One of the things at the top of my bucket list is learn a foreign language—or if I’m lucky, maybe several! French, Italian, Portugese, Japanese—there are so many options and often so little time (or spare budget) for learning. That’s where the Internet comes in…
You no longer have to shell out big bucks for a language class or schlep to the bookstore to load up on foreign phrase books. Thanks to modern technology, all you need is a computer or iPod. Today’s user-friendly devices and easy Web access make it possible for anyone to learn from the comfort and convenience of home… or even en voiture. Translation: in the car!
Here are 7 cool online resources and apps for those who want to dabble with foreign language learning. Most are free, others cost a bit, some are traditional, others offer a new spin on learning. Whether you’re planning a trip, looking to further your career, or want to expose the kids to something new, these sites will help you do it. Fantástico!
Duolingo is definitely one of the cutest and most entertaining ways to learn a language. This free website and iTunes app allows you to learn Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, or German through what is best described as an interactive game of sorts.
I used Duolingo to further my French. You can start as a beginner but I opted to take the placement test since I studied French in the past. The test took about ten minutes, was super fun, and placed me at Level 5 so I was able to start there.
Here’s how it works… The program has you read and listen to phrases and then translate them – sometimes from English into French, and sometimes the other way around. You type your answer and Duolingo tells you if you are correct (if wrong, it gives you the correction). You receive points and badges for correct answers and as you become better, Duolingo gives you more challenging phrases. Once you have gathered enough points, you move up to the next level.
Duolingo is flawlessly designed—colorful, clean, extremely easy to use, it even allows you to connect and compete with your friends on Facebook. All around, a winner.
Use Duolingo here.
Fluentify is a clean, uncluttered site that connects language learners with tutors around the world. Classes are 30 minutes long and take place online via a videoconferencing platform. Search through tutor profiles and watch their personal intros to learn about them and their interests. Tutors set their own half-hourly price and include a schedule grid showing their availability.
When you register, you are asked for basic info like time zone and currency, as well as interests (movies, music, arts, history, business) which is one of the most unique features of Fluentify. It allows you to connect with tutors who share your interests, so learning sessions take on a casual, conversational tone that is much more natural and organic than a textbook lesson.
At this stage, Fluentify is not available for mobile devices. You have to access it via a computer or laptop and use Google Chrome or Firefox in order to get the best experience. For those who want a personalized experience, Fluentify is worth a look.
Use Fluentify here.
Radio Lingua is a spirited site that offers free audio lessons that don’t require a huge time commitment. They are known for their short, do-it-when-you-can segments like Coffee Break Spanish and One Minute Catalan.
Radio Lingua boasts an impressive range of materials and languages, focusing primarily on Spanish, French, German and Italian but offering smaller courses in everything from Danish and Mandarin to Arabic and Zulu. Courses are designed for beginners and “false beginners,” or those returning to a language after many years. All the courses provide free podcasts with an optional paid premium level to access study guides, bonus listening materials and extended episodes. Lessons are led by native speakers and experienced teachers talking directly to you, so it feels interactive—and each one builds on what you’ve already learned.
Radio Lingua is flexible and easy to use. Listen on the website or download the mp3 files to iTunes, Windows Media Player, or onto iPods, mp3 players or mobile phones. Voilà! You can learn wherever and whenever you want: at the gym, on the way to work, or while cooking dinner!
Use Radio Lingua here.
For those who want to connect with professionals from around the world for one-on-one lessons, italki is a terrific resource. It is essentially an online language-learning community that connects people who want to teach, tutor, or converse, with people who want to learn.
The site is user-friendly and includes nice search options that make it easy to find teachers who speak one or multiple languages, as well as search by where they are located. There are reviews and easy access to pricing details for each teacher. In order to book a lesson, you must purchase italki credits which are used to pay for lessons.
Use italki here.
The two European gents who founded Busuu believe learning a language should not be tedious or pricey—cheers to that! Their site offers the chance to learn from native speakers via video-chats and live online conversations. They have amassed over 150 learning modules—beginner to advanced—covering a wide array of grammar and language topics. They also offer Business and Travel courses for those who want to target their learning.
Busuu currently offers French, Italian, Spanish, German, Portugese, Turkish, Russian, Polish, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic. Use the site for free (20 free courses are available covering vocabulary, reading, and writing exercises) or upgrade for a small monthly fee starting as low as $6.25.
Use Busee here.
Spanish is Your Amigo
This series of online videos is taught by Kristen Williams, a bubbly and energetic young teacher who does a great job explaining the ins and outs of the language in a relatable way. The vibe is casual but earnest and you will definitely learn from Kristen.
There are lots of free videos on the site that cover everything from verb conjugations to pronunciations, but the most effective way to learn is to join one of the 8-day courses that are taught online via Google Hangouts (a group video-chatting tool). The cost is $95 for the series of 90-minute lessons that take place twice per week. All you need is high-speed Internet, plus the webcam and microphone in your computer. Kristen provides daily course guides that are emailed to you as a PDF. In other words, she’s got it covered, so all you need to do is supply the chips and guac (margarita optional) and get ready to hablar español.
Fluenz is a serious program for those who are serious about learning. The DVD-based series is not free (prices start at just under $200), but reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Fluenz’s approach differs from language leader, Rosetta Stone, in several ways.
Most notably, Fluenz is designed for adults and how they learn as opposed to how children learn. While Rosetta Stone practices immersion (no English), Fluenz offers lots of contextual explanation in English because, they claim, adults learn more efficiently when they understand how things work. Lessons lead learners one step at a time, explaining each step, then providing longer practice workouts before moving on to the next phase.
Fluenz bucks the trend of “mass market” teaching and takes a boutique approach to each language in terms of how to best teach that specific one. Current offerings are Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, and German.
use Fluenz here.