In today's guest post, I've got a submission from Suzy St George, a regular writer for Take Lessons. She originally contacted me after reading my Duolingo review and went on to write this post offering a pretty good overview of language learning resources.
Over to Suzy:
I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people who took a full two years of Spanish classes in high school, along with an additional semester in college, coasting by and memorizing vocabulary words just to earn an A on the final. After all, I’d never really need to know how to describe my clothing in Spanish, right?
Many years later, I found myself living in San Diego, surrounded by Spanish speakers. And when I started working for Take Lessons, one of the lesson categories I was tasked to write blog content for — to my surprise — was Spanish. As I planned out my blog content, I was embarrassed to realize I remembered close to nothing from my studies.
Luckily I found a huge bunch of easy and fun options out there for students as I researched the state of language learning today. From websites to plugins for your browser, these tech-fuelled language learning options stood out to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you’ve tried them!
Most millennials are well-versed in social networks like Facebook. But did you know using social networking sites can help you learn a new language? I’ve poked around in a few of the ones specific to language-learners, and it’s such a great way to learn with the help of others. These networks can clue you in on local dialects and colloquialisms (slang), and most importantly, keep you interested thanks to burgeoning friendships with others trying to learn your language as well.
Here are some websites and forums to check out:
You know iTalki as a tutor directory but it also features an online forum for those looking to discover new cultures and languages.
Livemocha was actually purchased by Rosetta Stone in 2013, so they’re sanctioned by a big name. Their philosophy is delivering an experience that helps with conversational fluency, so it’s a great option if you want to brush up on your casual speaking skills. Beyond its community of teachers, language learners, and native speakers, Livemocha also offers live virtual classes, tutorial videos, with a built-in Facebook-style networking page where you can chat with others to help you achieve fluency.
Apps and Websites
Apps and websites offer an easy – and often free or low cost – way of integrating a new language into your daily life. I always have my phone on me, so I’ve found these apps to be super helpful for killing time on public transportation, on my lunch break, or just hanging out at home. No matter your learning style, you can bet there is an app for that.
Free for iOS and Android, Babbel covers 11 languages. It offers tricks to help you remember words, as well as interactive games to play. As you learn, Babbel remember your progression, making games more challenging with fewer English-based clues and more complex paragraphs.
Similar to Babbel, Busuu adds a bit of gamification to the language-learning process with “busuu-berry” awards as you progress. Another plus: users can submit writing exercises to others for review, helping you improve your vocabulary in context.
This is actually one of my favorites, and I looked into it further after one of our Spanish tutors recommended it to me. Of course, you’ll want to compare it against your own language-learning goals, as many (including Kerstin!) have argued that it relies too heavily on memorizing vocab, while ignoring the very basics of grammar. I agree with the review – games like these are not the best route if total comprehension is your goal – but for me, it does the trick as a fun activity to keep me on my toes. As they say on the Internet, YMMV!
Japanese for "memorizing," Anki is a free flashcard-style program. It displays a word, phrase, image, or sound for you to repeat, interpret, connect with, and commit to memory. Make your own deck, or choose from one of many available shared decks and start learning in a snap.
TakeLessons is a nice alternative to italki. Not every student’s language-learning goal is the same, so the site will help you find the perfect fit for your needs.
This site offers a huge library of free professional materials for studying, and is a great resource for lesser-studied languages.
This is a great language learning websites for visual learners, and is a fantastic supplement to working with a tutor. Web or app-based, this flashcard style program is a fun way to aid language memorization through competition. Points and reputation are boosted as you learn and complete activities.
Who doesn’t love games? If you want to use your time efficiently, ignore the Candy Crush notifications and check out one of the popular language games instead. Playing games in a text or audio language other than your own engages you in the learning process, helping you recognize and understand words over time with the help of repetition. Want more than your average solo game? Look for MMO (massively multiplayer online) games, which often cross multiple linguistic boundaries to help you better learn languages on-the-fly.
I’m pretty sure I spent at least 30 minutes playing “Whack-a-Word” alone when I first found this website! Once you complete a course, based on the level you’ve chosen you can then play several different games. They’re all very simple but also pretty fun! For other language learners, there are also related sites (and yes, games) for learning Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, and more.
Check out Kerstin's review of this German language learning game, taking you through a crime-fuelled story on your iPad or iPhone.
Google Chrome plugins
Plugins, tools you can download and add to your internet browser to do various tasks, can help language learners a ton. For example, you can use a translating plugin to ease your way into new languages by helping you translate all or part of your online reading.
I use this one often when I’m browsing other blogs written in Spanish, and it’s super helpful. This plugin translates random words on websites in the language you are learning, with the ability to add more or less translation assistance based on settings.
Another option for a translating plugin, you can use this tool to translate any word in a window without moving away from the page.
This plugin translates, but also goes a step further and saves words you don’t understand so you can review them later.
What Are Your Must-Have Online Resources?
I would love to find out more about what you are using to learn a language right now. Which apps can't you live without? What's the best website?
Share your ideas in the comments below!