Two Points for the Language Nerd

Who says being a nerd doesn’t pay off? Or, in my case, a language nerd. I’m not going to lie, if you asked me to name a good website for learning a foreign language, I could name six great (and free) ones right off the top of my head. And I have a registered account on all of them.

So when I found out that Harvard’s Language Resource Center has a partnership with Rosetta Stone and offers discounted subscriptions, of course I flipped! In case you weren’t aware, three levels of any Rosetta Stone language costs $539, for five levels, it’s $699. Not exactly the cheapest thing ever. But, with the Harvard affiliation, you can get it for $160!   !!  !!

But then, after celebrating my discovery for a few minutes, I realized that Rosetta Stone isn’t even my favorite language learning program. I prefer the free language sites that I already use because they provide me with a community of native speakers who give me feedback. So why does Harvard only have a partnership with Rosetta Stone? Hm.

Don’t worry, I didn’t stop there.

Being the curious person I am, I looked up the generic Language Resource Center e-mail on their site and emailed them from my HSA e-mail address, figuring nothing would come of it but hey, I might as well try:


I noticed you offer a special deal for Rosetta Stone. Would you consider offering these type deals for any other language sites? If a website like Livemocha, Busuu, or italki was interested in offering their premium membership to students for a discount, would you also offer them a spot on the Language Resource Center site? I’m a huge language nerd and love checking out the different resources available.

That was two weeks ago. I didn’t hear back from them…until I got an e-mail from my boss today:

Hey Caroline — I know you reached out to the LRC about options other than Rosetta Stone… was that a personal request, or something for HSA?  Stop by when you’re on the second floor and we can talk…

Uh oh, was I in trouble? Well, yes, I did happen to be talking to Busuu (language site) about marketing opportunities, but I was just curious! I wasn’t doing anything under the table! It was just a brainstorming idea. I mean, why don’t they offer other options? Rosetta Stone is pretty expensive, even at $160.

I x-ed out of the e-mail and dragged myself down to the 2nd floor, afraid that I had overstepped my boundaries by reaching out into other Harvard departments. But once I had talked to my boss and confirmed that my e-mail request was purely for personal reasons, he let me go. Phew. (I had mentioned the Harvard-Rosetta deal to Busuu, but not because I was trying to offer them  the same partnership, I wouldn’t even know how to orchestrate that. It was simply because I wanted to see if a site like theirs would also be willing to do that type of partnership)

Now that I’m done defending myself, it turns out my random suggestion had made a difference and stirred up some creative thinking over at the Language Resource Center! The reason they hadn’t responded wasn’t because they had ignored me, but because the generic e-mail had been forwarded on to the LRC head, who is also a dean of the college and on HSA’s board of directors. When he saw that I had sent it from my HSA e-mail, he checked with my boss to see what the idea was all about, if it was a new initiative on our part, and it turns out he wants to work with me to make it happen! The LRC had never thought to provide other language-learning resources beyond Rosetta Stone, and now, I get to be the one spearheading it. I will have the opportunity to communicate with these sites (that I already know inside and out) and help set up partnerships between them and Harvard.

I already know Busuu will be willing to do that sort of partnership. Why not, it’s a win-win-win. Harvard provides more resources, the site gets more users, and the students get more language-learning options.

Looks like my random thought set something in motion.


My Favorite Language-Learning Sites:

9 thoughts on “Two Points for the Language Nerd

  1. Great idea. People will do more with more options, and I’d bet that most folks don’t even know half of the sites you listed.


  2. Hi Bird. Which of your favorite language sites has the best Mandarin program? I’m envious of your lingual skills. They’d come in handy for me.


    • If you already know some Mandarin and want to work on improving your writing skills, I would suggest Livemocha– you can post blurbs and get native speakers to correct them. If you want to focus more on vocabulary and reading comprehension, I would go with Byki.
      All those sites offer pretty good regimented learning structures, but not all of them offer Chinese (I know busuu and babbel don’t), so if that’s what you’re looking for, I’d also go for Livemocha.

      Go for it! Learn some Chinese!


      • Thanks for the advice. I’ll give Byki a shot since I only know enough Mandarin to fend off pushy salesmen and order a cold beer. Maybe I can graduate to Livemocha once I get a little more vocab tucked in my brain. Headed back to China in a couple of weeks.


    • I just saw your reply by chance reading your new blog post. Guess I forgot to subscribe to all the comments. I’m new around here (wordpress).

      I learned bu yao quickly on my first trip to Beijing. I went to the great wall and was harassed forever by a woman trying to sell me a hat.

      I’ll fly to Beijing and spend a night to recover. Then fly on to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. From there we drive to Zhunge’er. I’m an engineer doing some testing on our big coal mining dump trucks. There’s a photo in my About Me. Zhunge’er is a strange place. It’s a mining boom town in the middle of nowhere. Has some high rise hotels and good restaurants. But when you venture out of town people are living in cave houses dug into the hills. The business signs are written in both Chinese and Mongolian. Staying two or three weeks probably. I wish I could hire you as a translator and bury the cost in my expense report under “laundry” or something. Not too many English speakers there.


      • Woah, woah, don’t knock buying hats on the Great Wall! (check my China page)

        Zhunge’er sounds really interesting. I’ve never been to Mongolia so you’re going to have to take a lot of photos and blog about it. Especially the cave houses. Hah, I could help with the Chinese, not the Mongolian though, or the laundry. Looks like your skills lie within accounting deception, not lingual learning.


  3. You fell victim to the hat lady??? Let me check this out. Oh that’s a Chinese looking hat. I might have bought that. My hat lady was selling baseball caps that I could have gotten at a gas station anywhere in the US.
    I plan to do a better job of writing and photos than last time. I do have a Zhunge’er photo album from earlier this year on Facebook if you want to see it. It’s 50% pictures of the little houses the mine workers live in as we’re speeding by. Their living and working conditions fascinate me.
    I wouldn’t require you to do the laundry. Just be priced the same as laundry. And provide me receipts written in Chinese. It would actually be my first accounting indiscretion.
    I’ll be headed to Western Australia right after China. THAT is a horrible plane ride.
    I’m still waiting to see some Africa pictures. Apparently you plan to release your blogs on the same time scale as the Harry Potter series.


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