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5 Great Resources for Language Learning

5 Great Resources for Language Learning

The language learning process can be tough. Particularly if you are outside of a country where it is spoken natively. Even if you are immersed amongst locals it can be hard to find a comfortable environment for practising your speaking skills. I’ve been learning French and living in France for a while now and am able to give you good insight into the tools that have worked for me as well as a list of other recommended ones that have either not worked for me or that I have not yet tried. We all learn differently. You won’t find language school in this list because I didn’t find it particularly helpful to me. That doesn’t mean you won’t.

1. Duolingo

If you’re like me and you don’t learn so well given pages and pages of grammar tables and then expected to read and practise them then Duolingo is great for the beginners. It treats language learning like a game, rewarding you with points in the form of XP (experience points) and false currency in the form of lingots. This format makes it much easier to stay motivated as you breeze through levels. In each level you have to translate from English (or whatever your native language is) to French (or whatever your target language is), vice versa, practise your oral skills, sentence structure and verb conjugations. Each level will also give you just enough new subject matter and for you to repeat it for it to stick in your memory. You get rewarded for forming a streak of consecutive days completing a minimum amount of learning.

Pros:

  • Free.
  • Very structured learning from beginner to advanced.
  • Doesn’t bombard you with too much data. Lets you absorb grammar whilst using it with practical examples.
  • Makes language learning (more) fun in the form of a game with levels, points, and “currency” to buy bonuses.
  • Great community with discussions on every question. Great for the grammar obsessed like me.
  • Available as a web app in the browser and natively on smartphones and tablets.

Cons:

  • The microphone feature is not the greatest and resulted in switching off the oral practice.
  • It is not a substitute for actually speaking the language. After a while it will go from your main tool to an auxiliary one to accompany your main study.

2. Memrise

Similar to Duolingo with a fantastic UI and developed with memory theory I use this daily to review recently learned words and phrases. If you are a beginner I would still recommend Duolingo for the way it introduces grammar. So far I have found memrise useful for vocabulary. Memrise also awards points, allows you set daily goals to stay motivated, and create groups to compete with your friends. You can learn at your own pace. It’s no good trying to learn 100 words a day because you won’t remember them. If you spend 15 minutes a day on Memrise you will absolutely learn and commit to long term memory 10 new words.

Pros:

  • Free (with premium option offered for greater analysis of your learning habits)
  • Tons of user created content
  • Beautiful engaging UI
  • Create/join groups to motivate/compete against your friends
  • Let’s you associate words/phrases with a “mem”, a mnemonic device that you can create or choose from a list

Cons:

  • I’m yet to find any.

3. Meetup

A general site to find and create meetups for just about anything. And language learning is no exception. As all of the online polyglots like Benny Lewis and Olly Richards say the most efficient way to learn a language is to speak it. We can all come up a myriad of excuses not to start speaking but until you do you won’t kick on and get through the first major barrier. Finding conversation classes in a comfortable setting is one thing Meetup.com is great for. There are global language exchanges like Franglish and GoLingo which operate like speed-dating for languages, and then there are smaller, more personal group classes. These are useful in both your country and the country of your target language. Check it out for your city!

Pros:

  • Find a class with other learners of your target language or with others that are natives and are learning your native language.
  • You can choose the most comfortable setting for you. Cafés, bars, parks, you name it they exist.
  • You SPEAK the language and get compliments!

Cons:

  • It takes self-discipline to get out what you put in. At first you just want to use the basics and become more fluent at talking about you and asking simple questions. After time you need to direct the conversation more to push on in your learning.
  • Perhaps there are no events in your city. In which case, why not create one?

4. Couchsurfing

The popular choice for many travellers is to stay on a local’s sofa for many reasons but particularly, the low cost, insider knowledge of the area, and sharing of cultures. I have not used couchsurfing for accommodation, however I have used it to find language partners! When I’m in France I use it to post notices in the forum asking if anyone wants to exchange French for English. It’s proved very popular. This is great if you prefer one-on-one conversation. Again, like with conversation classes you should come prepared (although the first meeting is usually just getting to know the other person).

Pros:

  • Meet a native speaker in a setting you choose.
  • It’s free and fun.
  • It’s a situation designed for improvement so you can take advantage of being in the company of a native. I.e. checking for mistakes in a text you’ve written or asking them for corrections when you’re speaking.

Cons:

  • You have to make sure it’s 50/50, don’t expect the other to be your teacher and don’t let it become a situation where they are reliant on you. Olly Richards has written a great post on making the most of a language exchange.

5. italki

Perfect for speaking practice when you’re not immersed in your target language. Bite the bullet and arrange a language exchange over Skype with a native speaker who is learning your language. Italki also offers paid sessions with both professional teachers and tutors who are native speakers and love helping others.

Pros:

  • Fantastic if you’re outside a country where your target language is spoken.
  • Informal tutoring is very affordable. It can be around 7€ per hour depending on the teacher. This is incredible.
  • A whole community of language learners that will keep you motivated.

Cons:

  • Everyone learns differently. I have primarily used italki for paid tutoring sessions. Paying ensures I study for it and attend the session.

 

Other resources:

  • Anki – a flashcard platform that is hugely popular. Open source and available of many different platforms.
  • XPLingo – an immersive RPG for Spanish learners that allows you to follow a story through virtual Barcelona whilst you learn.
  • about.com – I use this almost exclusively for verb conjugation tables.

 

 

2 Comments

  • Peter Rettig

    Hi Alex, we like your tag line and can’t quibble with your language learning suggestions.
    We obviously like our own site, and also believe that a variety in learning tools keep you from getting into a learning rut (the topic of our latest blog post).
    Living in France I wonder whether you are familiar with Frantastique, a different and somewhat wacky online French learning site with apps, that can really improve your French grammar.
    We just came across LanguageZen, which uses some of the Duolingo ideas, but also has added music and lyrics. It currently only offers Spanish and as we like it a lot we plan to review it shortly.
    Peter Rettig recently posted…3 Sure Ways to Escape the Language Learning RutMy Profile

    9th April 2016 at 23:46
    • Alex
      Alex

      Hi Peter, thanks so much for the comment, I’m so happy you like the post. I had not heard of Frantastique but I’ve just had a brief look. The daily email feature is a good idea as it’s an effortless way of getting French into one’s daily life. However it is on the expensive side, no doubt because of the personalised correction feature. I don’t think it’s necessarily to pay for materials. I have made much of my progress solo and hope to encourage people to do the same.

      I will check out LanguageZen and of course your site. Stick around and thanks again for the comment, hopefully others will find it useful!
      Alex recently posted…How To Pass The DELF B2My Profile

      12th April 2016 at 16:05

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