Learning a foreign language used to be a laborious exercise in frustration: Writing reams of verb conjugations, often with little to no comprehension, and almost always still unilingual at the end of the day.
These days, you have an incredible choice in how you learn a language, and can spend as little as 10 minutes a day, start speaking immediately and actually have fun as you learn.
We’ve compiled a list of 25 terrific language acquisition resources that teach intuitively. These tools use small blocks of easily-understood material and build on them as you review and make progress.
You’ll be speaking another language with a surprising degree of fluency in no time.
Fluent in 3 Months
Benny Lewis, Irish polyglot, blogs frequently at Fluent in 3 Months and has written a book of the same name. He says everyone should understand that all languages have a base vocabulary, common words they use over and over again. In English, for example, 300 words make up 65% of all written material. Once you learn those words, you’re on the road to fluency.
Learn a language quickly at Innovative Language. You can do this with free audio and weekly video lessons, plus vocabulary building tools available in 31 languages. Download the app so you can learn anywhere, anytime. You’ll be speaking some Japanese or Arabic or whatever language you choose within just minutes of the very first lesson.
Find a language partner at The Mixxer, a free educational website for language exchanges via Skype. Hosted by Dickinson College, a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, USA, the site is designed to connect language learners around the world so that everyone is both student and teacher.
Using gamification to make learning fun, Duolingo brings free language education to kids and adults alike. Earn points for correct answers, race against the clock, and move up levels quickly for an immediate sense of accomplishment. The lessons are bite-size and effective.
If it’s French you’d like to master, Kwiziq is worth a try. Called an AI language coach, it gets to know you individually through micro quizzes that are then turned into a detailed “brain map.” You’ll be able to work on personalised lessons, get recommendations for sticking points and do targeted practise.
This app uses friendly, intelligent flashcards to make remembering anything, such as new vocabulary in a foreign language, much easier. Anki is content-agnostic and supports images, audio, videos and scientific markup. That makes the flashcard creation possibilities endless, whether you’re learning a new language, brushing up on medical terminology, or putting people’s names and faces together.
With more than 100 languages to choose from, you can become a polyglot in no time. There are several methods of learning, too. There are Hello Talk teachers, who are native speakers from around the world; there’s a text-to-voice function so you can listen to standard pronunciation of every message you receive or you send; and there’s the transliteration function (which changes, for example, Chinese text to letters from a Roman-based alphabet, so you can read translated words in English).
Coffee Break — Languages at Radio Lingua
You can learn 20 languages on the Radio Lingua network, and you can learn them where and when it suits you, with the mobile app download. Separated into short, manageable chunks, a lesson takes about as much time as a coffee break. Start for free and upgrade to the premium edition if you wish to go forward.
A brand new way to learn a language, with Lingua.ly you collect and learn new words (with point-and-click translation), read news articles that interest you, and practise your new vocabulary by playing comprehension games. It’s immersion, but on your desktop or your smartphone.
The Michel Thomas Method
Language teacher to the stars, the Michel Thomas method of language acquisition allows you to learn a new language in hours, not years. It is an all-audio technique for learning languages, developed by linguist and psychologist Michel Thomas. Lessons are taught in small units, which are continually reviewed and built on each other, and which use your native language for clear explanations.
This educational website helps foreign language learners connect with online teachers and native-speaking language partners from around the world. Whether you’re learning Chinese for business, Arabic for travel or Spanish for personal interest, italki users can search for freelance teachers that fit your learning style, and then you schedule and pay for language lessons.
If you’ve got 30 minutes a day, you can learn one of 60 languages offered by Pimsleur. The method, which was developed more than 50 years ago, teaches language the same way we all learned to speak: Through the acquisition of vocabulary, along with the melody, rhythm and intonation of the new language as used in everyday conversation.
Learn Chinese Now
Ben Hedges, who was born in Hong Kong and raised in Britain, is the host and producer of Taiwan’s popular “Lao wai” (foreigner) show Lao Wai Kan Zhongguo on New Tang Dynasty Television. In his online series, Learn Chinese Now, Ben and several guest stars take learners through essential phrases and interesting vocabulary.
If you are learning Chinese, you should look into the Chinese language reference and learning apps by Pleco Software. This way, you can look up unknown Chinese words in real-time using your device’s camera, or tap-lookup words in a still image. The same tap-lookup feature is available for when you’re reading a document or webpage, and you can also look up words by drawing them on the screen (it’s very accurate and tolerant of stroke order mistakes). Another helpful feature is text-to-speech for sentences, as well as recordings from two different native speakers for 34,000 words.
Take 10 minutes out of your day and join the 30-day challenge. By the end of it, you’ll be speaking in and understanding the language of your choice. Bliu Bliu learns from you and knows the words you know; it then provides you with exercises you can succeed at yet challenge you enough to keep it interesting and keep you improving.
Using adaptive technology, Memrise follows your personal learning style and performance, which helps you learn faster and retain what you know. Choose from more than 200 languages to study, and learn on the road with the Memrise app. The goal of the online learning platform is to make learning fun, embed knowledge quickly and intuitively but with a lasting effect.
English Fluency Now
American Lisa Biskup, who received her postgraduate teacher training at California State University, Fresno, is the TESOL-certified founder of English Fluency Now. This is an in-depth audio course that trains English language learners to speak English automatically. It contains more than 18 hours of audio files with 400 pages of text. There are also free podcasts with lesson guides available at a nominal fee.
The language portal known as bab.la is where language learners can try language quizzes and games, use dictionaries, and improve their vocabulary with flashcards. You can also add your own translations, quizzes and vocabulary lessons then share them with other users.
Practise your speaking skills with the native-speaking, certified professional language teachers at Verbling. The online group lessons and private tutoring is available 24/7, so you can fit in a class whenever it’s best for your schedule. One student said that Verbling’s the closest thing to immersion without actually living in a foreign country.
With its worldwide membership, Busuu lets you practise your language skills with an international community of more than 50 million native speakers. Designed by teachers, and recipient of the European EdTech Top 20 Award, Busuu offers interactive courses in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese and Polish.
On your desktop, mobile or tablet, Babbel gives you everything you need to speak, write and understand a new language. Start building your vocabulary and learn grammar intuitively as you go. You’ll start speaking right from the first lesson with Babbel’s integrated speech recognition to help improve your pronunciation.
You can use this platform for anything you’re trying to learn. It’s a system of combining the ancient Greek “art of memory” with modern neuroscience. In terms of acquiring a foreign language, RebilderU helps you memorize 3,000-plus of the most common words and the complete grammar of a foreign language in as little as 35 hours.
This language teaching site uses the concept of immersion as its basis of learning, with videos in the target language for language acquisition. The videos on FluentU are great learning tools not only because they are real-world and watchable, but because they have interactive captions (in the language of the video), with the English translations there when you hover over a word you don’t understand. You can also click to see in-context definitions and clear examples.
The Word Brain
A short, free PDF guide to language learning, The Word Brain answers questions such as: “How long does it take to learn another language? How many words do we need to learn? Are languages within the reach of everybody? Which teachers should we avoid?” There are three English editions: The full edition is 81 pages, the short is 10 pages, and the micro is one page in length. Other languages include Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Serbian, and Farsi.
This is a highly structured program for efficient learning and motivated students who put in the work and time required will be able to reach a B1 or B2 certification from the Goethe Institute in 45 days. You can try the first series of 34 lessons, called the “A1 Online German Grammar Course,” for free. It includes access to the accompanying videos, while the paid version provides you with additional online Smarter German exercises.
Rosa Mielsch, Joëlle Ortet, Nicholas Jackson, Shane Global
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