How to Learn a Language Using the Internet

February 12, 2013 — 13 Comments

Learning languages isn’t easy, but thanks to the time we live in, there are dozens of free resources available for you to learn almost any language with just a simple point and click. I have noted below several websites and resources where you can learn French, Icelandic, Japanese, or whatever language you are aching to learn. I’ve divided the language learning process into four sections. This isn’t necessarily the order you should start learning languages, but it should help you troubleshoot your struggles and weak points more easily.

1. Vocabulary - This is the easy part. It’s important to first learn words and phrases that are more frequently used, so you can start communicating immediately.

  • Memrise.com - Learn vocabulary through spaced repetition. The words you prove to know well are shown less often, so you get more practice with words you struggle with.
  • Anki - Anki is a flashcard program similar to Memrise with hundreds of decks.
  • Polyglot Chrome Extension - This Chrome extension will seamlessly incorporate words from your target language into your online experience. You can customize the language and the frequency of replaced words.
  • Frequency Lists – Here is a list of 400 commonly used words that you should learn first.

2. Grammar – Grammar is crucial to understanding meaning. Even missing so much as a comma can make a huge difference.

  • Duolingo.com – Duolingo offers six languages with grammar and vocabulary lessons. Earn points and unlock levels as you go along.
  • BBC Languages - The BBC offers lessons with grammar, vocabulary, games, activities, and tests in forty languages.
  • Livemocha.com – Livemocha is very similar to Rosetta Stone and has lessons for 38 languages.
  • Lang-8.com - Write in your new language and have a native speaker correct your mistakes.

3. Speaking/Pronunciation - You can’t communicate with a native speaker if they can’t understand what you are trying to say.

  • Verbling.com – Verbling will match you up with someone who speaks your target language, so you can talk to them right over the internet. They teach you a language, and you teach them one.
  • Interpals.net – Find a pen pal from another country and learn their language.

4. Comprehension/Listening – Get used to the tempo and rhythm of native speakers. Reading text and listening to speakers are hugely different experiences.

  • Books - Don’t read books on how to learn a certain language. Pick books you love. If you wouldn’t read it in English, don’t try reading it in another language. Harry Potter is a great place to start. It’s easy to read and available in many languages.
  • Movies - IMDB makes it easy to find the best movies made in foreign languages. Just make sure you turn off the subtitles.
  • Youtube - Don’t just watch language learning specific videos, but also clips from that Spanish soap opera or that Japanese anime. Youtube gives you another way to listen to native speakers use their language.
  • Non-Language Learning Websites.- Read articles and websites written by native speakers. Are you a sports fan learning Spanish? Start visiting ESPN Deportes instead of ESPN. Planning on visiting Shanghai? Use Baidu.com instead of Google.
  • FSI Language Courses (which is currently down for some reason) – These are courses developed by the U.S. Government that have reached the public domain. Download the text and repeat after the tapes.

Tips

  • Don’t waste your money on Rosetta Stone. Many language experts find Rosetta Stone lacking. Plus, there are many online alternatives that offer similar services for free.
  • Practice daily. Be relentless. Learning a language takes time, so get in the habit of practicing every day.
  • Speak from day one. Don’t get bogged down in the vocabulary and grammar. Find someone to talk with and start speaking from day one. You won’t learn until you force yourself to use the language.
  • Learn for a reason. You have to be truly motivated. Don’t learn Portuguese because you think it sounds cool. Learn Portuguese because you want to visit Brazil. Be practical. Learn the language to communicate with its speakers.
  • Visit the country. Immerse yourself. Visiting a country that speaks your target language is the easiest way to learn a language and learn it quickly. While you are there, don’t communicate in any language but the language you wish to learn.
  • Keep using the language. Once you learn the language, keep refreshing your vocabulary. Seek out native speakers to practice with from time to time. Don’t let this valuable skill go rusty.

Are there any other resources or tips people should know about? Disagree with anything in the article? Share your thoughts below.

  • dan

    I feel you missed out on the whole part of meeting people online to do language exchange with. This should be the main pillar.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003417348035 Barb

      And borrowing a new word from aneohtr language such as computer into Chinese language doesn’t add a new Chinese character since Chinese language doesn’t borrow its pronunciation but uses its Chinese characters to translate its meaning.

  • Jim

    I’m trying to learn German for the longest time and I needed this.

  • http://www.myevilplot.com Cris

    Sharedtalk.com is also great (and free!) and would be part of the Speaking/Pronunciation category.

  • Lozza

    There’s another site handy for finding conversations partners: http://www.conversationexchange.com

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  • Ray

    Hi Johnny,
    With regards to the FSI course page. The site is now down permanently according to the old host, but the same public domain has been put back up on:

    http://www.livelingua.com/fsi-language-courses.php

    I hope this helps.

  • Brian

    Hi, we have a site at http://www.worldwordexchange.com. Any feedback would be useful. Thanks

  • Lauren

    Hey, I’ve been learning mandarin online for about 5 months now and want to find a language exchange friend. I’m from the US and can exchange my English for your Chinese. You can find me at http://penpalpassport.com/en/Penpal/View/29175/Lauren

  • Orly

    Lingua.ly is a new Chrome extension that helps you improve your vocabulary while you browse the web. You can go to any website, Click on words you want to learn, and Lingua.ly will automatically turn them into interactive flashcards and remind you to practice them just when the time is right.
    It’s also a great guided discovery tool: Lingua.ly keeps updating your personalized reading suggestions so you can find real articles that are always right for your level, vocab, and interests! It’s live now for English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Hebrew. And it’s absolutely free: http://lingua.ly/?cpid=blogs

  • http://www.englishfuncast.com Ron G

    The English Funcast podcast is a great way to learn English through jokes
    check it out at http://www.englishfuncast.com

  • http://www.gamesforlanguage.com Peter Rettig

    There are new language programs, apps, etc. appearing nearly daily and your framework may help many to decide! I especially like your tips, they are right on!
    We, at gamesforlanguage.com, believe that you best learn a language, including vocabulary, in context while playing! That’s why we are using a travel story and easy games as key teaching tools!

  • Ann Davis

    Thanks Johnny, this is a great help to learn a language!

    I would suggest this language-exchange community http://www.languageforexchange.com/