How to learn languages online

It seems like one of the most common goals I hear from people is “learn a new language,” yet hardly anyone actually follows up on that goal. “Why not?” I ask. Sure, learning a language is hard, take lots of practice, and can be hard to make the jump from text to conversation.

Thankfully, we live in an age where resources abound.

You can create an account on any number of free language-learning sites and instantly have access to flash cards, videos, tips, and even progress trackers.

For learn-on-your-own, these are my Top 3 Recommendations:

  1. Memrise Logo– Created by Ed Cooke, a Grandmaster of Memory, is a truly fun and challenging way to learn everything from the characters & letters to full on sentences and difficult words. I personally use the App more than the site, and often find my blood pumping as I rush to beat the clock to the translation of “Джордж Майкл” (George Michael) or something of that nature. Two thumbs up for sure!
  2. FLuent in 3 Months Logo– Created by “Benny the Irish Polyglot” who himself speaks 7 languages fluently and 4 others conversationally. His methods are a bit wild, but he preaches immersion. Basically, if you want to learn it, surround yourself in it. His site offers hundreds of tips, links to communities for language learning, and loads of good articles to read through. If you’re committed to becoming truly fluent, start here.
  3. Duolingo Logo– A staple of the free language-learning community, Duolingo gives you hours of training that is proven to help you retain what you learn. There are currently 10 languages available on Duo, so if you’re not learning a Romantic language, you can pretty much move along. If that’s what you’re looking for though, definitely give it a try!

*For other references and paid programs, see below*

Once you’ve got the basics down – a few dozen words, some basic grammar and a couple of useful verbs – why not take what you’ve learned and try speaking with someone in that language! Sure, its embarrassing at first, but before long, you’ll find you’ve learned a lot! Reading and sounding out words helps when in a foreign country, but if you’re unable to tell what anyone is saying and your pronunciation is off… good luck. When I first started learning Russian, speaking Russian to Russians and Ukrainians was the only way I could learn just how bad my pronunciation was.

I’m big on learning accents, and often use them as for entertainment purposes, but I’ve found that the stereotypical accent can be quite far from the real thing. Talking with a native speaker, you start to really understand the ins and outs of how people converse in that language (grammar, pace, pronunciation, maybe even some slang). Russian has always been a fun accent for me to fake, but when trying to really speak the language, I had a hard time differentiating between sounds like eh/ih, yh/yuh, and “ch” “sh” “sch.” Now, I don’t worry about little sounds, and focus more on verb conjugation and sentence structure. Thankfully thee are many great resources online that allow you to meet teachers and fellow language-learners to boost your conversation skils.

My #1 recommendation is speaking with a friend, relative, or acquaintance who speaks your target language. But, if you’re like me and don’t get to speak your goal language often, you can always use sites like iTalki which pairs learners with teachers and other would-be learners. The coolest feature about the site is the ability to rank how well you speak a language AND how comfortable you’d like the other person to be.

Starting out, I spoke broken, mispronounced Russian with an awesome guy name Vlad. He was nearly fluent in English, but needed help with idioms and slang for his use in business. We ended up holding several conversations over the course of a month, and he will occasionally Skype me with a question like “what is ‘letting the cat out of the bag?'”

Beyond just recommending sites and sending you on your merry way, here’s a few tips for the road to help you train your sites on a program that will work for you:

  1. Learn a language you’ll actually use – Whether for business, to speak with your great-uncle, or maybe its your passion, pick something you’ve got a chance to actually use!
  2. Know that it takes TIME – Lots of time. To truly speak a language, you’ll need to know around 1,000 words (not a requirement, just a good level of comfort for starters), understand roughly how verbs work in that language, and be able to internalize it audibly and on paper. That doesn’t happen overnight… but don’t worry! Its fun!
  3. Get Talking Soon – Even if you’re saying 2% of the words in the conversation, having a conversation buddy or pen pal increases your likelihood to stick with it and really learn the language.

Disclaimer: As someone who does not fluently speak a second language, this is a Work In Progress, but I’ve certainly spent a fair amount of time looking for the necessary resources to hone my French skills and begin the journey to speaking Russian. Hopefully this helps start you on your journey or equips you with new tools along the way. Good luck, and be sure to check out some of the other resources below!

RosettaStone Logo – My first love for language learning. This is the golden standard for language learning. RS software is all-inclusive and ever-updating. There is a cost involved, so make sure you’re committed before dropping the $ on the full course. (Click the link above for 50% off!)

 Pimsleur Logo– A great method for learning a new language from scratch! I advise this method for those who are rather studious – it feels like a university level course, but is still quite fun.

Babbel Logo – Babbel offers cheap language courses that don’t by any means lack the quality of other programs with much heftier price tags. Keep your eyes peeled for additional discounts and bundles which roll out from time to time.

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