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Conversations Review: Improve your listening skills with Olly Richards

In this Conversations review, we discuss why this course by Olly Richards should be part of any intermediate's language learning toolbox.

Our Verdict

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Don't be fooled by the simplicity of this course. It delivers exactly what it promises: a comprehensive, and effective resource to help upper-beginner and intermediate language learners improve their listening and comprehension skills.

It's not your typical course that guides you through a language step-by-step, but it's a fantastic supplementary tool if you're serious about becoming fluent in your target language.

TL;DR Conversations Review

Here’s a quick summary, if you’ve only got a second.

PROS

  • Unique listening materials that fill a gap in the market for intermediate learners
  • Natural conversations using colloquial language
  • Relevant, level-appropriate material in accessible chunks
  • Between 150-200 hours of study material available
  • Download materials and use them on the go

CONS

  • Not a comprehensive language course, but a supplementary tool
  • Best for intermediate learners – absolute beginners and advanced students might not get along with the materials
  • At the higher end of the pricing scale

What is Conversations by Olly Richards?

Conversations is a series of language courses designed and hosted by polyglot, and founder of I Will Teach You a Language, Olly Richards. Honing in on a conversation-based approach to learning languages, Conversations aims to help intermediate students improve their listening comprehension. So far, the courses cover six languages; Spanish, French, Italian, German, Mandarin and Japanese. There's also a course that focuses on Cantonese, but this is structured quite differently from those we'll be looking at in this Conversations review.

~ Olly Richards, creator of the Conversation series

What Can You Do On Conversations?

Conversations is a simple, but effective audio course. Its main calling card is its listening material, but you'll find a few added features hidden in between chapters too.

Listening Comprehension

Each language course follows a similar story; a couple move to a new country or city and you listen as they experience the quips and quirks of countryside living. Olly breaks down each story (or course) into 20 chapters that feature audio clips between two and five minutes long.

Five Step Listening Process

To make the most out of the course, Olly recommends following his “Five-Step Listening Process”, which goes as follows:

  1. Read the summary plot. At the start of each chapter you'll be given a quick summary (in your target language) of what happens during the dialogue. This ensures you have some context to the clip you're about to hear.
  2. Listen to the audio only. Next, Olly encourages you to listen to the audio clip all of the way through, without the transcript, and without pausing to look up words in the dictionary. All you're trying to do here is follow the plot.
  3. Listen again. Repeat the step above at least three or four times. You'll pick up new bits of information each time you listen, but you probably won't understand everything at this stage.
  4. Listen with the transcript. Play the audio again, this time following along with the transcript (in your target language), matching the spoken word with the written text. You can also use the vocabulary list provided to check the meaning of any words or phrases. You can repeat this step as many times as you'd like.
  5. Read the english script. Once you're satisfied that you've understood everything you can on your own steam, you can use the English translation of the script to make sure you've understood correctly, before moving onto the next chapter.

Extra Resources

Each chapter of the story comes with resources to complement the audio. This usually includes two transcripts (one in your target language and one in English) as well as a short vocabulary list.

While these resources work well with the audio, we'd love to see a bit more variety in the future. The course can get a little repetitive, and engaging activities could help to break up the monotony. The Conversation courses heavily rely on self-study and effective self-evaluation, which can be tricky for some learners.

Tips

Throughout the course, you'll also find a few bonus videos from the creator himself, Olly Richards. These aren't specific to your target language, but they will give you extra tips and tricks on how to get the most out of the Conversations course.

For example, you'll find tips on how to listen to a new language more effectively, understanding the theory behind Olly's methodology and some advice on learning new vocabulary.

What Does Conversations Look Like?

The Conversations course is hosted on a platform called Teachable; a one-stop-shop for online courses. It's a simple design, that's laid out very intuitively, and you'll have no problem making your way through the course chronologically. It's worth bearing in mind that it's much easier to navigate on a desktop compared to the app or your mobile browser.

Use the menu on the left to skip to a particular chapter or the button on the right to move onto the next logical sections – easy!

Who is Conversations Best For?

Olly has purposefully designed the Conversations courses to suit pre-intermediate and intermediate level speakers in all six languages. That's anyone that's between an A2 and B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. However, it's worth keeping in mind that the Chinese and Japanese Conversations courses are slightly more difficult and you'll need to be able to read kanji, kana and furigana, at a minimum, for Conversations Japanese.

Saying that, according to Olly Richards; “You can still enjoy and benefit from Conversations if your level is lower or higher than A2-B1, but please take this into consideration when you use the material.”

What Languages Can You Learn with Conversations by Olly Richards?

The Conversations series currently covers seven languages, including;

While the first six courses are very similar and follow the format that we're discussing in this Conversations review, the Cantonese course is slightly different. Watch this space for our review of that product.

How Much Does a Conversations Course Cost?

Each Conversations course will cost you $197 and comes with enough material to last between 150-200 hours of study time. Each purchase contains the following:

While this may seem steep, with each purchase, you'll get lifetime access to the materials, along with a 100% money-back guarantee if the course isn't to your liking. Simply email Olly within 30-days of purchasing the course and he'll refund the full price.

What are the Pros and Cons of Conversations?

PROS

  • Unique listening materials that fill a gap in the market for intermediate learners
  • Natural conversations using colloquial language
  • Relevant, level-appropriate material in accessible chunks
  • Between 150-200 hours of study material available
  • Download materials and use them on the go

CONS

  • Not a comprehensive language course, but a supplementary tool
  • Best for intermediate learners – absolute beginners and advanced students might not get along with this level of materials.
  • At the higher end of the pricing scale

Are There Any Conversations Alternatives?

We can safely say that there are very few products on the market that match what the Conversations series offers.

When Olly designed the course, he wanted to bring something completely new to the world of language learning, rather than create material that was similar to the hundreds of other language learning products out there.

However, if you do enjoy learning through audio material, a few courses we'd recommend, include:

  • Rocket Languages features tonnes of audio lessons, but lacks the structure you'll find with the Conversations series and works out to be a little more expensive.
  • Yabla uses immersive authentic video materials, complete with subtitles and followed by games, to help boost your listening skills. You can try Yabla for 15 days free of charge.
  • FluentU uses real-world videos, interactive subtitles and game-like activities to expose students to native content. However, at $30/month, it's quite pricey.

A Round-Up of Our Conversations Review

The Conversations series sets out to solve the stagnation that many students face when it comes to reaching the intermediate levels of learning a language. And, we think it's achieved its goal.

While the course focuses on improving your listening skills it actually does a lot more than just that. These materials have been carefully picked to expose you to native and natural conversations, so you too can start listening, speaking and understanding your target language all the better.

While we wouldn't recommend relying on the Conversation series to teach you a language, it's an unbeatable supplementary resource when you've landed in the world of intermediate language learning. And, with a 30-day money-back guarantee, there's no reason not to give this course a go.

What Other Courses Does Olly Richards Offer?

Over the years, Olly Richards has developed a library of language learning courses that cover everything from grammar to listening comprehension. Other than Conversations, here are a couple of other courses worth checking out.

Uncovered Series

One of Olly Richard's most popular language courses is the Uncovered Series, a set of self-study courses that aim to take you from beginner to intermediate in around 100-150 hours of study time.

They do this using StoryLearning – a learning methodology designed by Olly Richards himself. He believes that by learning a language in context – i.e. by reading a story in your target language – you'll pick up vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure much more easily.

We've reviewed each of the courses on the pages below:

Grammar Hero

In his Grammar Hero series, Olly Richards breaks down complex grammar elements through short entertaining stories. It's designed for intermediate learners that already have a good grasp of the language, but ambitious beginners could benefit from these courses too:

  • Italian
  • French
  • German
  • Russian
  • Brazilian Portuguese
  • Spanish