Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Why Learning English for Free (or Cheaply) Is a Bad Idea

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 @ 07:28 AM

why learning English for free or cheap is rarely a good choice, bus without wheelsIt's a simple and straightforward idea but we seem to forget it all of the time.

When it comes to value and price, you usually get exactly what you pay for.

This is true not only when it comes to learning English but also when it comes to many other purchasing decisions like transportation.

Why do we keep looking for the cheapest option? We are human. Humans make mistakes.

Last Sunday I made a mistake when I purchased my $12 tickets from Boston to New York City to visit a friend on the Lucky Star discount bus service. Let me tell you what happened and what my experience can teach you about choosing an English class.



My unlucky morning on the Lucky Star bus


 bus 8:01 am on Sunday August 26th: I board the Lucky Star bus from South Station in Boston. I feel happy that I got such a "great deal" on the bus ticket. As I get on the bus, I glance at the driver who looks like he hasn't slept much in the past few days. He has probably done four Boston to NYC routes in the last 24 hours.

9:00 am: I settle into my seat and flip open my laptop, hoping to take advantage of the "free internet access" that they advertise on their website. Does it work? It works for about 10 minutes and for the rest of the drive, all I can see is "no internet connection is available." Hmmm things aren't looking good.

10:45 am: We stop at a Burger King for food and someone complains about being cold. The bus driver turns off the air conditioning. Ten minutes later, it's about 80 degrees inside the bus.  The driver tries to turn the AC back on but the air conditioning is broken.  I watch the people in front of me start to sweat as they grow more and more irritated.

11:30 am: I start to chat with the woman next to me about her experiences with Lucky Star. She tells me that back in 2011, 15 people died in a Lucky Star bus crash on Interstate 95. She also says that back in 2005, one of these buses actually burst into flames on the side of the highway minutes after the passengers were evacuated.

12:30 pm: I get off the bus on the corner that Lucky Star has reserved in Chinatown, NYC. I am feeling exhausted, hot, and a little angry. On second thought, maybe Lucky Star wasn't such a "great deal."


Don't make this mistake with your English class


Lucky Star buses have unsafe and exhausted drivers, bad equipment, innacurate explanation of services on their website and an extensive history of accidents on the road. I have even heard that Lucky Star is about to lose their license to operate because of these problems.

Is it worth the cheap price? Maybe for a bus ride where all you need to do is get from Boston to New York. But does it work for learning English? I would say no, it doesn't. If you really want to learn English,  you should not choose the cheap or free option. Here's why...



5 reasons you should avoid free (or cheap) English classes



1. You will value your purchase less and work less

feet up in front of TVBuying English classes is not the same as buying a piece of clothing. In order to benefit from the classes, you need to work hard during your class and outside of class.

What happens when you buy something for a low price? You don't value it!

If you don't value every minute that you are in your English class, what motivation will you have to prepare for the class, arrive on time or dedicate yourself to practice what you learned in class?

It's just another simple principle of human psychology. Pay more for something and you will place a higher value on it and you will benefit more from it.


2. You will not learn with a sense of urgency

 sprintersOur most successful students have taken on a sense of urgency in learning English.

They have set ambitious but measurable goals. They have attacked the task of learning the language and they have been active learners.

I truly believe that in order to successfully learn a language, you must treat it like it's an emergency.

If you pay very little money or no money for your English class, you will not have that sense of urgency. Why? Because you can always take more classes.

If you pay more for your class, there will probably be a limit. You might only be able to afford 16 lessons but you will maximize the value that you get from those lessons.

3. Your teacher will be tired and unprepared

 tired teacherHow will your teacher, who charges such low rates, be able to pay the bills?

He will be teaching 10 other students in one day just to make ends meet.

That means that just like the Lucky Star bus driver (see above), he will be tired.

He will probably put little or no work into preparing for your class and he will certainly not extend the class by a few minutes if you have a question.

He might cancel your lessons often because he will be too busy juggling the other twenty five lessons he has to teach that week.

Is this really such an amazing deal?


4. Your lessons will not be customized for you

measuring tapeYour learning needs aren't the same as the needs of everyone else.

You have a different learning style, different professional goals for your English and a different schedule.

A lot of classes that are offered at a low price also offer a standard curriculum. You have to fit into what they offer.

If you really want to see improvement and if your time is limited, don't try to fit yourself into the same model that everyone else is using.

How much time could you lose by taking a class that isn't right for you?

For some people, it just makes sense to pay more for a class that is prepared especially for their needs and goals.


5. Cheap classes are not as "cheap" as you think

shredding moneyIs it really a good deal when you don't feel motivated to learn?

Is working with a teacher who is too exhausted or busy to prepare for your class going to be helpful for your English learning?

In the end, there are no shortcuts. If you choose a cheap option, you will probably spend twice the amount of money because you will have to find other ways to learn in addition to your "cheap" class.

Just as I learned from my crazy and unfortunate experience on the Lucky Star bus, we get what we pay for.

The choice is yours. How much do you value your own development?

How important is it for you to succeed in English?




If you have been looking for a "cheap" or "free" English class, try thinking about other factors like convenience, flexibility, customized curriculum, motivation and professionalism that might be worth paying a little more for. After all, you are making an investment in yourself. How much is your future worth to you?

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Photo credit: Konstantin Lazorkin, Tax Credits,   ptufts,   red bus-ninasaurusrex,   nettsu,   Elvert Barnes,

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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