StoryLearning is a well-known language learning course developed by polyglot Olly Richards, and its approach is pretty self-explanatory: learn a language through story. The internet is chock full of five-star reviews, but is the heavy price tag worth it for you? In this StoryLearning review, that’s exactly what you’ll find out.
Keep reading this StoryLearning review to find out what these courses do, what they don’t do, and how to decide if you should give them a try.
Languages you can learn with StoryLearning
While not all languages are created equal (as in, some offer more content than others), you can use StoryLearning to learn:
- Chinese (Mandarin)
Now let’s dive into the course itself.
StoryLearning review: course structure
As you log in to your StoryLearning course for the first time, you’ll have several pages introducing you to the course, including an introduction to your language teacher (Olly does not teach the languages himself, he just hosts a platform for others to teach using his methodology) and the basic gist of what makes StoryLearning special.
Here’s a clip.
You’ll also learn more details about how you will be learning a language through story. Specifically, each chapter corresponds with a chapter of a story created just for StoryLearning. They’re all broken up into the following lessons:
- Read and listen to the chapter of the story
- Learn the cognates (words that sound similar and mean the same in English [not to be confused with false friends, which sound similar but mean very different things]) present in the chapter
- Break down vocabulary words deemed important
- Learn the basic grammar used
- Simple pronunciation lesson
- Cultural tidbit
- A speaking lesson meant for you to share with a language teacher and/or language exchange partner
Then you’ll move on to the next chapter and do it all over again until you finish the story.
The idea is that if you’re consistent, you’ll understand more and more of the language until you finish the story and have successfully reached a certain level within said language.
All that said, let’s check out a StoryLearning lesson.
The basis of every chapter of the StoryLearning courses is the chapters of the book. Here’s what that looks like.
As you can see, there’s even more explanation about how the course works before the first actual lesson.
- Listen to the audio recording a few times
- Read the foreign language translation a few times while listening to the audio recording
- Read the English translation to see how much you understood correctly
It goes on to explain (again) how to use the course; basically, be ready to repeat the same section over and over and over again, and understand little to none of it. It’s all part of the process, and it’ll work if you can stick to it.
Repetition, repetition, repetition – it’s like Pimsleur in this way, except you understand what’s going on in Pimsleur’s lessons. Here, you’re specifically meant to understand very little.
Now that we have the sounds of the chapter in our brains, and maybe we’ve even made some connections between words ourselves, it’s time to acknowledge cognates.
This is a fairly common practice across some language learning resources, like Language Transfer. Anything to make it easier to connect to languages that are very different from your native language!
At this point, you should be starting to make sense of the language. It’s kind of like the first lesson is trying to get your brain to understand it by purely brute force, and then the following lessons give you a little step up solidifying the meaning behind these new sounds.
So now that we’re understanding a bit more of the general meaning behind the chapter, let’s learn some vocab.
Even for such a short chapter, a total beginner of the language is not going to know any of the vocab presented. You might be curious as to which vocab words the teacher things are the most important to be explicitly taught. Most strategies go:
words > sentences > story
but this one seems to go:
story > words
Here’s what I mean.
Out of all the words I don’t understand in the chapter (which is all of them, for the record), these are the ones chosen to study specifically. It’s so weird to be learning “yes” and “no” after drilling the chapter of a story!
Then we have the practice. It’s a simple Quizlet plugin, where the words have been uploaded to the Quizlet platform and the link is copied and pasted into the course.
You’ll drill some chosen vocabulary by:
- matching (as shown in the video above)
- test (try to get the right answer)
Can I be honest here?
This is lazy.
For such a well-known, expensive language course, I would expect more from the vocabulary section. I can’t even get it to work! Given that it is a Quizlet plugin, I would literally rather be given the vocab words in a list and put them into my own Quizlet account, or another flashcard system.
Using the StoryLearning approach, you’re not supposed to be memorizing lists of words, which is fine. If that’s the case, why include a vocab section at all?
Next is grammar, which is also not meant to be studied like a textbook, but instead picked up naturally.
Olly is very clear that the StoryLearning approach is not your boring, basic textbook approach to a language, which is generally very focused on grammar. So, let’s see how they do it.
In this section, the specific concepts seem a lot less random.
While the strategy is the exact same one used in the previous lesson on vocabulary, the key difference here is that grammar is basically the patterns of the language. I like how the words can be pulled out of the chapter as examples of the beginner grammar pattern, which creates context and makes it much easier to learn.
It didn’t work this well for vocab, which felt like random words that were *chosen*.
However, the Quizlet activity is exactly the same. This is frustrating to me because I know there are much better options for practicing grammar! Again, I would rather be directed to high-quality grammar activities than this.
Next up: pronunciation.
I’m curious about this section because most language learners don’t worry about pronunciation. Perfect pronunciation doesn’t tend to be a priority.
Most language learners don’t realize that improving your pronunciation also improves your ability to understand a foreign language because you’re tuning your ear to understand the sounds that are used by native speakers.
StoryLearning is largely about input (understanding the language, not as much producing it yourself), and simple pronunciation lessons like this one are really helpful for listening comprehension.
The next lesson, culture, is another topic that isn’t always considered to be important.
Personally, I love culture. It tends to be one of my favorite parts of learning languages! Not always because of how it helps me to understand and use a language correctly, but just because I find it interesting.
Here’s how StoryLearning connects culture to language learning.
I’m going to be brutally honest again.
This StoryLearning review has proven this course to be dynamic, with videos, audio lessons, and activities to practice the concepts. So why is the lesson on culture…not?
Especially with the specific phrases used to explain the concept, they would be 10x more interesting and engaging with simple audio clips of the teacher saying the words and phrases. It would also really help with listening comprehension and being able to contextualize the lesson.
Time for the last section of each chapter.
Speaking is not a big priority in the StoryLearning courses. The priority is reading, maybe listening to, stories meant for language learners. So I was surprised to find a speaking section in every chapter. Here’s what that looks like.
Once again…I’d rather they stick to what they’re good at.
This isn’t speaking practice as much as it is a free lesson to give to a language teacher or language exchange partner if you’re working with one. It is a good way to connect other language learning to what you’re learning with StoryLearning, but it’s not particularly effective by itself.
So once again, I would be more impressed if they stuck with what they’re good at – stories, reading, and listening comprehension – and leave all the other stuff to other resources that are much better at them.
I’d bet good money that at least 50% of all their students are just skipping right past the speaking section, finishing their StoryLearning courses, and then being frustrated that they can’t hold a conversation.
StoryLearning review: community
As you work through the StoryLearning courses, it’s suggested you join the private student community. Like, on every page. Each language has its own community. Here’s what it’s like inside.
As you can see, each language is broken up into the following categories:
- Say hello
- The level(s) you’ve purchased
- Live coaching
- Fun & motivational stuff
But, really, it just appears to be a timeline of unanswered tech issues.
One more time: stick to what you’re good at!
Judging by the rest of the StoryLearning course, the team is perfectly good at recording lessons and putting them where they belong, but not so much at keeping things updated and engaging in conversation.
That said, is the private student community a bonus to the StoryLearning courses? I’m honestly not sure.
StoryLearning review: price
For lifetime access to any one of the StoryLearning “Uncovered” courses, you’ll pay $297. This makes these courses one of the more expensive options on the market.
That’s really all there is to say about that. They’re commonly on special sales, or at least said to be on sale, but they’re pricey regardless.
Fortunately, you can get a 7-day free trial before you commit.
StoryLearning review: is it for you?
In this StoryLearning review, I’ve been more critical than most. A big reason for this is that those who are most excited about these courses are Olly’s personal friends, which makes their reviews far from objective.
So how do you know if StoryLearning is the right approach for you to learn a language?
First: reading has to be a priority. Listening too, but mostly reading. The point is to learn a language by reading stories, so if your goal isn’t to be able to read books in your target language, you’re better off using another method.
Second: either speaking the language isn’t important to you, or you’re getting your speaking practice elsewhere, whether that be with a language teacher or a language exchange. While there is technically a section for speaking practice, it does not suffice for those who really want to be conversational.
And third: you’re patient. While StoryLearning will teach you the language, you basically have to be willing and able to trust that it’s going to happen without being able to see a lot of the progress for yourself. Now this is normal for intermediate and advanced language learners, but true beginners are likely to give up before it really pays off.
In fact, you should probably meet all 3 conditions to benefit from any of Olly Richards’ resources, even his line of Short Stories books.
If you don’t, I would recommend another language learning resource that’s more geared toward teaching the skills that matter most to you, and that’s why I created my language app search.
But if you do, give StoryLearning a shot with a 7-day free trial!