People have a variety of reasons for wanting to learn a new language. For some, there really is no reason—they just enjoy it. On the other hand, immigrants often need to learn their new home country’s official or primary language in order to succeed there. Businesspeople realize that knowing at least a little of their peers’ language is a great way to establish rapport. Travelers similarly find that knowing even a few words of another language makes things a lot easier and is polite to locals. Missionaries see learning another language as a way to touch more souls. If nothing else, learning another language is a fun intellectual activity that could come in handy someday. Therefore, the question of how to learn a new language online is relevant to everybody.
If you have a long wait at the doctor’s office or on public transit, learning a language is a great way to pass the time, rather than stewing about something you cannot control anyway. Online resources have made on-the-go recreational learning easier, but at the same time, they have also made language learning all the more possible for disadvantaged populations.
Free Online Material
It is not as hard as you would think to find completely free language learning material for prevalent languages. English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese online materials are especially easy to find: You can find lists of vocabulary words, pronunciation guides, translated texts, and even aural skills exercises online. However, actual courses, especially those with immersion are not free. Immersion in a language is an environment that forces you to use another language and trains you to see the world in that language. In effect, this is how we all learned our first language(s) as children.
Despite the deficiencies, free online materials are a great way to accelerate your learning even if you are currently unable to pay anything. If you are trying to become more fluent in a language that people around you are speaking, you are already in an immersion environment, so a little online help might be all you need. Reading words improves your written language skills and, for visual learners, on-the-page reading really solidifies knowledge.
Since free online sources are not necessarily organized into learner-friendly courses, you will probably need to apply some self-discipline and/or self-guidance in order to really make progress. Only with organized, regular study will you really become more fluent. Realize that it is okay to make mistakes; as long as you consistently expose yourself to the pronunciation, words, and syntax (how words come together to make a meaningful sentence) of your target language, you will get more fluent.
Free online sources can be used as “field trips” as you are learning a language. For example, a simple search allows you to find scenes or, if you are lucky, entire films in another language. To make this even more of a learning experience, make a search for films with subtitles: subtitles in your language and/or the language you are trying to learn can help you practice your aural and written skills while allowing you to better understand the film itself. You do not have to work too hard at this – you accomplish more than you think by just passively absorbing the film’s language.
When you consider how to learn a new language online, you probably think of living languages. However, “dead” languages have not lost their relevance. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian are known as romance languages, since they are derived from the ancient Roman language – Latin. Academic and religious texts from centuries ago were regularly written in Latin, and modern medicine still uses Latin words to refer to body parts. Latin is the best example of a dead language that lives on, but depending on what you wish to study or what you care about, others may come into play – ancient Greek (though it bears much resemblance to modern Greek), traditional Native American languages, Aramaic, and other languages belonging to past cultures. (Note that in-depth study of an obscure language will certainly require more than online probing; you will need to work with experts.)
How to Choose an Online Language Learning Program
If you have even a little expendable money, an online course or online learning program is the ideal way to learn a new language. Since the course or program is laid out for you, you can simply login or pull up an app on your tablet or phone, and just enjoy – many users find that it is as easy as playing a computer game. Most online language programs are very inexpensive – certainly cheaper than hiring a tutor. Also, most are quite fair when it comes to money-back guarantees, refunds if you change your mind, and value for your money. Therefore, most people find online language courses to be a satisfying purchase.
If you want to learn a relatively obscure language, you will have fewer online options from which to choose. However, if you want to learn, say, Spanish, the options might be overwhelming. Fortunately, language programs usually allow you to buy as little or as much as you want at once, so if you are not sure whether you want to stick with a particular program, purchase less time or lessons up front.
However, keep in mind that buying in bulk is usually cheaper, so if you are ready to commit, go ahead and get as much time or as many lessons as you want.
If you are going to invest money in learning a language, be sure the program or course offers some balance of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. You do not want to work hard learning a lot of vocabulary and grammar only to find that your speech is unintelligible to a native speaker or that you cannot understand anything a native speaker is saying.
The value of a great language course is that it brings spelling, syntax, pronunciation, and listening skills together into an integrated whole and that it helps you practice the language in such a way that the new language starts to feel like a habit. Even as everybody needs these components for language learning, individual learners are different: some people will not learn something unless they see it; others unless they hear it – consider your learning style as you look at demos or descriptions of a course.
The Best Overall Language Courses Online
By most accounts, Rosetta Stone is the overall best language learning program online. Once you have purchased your online subscription, you can download the app, called Learn Languages: Rosetta Stone®, and have access to the program anywhere with internet service; your progress will be synced across devices. If you anticipate needing to go offline, it is also possible to download lessons.
Rosetta Stone has a well-deserved reputation for top-notch immersion training, and its patented TruAccent™ pronunciation assessment program guarantees you an almost-native accent, assuming you successfully complete the lessons. If you feel that you really need a native tutor, it is possible to purchase tutoring sessions from Rosetta Stone, too.
The program is suitable for people of all ages, and it is highly useful to organizations and individuals alike. The site keeps detailed records of progress; homeschooling parents especially appreciate this feature. Rosetta Stone is a great option for Hispanic immigrants seeking English training: While the site itself is in English, there is a link to a Spanish section to make using Rosetta Stone easier for Spanish speakers.
Rosetta Stone offers an unusually extensive list of languages, including those that are important on the world stage but not as commonly taught in Western schools, such as Hindi, Indonesian, Arabic, Swedish, and Filipino. Naturally, it has the languages offered at most high schools – Spanish, French, and Latin – along with those not typically offered until the college level – Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese.
It distinguishes different dialects of common languages – British vs. American English, Spanish in Spain vs. Spanish of Latin America. Rosetta Stone is even working to preserve “endangered languages” – languages that are no longer spoken but are part of a culture’s heritage. It seems that this site perfectly answers every question of how to learn a new language online.
Learning a Language Might Be Better Than You Think
If you are reading this article, you are probably someone enthusiastic about learning one or more new languages. However, if you are someone who has always struggled with foreign languages and doubts that this will ever change, you should realize that online learning is very different from classroom learning or tutoring. For one thing, there is no embarrassment and very little to lose: You can move at your own pace and make mistakes without wondering what your teacher thinks of you or fearing a bad grade.
Most language app users are comfortably using language learning activities in place of games; programs such as Rosetta Stone are not tedious to use, and most people find that they are a lot of fun. Best of all, though, is that pleasant surprise when you realize that you have become fluent in a new language – to the point that you can have a friendly conversation with a native speaker.