When going on the Language Transfer website for the first time, you’re greeted with a simple welcome page that understandably tells you how good it is.
Right from the get-go, things on Language Transfer feel a bit different. It doesn’t have the same polish that bigger names are able to pay for. Most other platforms tend to come across as very flashy in an attempt to get you to buy their product.
Language Transfer, on the other hand, works on donations and is completely free. To date, there are nine free courses for you to try out. These include…
All of the courses are aimed at beginners and the idea is to give you the basics of the language, stimulate your interest in it and get you to engage with the material so that you have all the necessary skills needed to continue learning whichever language you’ve chosen.
I decided to try out Swahili (which I speak) and Greek (which I don’t) to see what the audio lessons are like. I found them to be very useful and I genuinely think you will come away with everything you need to continue your language learning on your own.
The Swahili course, for instance, was very well done and at the end, you come away having learned lots of complex grammar in an easy and non-intimidating way.
Just one guy, Mihalis, creates all of the content and I was very impressed at the quality and the in-depth look he offers up of the various languages on the site.
The Language Transfer platform is very easy to use as there is just one page which hosts all of the audio files that make up each course.
The amount of material available varies depending on the language you choose. For instance, Greek and Swahili have 120 and 110 lessons respectively. Whereas others such as French, Arabic and Turkish serve more as introductions to the language with only have 40, 38 and 44 lessons available for each of those.
Some of the languages on the Language Transfer are a work in process and so more German lessons should be added to the 50 that are already on the site in the near future. Mihalis will also continue to develop new courses in the future depending on funding.
All of the lessons available on Language Transfer take the form of audio lessons. The introductory courses are meant to give you a basic understanding of the language and give you the skills that you need to continue learning the language on your own.
In each lesson, Mihalis works through the language, looking at the vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc behind it. While explaining various aspects of Greek, Swahili or whatever language you’ve chosen, he asks a beginner student questions on the material covered.
The idea here is that they are exactly like you, hearing the material for the first time and so you learn alongside your classmate in a way, hearing both their mistakes and correct answers as they work through the language.
Throughout the course, you should interact and engage with the material, pausing the lessons when necessary to reflect, think and say your response out loud. As such you don’t want to just listen and follow but actually pause the audio, engage and then hear the correct response. Consequently, you really can’t listen to the audio files unless you’re completely focused on them.
In this respect, the learning methodology is somewhat similar to the Michel Thomas audio language courses although the Language Transfer is obviously a lot cheaper as it is free!
While there are no exercises, quizzes, writing or reading for you to do, the whole focus is on getting you to engage actively with the language.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at what the lessons are actually like.
It couldn’t be easier to start learning a language with the Language Transfer as all you need to do is go to the ‘Free Courses’ page on the website, scroll through the different languages and choose the one you want to learn.
After that, you simply need to click on the first audio file and it will start playing immediately. You can also download each lesson individually from Soundcloud or even download whole courses using torrents.
There are no settings for you to choose from, you just need to listen to the lessons and pause when necessary to stop, think and give your response to Mihalis’ questions.
The idea here is that you listen through the lessons and stop them as frequently as you want to give answers to Mihalis’ questions. By pausing the audio files, you have time to think over your response and not regurgitate memorized words or sentences, instead thinking for yourself and coming up with your own answers.
After having said your word or sentence out loud, you can continue playing the audio file and listen to a student’s response and Mihalis who will either correct them or confirm that what they have said is correct.
The idea is that you engage with the material and enjoy the thinking process.
This is the most important aspect of the course as you want to engage your brain and not simply memorize everything which he considers to be destructive, stressful and inefficient – just focus on the explanations.
Mihalis also encourages you not to write down words, structures or sentences as it will inhibit the mental processes that you need to learn how to speak Greek, Swahili or any of the other languages that Language Transfer offers.
After the introduction lesson of each course which introduces you to the methodology and whatever language you’ve decided to learn, the second lesson immediately gets you learning how to say certain simple words and phrases.
With Greek, for instance, you immediately learn how to say ‘I stay’ or ‘I’m staying’ and Mihalis explains some of the grammar behind it and gets the student to pronounce and answer his questions as they build from the simple word.
Over the six-minute long lesson, the student (and you!) learn how to say ‘he/she is waiting for me’, how to ask ‘is he/she waiting for me’ as well as how to say something in the negative.
While during this simple lesson, you’ll probably be able to answer his questions without pausing the audio, in later lessons you’ll certainly need to stop them for a bit to reflect and say your response out loud.
What was nice about this first lesson is that you actually come away having learned quite a few words, sentences and basic grammar principles in a very easy and relaxed manner.
The only confusing thing was that Mihalis explains what some of the letters of the alphabet look like despite having said to ignore reading and writing. The other thing was that lesson three begins playing in Soundcloud without anything showing on the page so you can’t pause the audio. As such you need to return to the ‘Free Courses’ page and click on the next lesson if you want to continue.
The Swahili course starts in a completely different way and this just goes to show each language has its own learning path.
This is in contrast to lots of language courses which simply regurgitate lessons and then translate them into another language, regardless of whether or not that makes sense to do so.
With Swahili, Mihalis starts by looking at what verbs look like so instead of having two words like ‘to sleep’ in English, Swahili just has one ‘kulala’ and this essentially means the same thing.
He then explains that to use the verbs you have to drop the ‘ku’ part and add on a pronoun and a tense marker (well at least in this early stage). If you add ‘ni’ (I) and ‘na’ (the present tense marker) you then get ‘ninalala’ which means ‘I sleep’ or ‘I am sleeping’. The explanations are very clear and simple.
This first lesson looks at various simple verbs such as to sleep, to eat, to laugh and to want.
When Mihalis asks how to say ‘I want to sleep’, you can feel the student thinking for a second that she doesn’t know how to say it and then realizes that she has all the building blocks necessary to construct ‘ninataka kulala’.
I thought that was very well done.
The only thing I’m not sure about in this early lesson is Mihalis saying that ‘kulala’ is ‘probably’ an echo sound of someone singing someone to sleep through a lullaby and that that’s where the word ‘maybe’ derives from.
He again speculates that ‘kucheka’ – to laugh in Swahili – mirrors the sound that people make when they laugh. This time however he doesn’t admit that he is speculating and it comes across more as fact.
It seems to me that he is stretching it a bit though by comparing it with to chuckle in English. I have seen a couple of other people complain online that he sometimes indulges in linguistic myths and folk etymology.
While I don’t know if this really matters much, it is something to bear in mind. In any case, ‘kucheka’ certainly does mean to laugh!
While I really enjoyed the lesson and how he built things up, this time the next lesson on Soundcloud was something to do with Rabbis and Moses, completely unrelated to the course. This means you again have to return to the start page if you want to continue your lessons.
So what is it like if you use the Language Transfer for a while?
One of the problems I could immediately see with the Language Transfer is the fact that you don’t ever hear native speakers apart from with the languages which Mihalis grew up speaking.
For instance, while his knowledge of Swahili seems to be very good, it couldn’t really pass as a ‘native accent’ and it sometimes comes off as a bit Spanish. He does, however, admit in the third lesson that you should base your pronunciation on native speakers but unfortunately doesn’t actually expand on where you could really listen to them.
It could be really helpful to pair these lessons with a language exchange partner or tutor from italki as a means to get more conversation practice.
I checked on the Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) post where he answered any questions about the methodology and languages of Language Transfer. It was a bit shocking to see that for Swahili and Italian he says ‘I was recording before I had ever attempted a conversation in them’.
He does go on to say however that all courses have been checked by native speakers so that sort of allayed any fears I had about the material and after working through a number of the lessons, I could tell that he really knew his stuff.
Indeed, in the first few Swahili lessons, you come away having learned quite a few sentences, words and grammar points in what only amounts to ten to fifteen minutes of lesson time. As such you really do progress quite quickly in comparison with some other online language learning courses.
Each lesson also builds on the others, while his calm and soothing tones and encouraging manner to his student makes listening to the audios very easy. It was also quite interactive (despite the fact you’re simply listening to a lesson) and engaging as you focus on what he says, the explanations he gives, and the sentences you build together with him and his student.
I was quite impressed to see how within no time at all, the student knew how to ask questions, give commands and build sentences, using the words and grammar points that Mihalis gave her. She also knew how to adapt verbs and use them according to the information he had already taught her and to me, this showed what the ‘Thinking Method’ is all about.
Indeed after just about an hour of lessons (so around 13 of the audio files), she knew how to form complicated sentence structures in Swahili and this is miles ahead of where you would be with many other language learning platforms.
There is no time wasted in the lessons and everything is geared to you getting as much out of each of them as possible. At around six to eight minutes in length, they are not too long and so the information is easily digestible.
Both grammar points and vocabulary are given to you in equal measure and so you’re constantly learning how to use them together. I personally prefer this form of learning over other platforms that break lessons down into specific vocabulary, grammar or speaking classes.
One part I was particularly impressed with was how when discussing adjectives in Swahili he used a famous proverb as an example and encouraged learners to look into sayings themselves and try and break them down with the language that has already been used in the class.
Proverbs and sayings are very important in Swahili and so while he doesn’t look at many of them in the lessons, at least he tells you about them. It is actually only in the last lesson that he quickly takes you through a lot of commonly used proverbs, asking the student how to break them down with the words she knows.
This last lesson is actually the only one that doesn’t really work for me as he speeds through them and it isn’t as clear as all of the other lessons I went through.
I was quite surprised however to see that Mihalis only teaches you ‘yes’ and ‘no’ right at the end of the 110 lessons in the Swahili course in lesson 109.
While this seems a bit late to me, he ties it in very well to a complicated grammar point on how ‘yes’ is formed in Swahili so I suppose it is just about justified. These later lessons are a lot more complicated than the earlier ones but are still delivered in a calm and relaxing manner where you build on words and grammar points you’ve seen before.
Indeed, I’m quite certain that if you complete the Swahili course you’ll have a very good starting base from which to continue learning the language.
You’ll know nearly all of the grammar you need to hold conversations and will be able to break down most sentences into more manageable chunks. The amount of content that you cover in what are just short lessons is very impressive and there is absolutely no time wasted at all.
It’s certainly the best Swahili course I’ve come across and so I can certainly recommend using it to learn this wonderful East African language.
The Greek course works largely in the same way as you slowly build up your knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and indeed punctuation over the lessons.
The use of repetition and using words we already to know to form new ones and introduce new grammar points really helped me to remember words and construct basic sentences in no time at all.
So after just the fourth lesson, you can already say ‘what are you doing?’ or ‘what are you waiting for?’. Through the early lessons, you play around with different verbs and pronouns and learn how to ask various questions.
The whole course actually seems like one gigantic audio file which was broken down into the 120 lessons as each one seamlessly flows into the next one.
As such you gradually build up in difficulty and after a while, you can say complex sentences such as ‘we are waiting for the beginning of spring’ and know a couple of expressions.
With the Greek course, the language explanations seem a bit long-winded in comparison with the Swahili course and Mihalis sometimes overcomplicates things a bit in my opinion and it gets a bit confusing to listen to him from time to time.
In general, however, the student who is learning alongside Mihalis seems to pick up most things and there are only a couple of times that he can’t remember what has already been covered.
At the end of the course, you will again have a great starting base from which to continue on your Greek learning adventure.
It only struck me at the end that Mihalis often introduces you to words you’re unfamiliar with and asks you to pick them apart with the parts you do know. This is again how the ‘Thinking Method’ works as it gets you to view language as building blocks and construct words and sentences with what you know.
This will be invaluable in helping you after the course to learn more Greek and not be afraid of coming across unfamiliar words. Consequently, the course is a great introduction to the Greek language and although over the 120 lessons you don’t actually get to listen to a native speaker holding conversations, you should have learned enough to not panic when hearing people speak.
Indeed, the whole process encourages you to be very intuitive.
While I came away impressed at both courses overall such as the method that Mihalis uses and the level of depth he goes into while teaching you a lot of content in a short time, I do however have a couple of issues with it.
For instance, a lot of lessons start with a random verb and while I suppose this does teach you to think intuitively and learn how to build sentences through them, the untraditional learning path could put some people off the Language Transfer.
While lots of courses start off teaching you introductions and greetings, for example, I didn’t see them come up in either the early Greek or Swahili lessons and basic words such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ only come up very late on in the Swahili course.
Another issue that some people might find a bit off-putting is that all of the lessons are untitled and so you don’t know what you’ll be covering in each. This too may make it harder to think back over what you’ve covered in each although I’m not sure if that is partially intended as it ‘frees’ your mind and enables you to focus on the content without having it ‘locked up’ in a particular audio or on a particular piece of paper.
In all honesty however it would almost be impossible to give a title to each lesson as you learn a mixture of grammar and vocabulary each time and I actually really liked this form of learning.
I think though that this does show that the Language Transfer isn’t like other courses and that the whole look to it is very basic with all of the focus on providing you with quality content for free.
The Language Transfer courses don’t pretend to have the answer to all of your learning needs.
For instance, while you learn a bit about the culture as you go, you certainly don’t learn much about it and Mihalis actually encourages you to use the introductory material that he provides you with to start your own journey of discovery whether that is reading books in the language you’re learning, watching films or reading the news. As such, don’t expect to listen to conversations in the courses.
They are only intended to provide you with building blocks and the basics (well, they go much further than that in terms of the grammar) while teaching you how to learn the language yourself from then on.
While the lessons may not be the most fun thing ever and they all follow exactly the same format with no exercises for you to do, I do believe that they are very effective and you certainly cover loads of material in a very short amount of time. Don’t let the basic look of the Language Transfer fool you – all of the material is very well thought out and presented and the audio lessons are well recorded.
As they are introductory courses, you will certainly need to use other resources if you want to become fluent but both the Swahili and Greek courses which I checked out will teach you loads of grammar, quite a bit of vocabulary and will really teach you how to get to grips with each language.
From what I’ve heard, they are very similar to the Michel Thomas audio language courses but many users swear that the Language Transfer is actually more effective. In any case, I would definitely recommend giving the Language Transfer courses a try and what do you have to lose?! They’re free!
As aforementioned, the Language Transfer courses are completely free and so you really can just go to the website and try out the language lessons for yourself.
Mihalis produces the courses out of love for languages and teaching others and has vowed to always keep them free. You can, however, fund him and support the project by making a donation on the website and with each donation you get to vote for which language course he produces next.
If you like the courses I would definitely recommend making a contribution as it’s just Mihalis producing all of this amazing content.
In my opinion, the courses are definitely worth checking out and as they are free to access, it couldn’t be easier to do so.
While there are maybe some slight negatives which we looked at above, the content which you go through in such a short time is very impressive and you’ll certainly come away having learned more than in most introductory courses.
Mihalis doesn’t intend for them to be the definitive course on any language and so you should see them more as an in-depth beginner course which will teach you all you need to know about how to continue learning your language of choice.
All in all, I thought the Language Transfer courses I tried out were great and serve as fantastic introductions to the languages Mihalis offers up.
It is important to remember however that they are not meant to be a definitive course that includes absolutely everything on the language you’ve chosen. As such you shouldn’t expect to hear dialogues, practice reading or writing or learn much about the cultural context of the language.
Instead, these courses will teach you a lot of the grammar, how to break down the language and then learn it intuitively and independently after completing the course.
While not everyone will enjoy the structure of the lessons and courses and the fact that all of them are quite similar in terms of how they are presented, as they are free they are definitely worth checking out just to see if the learning method does suit you.
I found them to be an effective way of learning and was impressed at just how much you come away learning in a relatively short time. Consequently, I can definitely recommend giving the courses a go.