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While travel has been severely affected during Covid-19, that doesn’t mean it’s not the right time to start practicing your foreign language skills. Whether you’re planning your post-pandemic getaway, or just trying to reinforce a language you’ve studied before, there are a variety of online resources that can help you develop your dialects.
Practicing a skill while staying at home can help your mind stay sharp and keep your mental health from dipping into pandemic fatigue. There are virtual courses for almost everything these days, from bread-making to workouts, so you won’t find a lack of study materials or programs to help you with language-learning. The best online language courses use apps, video lessons and software to help you with your speech and accent, and are suitable for all skill levels, even if you’re a beginner.
Looking to learn the language of your dream destination? Chat with a relative who’s only fluent in your non-native language? Just practice your vocabulary if you’re still doing virtual learning? Here’s what to know about picking the best language-learning program that’s right for you.
What Are the Best Online Language Courses
When you’re looking for the best language learning programs online, think about what your goals are for learning a language in the first place. What skill level you start at will also inform where you want to start, since some programs are better for beginners than someone more advanced. Are you working towards total fluency in speaking and writing? Or do you want to learn some common phrases for business, or for traveling as a tourist?
If you already have some working knowledge of your target language, you might want to focus on programs that help you with your conversational skills, and help you speak to more advanced topics. Beginners might want to focus on programs that have a more gamified vibe so you won’t get bored. Often these emphasize learning and memorizing new vocabulary.
You also want to consider how far away your target language is, linguistically speaking from your own. The best language programs for non-Romance languages take a more visual and writing-based learning style, since you’ll have to learn a whole new script, alphabet, or characters.
Different online courses use different teaching methods too, depending on how casually or serious you are about your studies. Some language courses use interactive exercises, or tools like flashcards and games to keep you engaged. But these may feel a bit too repetitive if you already know a lot of grammar and have a foundation of vocabulary. Others put more of an emphasize on audio learning and connecting with native speakers to help encourage better speaking fluency. You may want a tool that you can use while on-the-go, or a program that’s less of a big time commitment, though.
Whatever your preferred learning style, there’s no need to worry: there’s a program out there for you. We’ve rounded up the best language-learning programs online, even if you only know how to say “hello” and “goodbye”.
Best Online Language Courses for Beginners: Babbel
Babbel is the best app for beginners that don’t want to commit to something highly-intensive: their quick lessons only take 10-15 minutes out of your day. Expertly-designed by linguists, the interactive dialogue will keep you engaged with conversations that actually feel like real ones you might have with native speakers. What we love: you can build each course based on your interests, like business or travel, so you won’t feel like you’re learning unnecessary vocabulary.
Speech recognition tools can also help test your pronunciation, which can be immensely helpful if you’re learning a language with vocal sounds disparate from your own. Build up your confidence and start having full conversations sooner with Babbel’s Live Subscription, which gives you access to virtual classes with live teachers. Babbel has 14 languages available, and you can try the first lesson for free before signing up for a monthly subscription, starting at $13.95 for one month or $9.95 for three months.
Best Online Language Program Overall: Pimsleur
Pimsleur is designed for users who are looking to speak and understand conversations fluently, and works wonders for getting your pronunciation just right. Unlike some more “game”-y language-learning apps, you’ll listen, learn and practice dialogue along with prerecorded video clips of conversations for a more immersive feel.
With one 30-minute audio lesson per day, you’ll nail the spoken nuances of target language. But if your focus is on reading and writing, you might want to try another option on this list. That being said, what Pimsleur excels at is spaced repetition, where you can recall information in specific intervals. This means you’ll retain more vocabulary and grammar without the lessons being mindlessly repetitive in the way flashcards can be (although digital flashcards are also available). With a whopping 50+ languages available, your target language is probably available too.
For on-the-go learners, this app is one of the most accessible programs around. You can easily access lessons offline, or through an Amazon Echo device. Your first week trial is free, and afterwards the program’s languages start at $19.95 a month.
Best Language-Learning App: Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone is one of the biggest players in the game, and for good reason. This award-winning program has come a long way since the day of bulky yellow box sets of multiple CDs, and their app is unparalleled when it comes to the sheer amount of different learning methods it utilizes to help get you fluent, fast.
Equal parts intuitive and immersive, the app’s courses will help you learn about every facet of the language (speaking, listening, hearing, reading, and writing) as well as cultural elements from the country of origin. This will help beginners especially understand the why behind cultural nuances of languages, such as honorifics in Japanese.
There’s scavenger-hunt style challenges that utilize your camera to help you with vocabulary for common objects if you’re a visual learner. With their TruAccent speech-recognition technology, auditory learnings can be confident in course-correcting their pronunciation and accent, too. Don’t want to commit to a full daily lesson? You can use the Audio Companion to listen to lessons hands-free, or take a look at the phrasebook to go back and practice key words you’ve learned. While the number of languages offered is not as extensive as Pimsleur, the app’s offering will have you on the fast-track to learning a language in weeks: but you can start today with a 3-day free trial.
Best Video Courses for Language-Learning: Coursera
If you want comprehensive language lessons, but like the feel of traditional classroom more than a game-like app, Coursera offers thousands of online video courses for a wide range of foreign languages.
Taught by experts like university professors and highly-rated instructors, courses range from one-off lessons on specific grammar subjects, to full-blown lectures with assignments and discussion forums you can use to talk with other students. If you’re looking for a more all-encompassing program, some of these courses might be a bit specific. But if you know what you want, and you just want to hone in on things like travel-specific phrases, beginners grammar, or business-related jargon there are more than enough choices available.
The variety can be big bonus when it comes to choosing the right course for you, depending on your budget. Coursera offers free one-off lessons, all the way up to pricier certification programs. But getting instruction through video means that you’ll have access to teachers from your target country of choices who know best how to introduce the material to new language-learners.