Best Free Online Language-Learning ResourcesPosted: December 9, 2013
Language learning in the United States is an evolving world. The internet resources available for language learning are continuing to increase both in number and quality. You will not find here an argument for why language learning is important. I will settle for a simple quotation of Charlemagne: “To have another language is to posses a second soul.”
This is, however, a quick guide to all of the best language learning resources that are readily available on the internet for anyone with enough fire in them to embark on the journey of building the grammar of a “second soul.”
Duolingo is an internet-based platform from Carnegie Mellon University-based computer scientist Luis von Ahn. It is simple leveled system that provides all of the multi-sensory practice of Rosetta Stone with a more user friendly interface. There is nothing as encouraging as a small green owl who wants to give you points and let you level up. It’s almost like playing a video game and can be just as addicting. One of the most interesting components of Duolingo is that in addition to the exercises users also group-translate web pages from their target language into English. Duolingo is currently available for Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and German.
WeSpeke is another language resource with a connection to Carnegie Mellon University. Michael Elchik, an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur, and Dr. Jaime Carbonell, Director of the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University founded the company in 2010. WeSpeke provides a matching system for language learners. You get paired with someone to do an even language exchange: their help with their native language in exchange with your help with yours. It’s learning bartering made simple. The best part of WeSpeke is that it has an all-in-one interface, with integrated video and text chat, dictionaries, and help scheduling across time zones.
Since WeSpeke is still a relatively new website, their user-base is small, but growing. To work around that problem, especially for more obscure languages, finding a language partner on language-exchanges.org and then migrating your exchange over to WeSpeke might be a good option. Language-exchanges.org has a very large international user-base, but is little more than a simple search engine for language learning partners to find each other. It uses profiles and internal “mail” and “friending” capabilities to help you connect with your new language partner, just like WeSpeke, but it relies on Skype for the actual language exchange and doesn’t have all the other helpful extras that WeSpeke provides. The extra step to get to WeSpeke’s superior interface is worth it, if for some reason you cannot find a partner in their matching system.
The most important thing to know about both WeSpeke and language-exchanges.org is that you don’t need to know much about a language before you get a language partner. Back when I only knew a few words in Spanish, I connected with a English-learner in Central America who was perfectly happy helping me learn the words for various animals in Spanish. Afterward we worked on his understanding of English prepositions. It’s all about being open, curious, and considerate.
In addition to these excellent resources, I highly recommend music, films, and poetry for language learners. Listening to music and watching films in your target language is a great way to reinforce grammar concepts and vocabulary. It also helps to gain an understanding of how real people actually talk (provided that you aren’t watching a medieval adventure tale.) Excellent poetry in any language is easy to find online through searching in the target language. For music, I recommend using either youtube or a subscription-based music service like Rdio or Spotify to make playlists for yourself of the songs that you’re teaching yourself the words to. Films can be a bit more difficult. Though the Carnegie Library and Netflix have a relatively good selection of foreign films readily available, you can also find streams of foreign-language TV stations online. A great way to find films or music in your target language is to ask the language partner that you connected with on WeSpeke or language-exchanges.org.
For beginner-intermediate to advanced language learners, I also recommend replacing some of your daily news reading with foreign-language sources. The BBC website comes in many languages, as do other news outlets. The BBC also offers other great language-learning resources like: Mi Vida Loca, a Spanish language-learner interactive video series, and BBCeva, a Russian-language news Podcast.
Best wishes in your quest for a second soul!