
Let’s now turn to the app interface. It has both similarities and differences with the web version. Each lesson contains the: Audio, Dialog, Review, Line-by-line, Vocabulary, Expansion, Lesson notes and Lesson transcripts.
- “Audio” — This refers to the lesson itself where hosts banter and explain the lesson.
- “Dialog” — This is the short, pre-recorded dialogue/conversation that forms the basis of the whole lesson.
- “Review” — This is where you practice pronunciation. The host will prompt you to enunciate words and phrases.
- “Line-by-line” — You can practice each line of the conversation here.
- “Vocabulary” — Instead of lines, it’s the words and phrases that are highlighted in this section.
- “Expansion” — Here, you’ll have usage examples of the vocabulary taken up in the previous section.
- “Lesson notes” — Same as in the web version.
- “Lesson transcript” — Same as in the web version.
So, Is Innovative Language Actually Worth the Cost?
Of course, no language learning app or software is perfect! Let’s look at what Innovative Language does well and where it struggles in a good ol’ “Pros and Cons” list.
Pro: Focus is on the communicative approach to language learning
The folks behind Innovative Language believe that language is best learned through meaningful interactions with others. In fact, this is a core belief of the Innovative Language method. That’s why they urge you to speak in the target language from the very first lesson.
In fact, the communicative approach to language that Innovative Language uses has been shown to be more effective than traditional approaches.
Why? Because this approach is interactive in nature.
You can’t just read about a language to learn how to speak it. You have to actually practice speaking it in the context of a communicative task. For example, you may have to ask for directions to the nearest exit. Or perhaps you need to tell a native speaker that the train has already left. It doesn’t matter if your pronunciation is off-target or if your sentences violate a dozen grammar rules.
With Innovative Language, lessons’ dialogues allow students to witness authentic, meaningful interactions. By putting students in a position where they have to negotiate meaning and make inferences about the target language, Innovative Language pushes students to become more invested in the lessons.
And when Innovative Language does teach you grammar, it only does so for clarity of communication. You’ll notice that grammar is taught in the context of a communicative task or dialogue.
Pro: The lessons are practical, plentiful and relevant
When studying a language, have you ever thought, “This example sentence will never come up in real life.” Maybe the textbook is throwing you lines like “The ducks went to school” or “The blue ape ate the apple” or “The green dog jumped over the small bear.”
In this program, you’ll have practical examples that will prove useful in your regular interactions with native speakers. Lessons aren’t there for lessons’ sake, and this is the second Innovative Language core belief.
Further, with an Innovative Language course, you’ll never run out of content.
Innovative Language is one of the most prolific producers of content. Week after week, they supply you with fresh lesson material, and learners can get a free, neverending “Word of the Day” with Innovative Language.
You’ll probably notice early on that there’s a lot of material to digest. I mean, a lot! You’ll definitely have your fill of the target language and won’t come away thinking, “Is that all?”
Pro: Non-repetitive repetition is the mother of all learning
Innovative Language believes that for the lessons and insights to stick, you have to see the material repeatedly. However, they know they have to do it in interesting, non-repetitive ways so students don’t drift off.
There are around a half dozen functionalities to help students remember vocab in the target language such as flashcards, powered with Spaced Repetition System technology, a word bank and word list of the “100 Most Common Words” and “2,000 Most Common Words.”
True to tradition, lessons come at you through different modalities for maximum impact. You get a potent mix of videos, audio and text. Lessons come at you again and again, and at different angles to make ideas stick.
In essence, there’s plenty of built-in repetition. But each go-around has a different flavor to it.
Pro: Learning is on your own terms
Folks at Innovative Language make sure that students have almost complete control of the learning process. This core belief is reflected in every facet of their language courses.
You choose your own language, level and topics. Because each student learns differently, Innovative Language casts a wide net in terms of what they offer, and students can set their own pace. Further, you can go back, move forward, rewind, fast forward or pause within lessons as needed.
In fact, each Pathway has topic-related lessons, such as dining out, shopping, travel, animals or body parts. And certain lessons in Pathways can even be skipped or viewed out of order!
Innovative Language is also flexible in that you can use it on practically any device. Study on your web browser, iOS device or Android device.
Pro: Two birds with one stone (language and culture)
You can’t divorce a language from its culture, so Innovative Language has made a point of including cultural tidbits in its lessons in addition to personal experiences. This is often done through the banter between hosts as they try to deconstruct and flesh out the details of the sample conversation.
Let’s say the lesson is about meeting strangers. The hosts give you a short primer on the “dos and don’ts” between strangers in the culture, such as the cultural expectations of meeting a significant other’s family in Italy. These cultural gems are priceless because they give you an insider’s look at the traditions, beliefs and practices of a group of people.
So you really get more bang for your buck! Culture is expertly woven into your lesson and you come away appreciating more of the language because you’ve come to appreciate the people who speak it.
Con: The lessons could use much better organization
I’ve said that there’s plenty of course content to digest, right? Well, this is really a double-edged sword.
Because of the volume of content involved, you might actually be at a loss on where to start or where to go next. You can feel bombarded with so many choices and end up indecisive about which Pathway to stick with.
It’s kind of like the “Netflix Effect,” when you spend more time browsing through titles than actually watching the movie. (There’s just too many to choose from!)
For example, in the Spanish program, you’ll have lessons that deal with elements of Peruvian Spanish, Puerto Rican Spanish, Mexican Spanish and European Spanish. Do you want to go through each one of them, or just one? And if just one, which one?
The lessons could use a much more instinctive organization so subscribers have an easier time choosing what to study next.
Con: The dashboard could benefit from more purposeful design
I have no beef with the app—I think it’s organized and designed pretty decently. The issue is the web version.
The dashboard is the first thing a student sees, so it’s important that it be visually appealing. It should be easy to follow, and your eyes should automatically be drawn to the most important elements of the page.
Unfortunately, nothing stands out and everything seems flat. Nothing about the design jumps out and says, “Boy, you’re going to have an awesome experience learning Chinese!”
This isn’t just for aesthetic reasons. If a student is supposed to spend hours and hours studying content, it would be much easier for them if the web interface possessed an inspired and inspiring design. It really affects motivation and engagement.
Con: The quality across language programs isn’t consistent
To be fair, this is one of those things that’s very difficult to pull off for many language learning programs, but it just really needs to be said: learning certain languages with Innovative Language is better than learning others.
The language learning software does relatively well with many common European languages, but it’s hit or miss with the lesser studied languages. For example, there’s plenty of room for improvement with their Vietnamese and Arabic programs. The development team needs to put all the languages on equal footing so that each becomes an excellent language program in its own right.
The good news? All of Innovative Language’s programs are continually being updated and improved. So hopefully, all the language programs will be amazing over time!
Con: Lessons could be bolstered by more engaging videos
In my opinion, Innovative Language relies too much on audio material and podcasts.
Don’t get me wrong, the listening material is great. But the language learning software could be made even better with more video content.
Innovative Language does provide the occasional video, but these videos are tutorial-style videos as if the learner is attending a lecture. If Innovative Language put time into developing even more content, I think their videos could make them one of the most effective resources for language learning out there.
Students can achieve so much by watching videos! A video stimulates multiple parts of the brain, making the content more vivid and memorable. Watching someone speak in a foreign language can make it a thousand times easier to understand them, so this would be particularly helpful for beginners who struggle to comprehend listening material.
Besides, I’m not just talking any video: Innovative Language could capitalize on some actual native content to assist with their communicative learning approach. It would also really be cool if students actually get to see the faces of their hosts or teachers.
While I may be biased in saying this, I think that complementing Innovative Language with a program that uses actual native video content would make for a killer combination. If you agree, then you’ll love learning with FluentU!
FluentU shares a lot of features with Innovative Language, so you could use it as a supplemental resource.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
After all is said and done, is Innovative Language worth the tab? I would say yes! And if you bring in additional resources like FluentU, you have great potential to become fluent.
Of course, the volume of content alone from Innovative Language will give you your money’s worth.
But keep this in mind: When you subscribe to a language program, you get out what you put in.
There are no shortcuts to becoming fluent in a language. You have to do all the leg work. And you know what they say… “Don’t skip leg day!”
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.