Jane's Gems: 25 Free Resources for Learning a Language Online

By Jane Hart / November 2011

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Jane Hart is the Founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, one of the most visited learning sites on the Web. In her monthly column for eLearn she shares some "gems"—useful or valuable tools, resources, and products she has unearthed for learning and performance improvement/support. In this month's column she focuses on free resources for learning how to speak a foreign language.

I learned German at school and actually went on to study it at university. In school I was taught the rules of German grammar and spent a lot of time building my German vocabulary mostly through memorization. But it wasn't till I spent time in Germany that I really learnt how to speak German. There I was able to get the "feel" of the language as I was surrounded by it every day; I heard it spoken all around me, I had conversations with people, I watched German TV, and I read German magazines and newspapers. Sometimes I consciously made an effort to broaden my vocabulary by reading financial or economic articles, but most of the time I was unaware that I was absorbing so much about the language. In fact I can recall a couple of occasions when I heard myself say something in German and thought, "I didn't learn that at school!"

Learning a language therefore involves a number of different aspects-learning the rules of grammar, acquiring vocabulary, practicing speaking the language, as well as simply being immersed in the language. Here are 25 examples of free online resources to help you learn a language in many different ways:

  1. 200words-a-day If you find learning new vocabulary a time-consuming grind, try boosting it with the 200 Words a Day! language learning program offered in Spanish, French, German, and Welsh.
  2. book2 Learn languages online for free with 100 audio (mp3) files!
  3. Busuu A language learning community to practice your language skills.
  4. Conversation Exchange Three types of language exchange: face-to-face conversation, correspondence, and text and voice chat.
  5. Digital Dialects Free to use interactive games for learning languages and links to study resources.
  6. Elovivo Learn a new language, find language exchange partners, and contribute to your language.
  7. Forvo All the words in the world pronounced.
  8. How do you pronounce? Search for a word and not only get an audio pronunciation, but also tagged and time-stamped videos of real people in real situations speaking and using the word in context.
  9. italki A language learning community and marketplace.
  10. langoLab Practice a foreign language with a native speaker, over webcam.
  11. Learn a Language on YouTube A collection of YouTube videos for learning Arabic, Chinese, Finnish, French, Hebrew, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Maori, Old English, Portuguese, Sign Language, Spanish, Swedish, and Welsh.
  12. Lingofriends A language exchange.
  13. Linkua Learn with a language tutor.
  14. Memrise Learn a language by following simple steps to remember the words.
  15. Mi Vida Loca A fun and interactive course that draws you into a web of intrigue dealing with real natives and you can't help but learn Spanish.
  16. The Mixxer An educational website for language exchanges via Skype.
  17. OpenLearn Modern language resources from The Open University.
  18. Paris by Pod Learn French, live from Paris.
  19. PhraseBase A conversational foreign language learning social network.
  20. PlaySay The fun and social way to learn Spanish—on Facebook.
  21. Radio Lingua Network Language learning for your iPad, iPhone, mp3 player or computer.
  22. SoZiety A language exchange via Skype.
  23. TermWiki The global social learning network in 89 languages.
  24. Verbalplanet The award winning new way to learn how to speak a foreign language.
  25. Yappr Create quizzes and flashcards using videos and pictures to study, learn, or teach anything.

And if 25 is not enough for you, you can find a list of more than 200 resources here.

Finally, an interesting point to note, learning a foreign language is a lot like workplace learning. Here training is often provided to teach the "rules" of the business, e.g. policies, procedures, use of systems, and even things like how to negotiate with difficult people. But just like learning a second language the real learning takes place in the workplace, when you are immersed in the business. in conversations, in meetings, in reading documents and reports, in listening to podcasts or watching screencasts. Once again, some of the time you will consciously set out to find out about something, but most of the time you are absorbing new information and acquiring skills quite unconsciously.

Comments

  • Sun, 11 Dec 2011
    Post by Marc Tirel

    Hello

    Have a look to this "Ted Talk": http://www.scoop.it/t/enseignement-ecole-apprentissage-mutuels-mutual-learning/p/800487723/luis-von-ahn-massive-scale-online-collaboration-learn-a-language-for-free-translate-the-web

    and you may want to add to your list this promissing resource : http://duolingo.com/

    Marc

  • Wed, 30 Nov 2011
    Post by Ulrike Rettig

    Your article and list are a great resource for language learning! I grew up in a bilingual home (German and Dutch), but learned my next foreign language (French) in school with traditional materials (textbook grammar and memorization of word lists). My first trip to France found me tongue-tied because I didn't have the language to deal with daily practical situations. Several years ago, I learned Italian just using audio lessons. When I arrived in Italy for a 5 month stay, I had no clue how to read and write Italian, and I used the French sound system as a reference (with some strange results). With the explosion of innovative technology available on the Internet, learning a language has become a totally different process. Yes, it's nice to be in the country to soak up the "sound and feel" of a language. But, as a second choice, the Internet is a huge resource. You can pick and choose ways to learn that work for you; you can listen, read, write, speak to your heart's content; you can surround yourself with your new language using various Internet content; you can practice your pronunciation, record your own voice, etc. Being a language educator myself, my mission is to get Americans excited about foreign language learning with GamesforLanguage. I'm using a CMS program that I myself can load with content. I try out ways to teach traditional things in a new way: pronunciation, grammar, reading, speaking, listening comprehension. Language is a rich medium to engage in and learning thrives on being engaged.