Optilingo Review: Does passive learning work?

Optilingo promises that learners can improve their language skills with nothing more than listening and repeating a few phrases while cooking, driving, or going for a walk. 

This ‘passive learning' model has been around for some time, but does Optilingo deliver?

Let's find out in this Optilingo review.

Our Verdict

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If you've always learned best through audio, and find typing out endless vocabulary words a pain, Optilingo might provide the perfect learning environment for you. Optilingo may also work well if you've already got a good grasp of several languages and are just looking for an opportunity to practice passively. 

For those looking to learn and understand the grammar, writing, and nuts-and-bolts of a language, Optilingo doesn't go far enough to get you to Actual Fluency, and those of us who learn best visually won't get much from the service either.

TL;DR Optilingo Review

Sometimes all you need are a few pros and cons to know whether it's the platform for you.

PROS

  • A straightforward interface.
  • A strong emphasis on speaking your target language.
  • A reasonably low fee for multiple languages. 
  • Options to slow down or speed up the audio.

CONS

  • No writing and minimal emphasis on reading.
  • Course audio is somewhat dry.
  • Repetition can get quite dull.

What is Optilingo?

Optilingo is an online language learning ecosystem created by Jonty Yamisha. Jonty is a compelling character and started Optilingo after learning Circassian, a dying language from his homeland, to preserve the language for future generations of learners. Pretty cool!

If you'd like, check out the Actual Fluency podcast episode featuring Jonty.

At its core, Optilingo provides an audio player that takes you through about 30 hours of course content in a language. You'll listen and repeat what the native speaker says.

So, what's it like? We take a look in this Optilingo review.

What Can You Do On Optilingo?

Optilingo's passive learning method is delivered through repeat-after-me lessons in their simple app.

Audio Lessons

You'll spend your time on Optilingo working through the 100 audio lessons they offer for each language. At roughly 20 minutes per lesson, this works out to around 30 hours of total instruction time for each course. 

Lessons involve listening to an English speaker say a phrase, then listening to a native speaker of the target language say the translation twice. You repeat the native speaker's words, aiming for the same pronunciation and inflexion that they use. At the end of the lesson, you review words and phrases from previous lessons to keep them fresh in your mind.

As the lessons go on, the subject matter and length of the sentences get more difficult, as one would expect. You'll also be periodically challenged with lessons intended to test some of what you've learned previously.

Spaced Repetition

Optilingo makes a big deal of the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) used in the app. Every few lessons, you'll go back and review the content that came before it. 

This only works as spaced repetition if you're following their one-lesson-per-day prescription. Even then, during my research for this Optilingo review, I found it pretty dull to be reviewing everything I'd done the previous day, verbatim. It would be nice if the phrases were mixed up a bit or brought into a new context.

If you're used to the AI-backed SRS systems used on apps like Memrise and Duolingo, the Optilingo version will seem somewhat clunky and imprecise.

What Other Features does Optilingo Have?

Slowing the Course Audio

One of my favourite features that I discovered during this Optilingo review was being able to slow down (or speed up!) the course audio. 

You'll probably want to get to full speed eventually, to get the hang of the language and avoid spending unnecessary time. Still, the slow option is excellent for starting a language, especially one with complex qualities like tonality. 

A Good Number of Languages Included

Unlike some apps that have you buy courses a la carte, Optilingo gives you all 20 languages that the app offers for one price. That's not bad! 

I also noticed that the phrases were the same between languages, meaning you'll essentially learn the same vocabulary no matter what course you take. 

On the one hand, that may be nice if you're trying to build bridges of understanding between all of the languages you study. On the other, keeping the phrases the same means you won't be learning much about idiomatic expressions or the peculiarities of some languages. 

That might constitute a perk or a drawback, depending on your priorities.

What Does Optilingo Look Like?

The app itself is pretty basic; mostly an audio player that tracks which lessons you've completed, as shown below. There's also a stats section where you can see how many words you've learned based on the lessons completed.

While some may find the basic look somewhat lacking, it's also nice, in that it prevents you from getting too distracted. Open the app, start a lesson, and learn, that's about as simple as it gets. 

A picture of the Optilingo stats screen on desktop

Who is Optilingo Best For?

I would recommend Optilingo for people who know they learn best through audio or who are planning to learn on their daily commute, where they can practice their language in the privacy of their car.

I think many learners will find Optilingo somewhat basic and inflexible for their needs, and those who like gamification or rewards systems for tracking their progress can find plenty of great options elsewhere. 

On the other hand, if your primary interest lies in learning Circassian, then Optilingo may be the only game in town! 

What Languages Can You Learn on Optilingo?

Optilingo currently offers 20 languages, including Circassian, a rare language with a fascinating grammar structure. Check the picture below to see all of the languages they offer.

A picture of the languages Optilingo offers, which are:
Arabic, Chinese, Circassian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish

How Much Does Optilingo Cost?

With a free trial and a moderately priced subscription, you may find Optilingo makes a lot of sense for you.

A picture of Optilingo's pricing

7 Day Free Trial

You can test-drive Optilingo's system for seven days at no cost. Download the app and start listening to lessons! It doesn't get much easier than that.

Premium

After your free trial has expired, you'll need to upgrade your subscription to keep accessing Optilingo's lessons. 

You can get a single month for $11.99 if you're not ready to commit to a larger timeframe, though the three-month and six-month packages make the monthly cost much nicer, at $7.99 and $6.99, respectively. 

If you follow Optilingo's recommended schedule of taking roughly one lesson per day, a three-month subscription should allow you to get through most, if not all, of one language course. 

What are the Pros and Cons of Optilingo?

Pros

  • One fee for many languages.
  • Simplified user interface.
  • A solid emphasis on speaking the language immediately.
  • Options to slow down or speed up the audio.

Cons

  • The course audio can get pretty boring.
  • Repeating previous lessons can be mind-numbing.
  • You won't learn to read or write the language.

Are there any Optilingo Alternatives?

There are tons of players in the online language teaching space, so how does Optilingo stack up?

Optilingo vs Duolingo

Duolingo is the 800lb gorilla of the language world, with millions of users worldwide. While Duolingo focuses on vocabulary before building to more complex sentences, Optilingo follows a guided immersion approach, asking the learner to listen to and repeat phrases. 

Duolingo offers its gamified content for free, which is pretty hard to beat, and while many have criticised their approach, there are just as many raving fans. Optilingo goes more for the passive-immersion method, which may work for some, but may also leave you wanting more. On the whole, I'd give Duolingo the distinct edge here. 

Check out our Duolingo review for more information.

Optilingo vs LingQ

Compared to Optilingo, LingQ focuses much more on reading and listening to teach a language and places far less emphasis on speaking the phrases aloud. Still, the LingQ library is massive compared to Optilingo's 100 lessons, and the content is generally more engaging, with lots of themes and stories to explore. On the whole, I'd give LingQ a narrow advantage here.

If you want to find out more, feel free to head over to my full review of LingQ here.

A Round-Up of Our Optilingo Review

On the whole, I'd give Optilingo 2.5 Stars. While I like the concept and the simplicity of the interface, the execution is somewhat dull. If you want passive audio lessons, this might be the app for you, but better options probably exist elsewhere for the rest of us.