The best ways to learn languages at home
The list of reasons to learn a new language is endless. Not only does it open up a whole other world of culture and history for you, there's a growing body of research which suggests becoming multilingual can help stave off dementia, improve your memory, improve your cognitive control, and even make your happier and boost your pleasure levels. Employers also often say they value bilingual candidates more highly, and much research shows after learning one new language, learning others becomes easier. Research also suggests humans' well-being is closely linked to the achievement of meaningful goals in life, meaning speaking that extra tongue could boost your life satisfaction. Aside from all that, while it can be hard at times, it's really fun!
We've previously covered some of the best free apps and websites to use for learning a new language, but if you're serious about your language studies and you want more options and features than these free options provide, then you may want to invest in more complete language software or in an online course. There are a number of subscription or one-time payment software options available, as well as online courses with different focuses. All of these can be really helpful when picking up a second (or third, or fourth) language. What better way to spend your time while stuck indoors during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic?
If you're an auditory learning, and you find that the best way to understand and remember is through conversation and listening, then the Pimsleur Method is ideal. It is audio-based and encourages learner participation through speaking and other sound-based exercises. It's great if you're looking to improve your spoken communication and listening skills primarily – so if you're moving abroad for work or study, then this can help ease the transition and get you chatting and understanding the locals very fast. It's a method with a long-established tradition of over 50 years and has often been used in both schools and the business world. A course costs around €100 for thirty half-hour audio lessons, plus reading lessons, and you can try one lesson for free.
2. Foreign Service Institute Language Courses
The Foreign Service Institute is the United States Government's training institute for foreign affairs, and provides public ally-accessible courses for learning more than 70 foreign languages. Courses are presented as a series of audio lessons, suitable for brand new beginners right up to advanced users, and you can work through each lesson at whatever pace suits you. There are also PDF guides which provide further written information. The website is basic and has no frills, but all the information you need to start learning a language is there. All content provided on the website is free and is in the public domain.
Living Language offers a whole suite of programs, including an online course, mobile and tablet apps, and free resources. Aimed more at serious learners than those looking for casual fun, it uses established learning methods to help you start speaking basic phrases straight away, then progresses using a building block system. It goes beyond memorising and includes teaching on grammar, cultural content, and an audio conversations, so it is ideal for professional learners who need a new language for their job or career prospects. For the online courses, you pay for monthly access of around €35 per month, which gives you access to between forty and fifty lessons including vocabulary, grammar, audio conversations and cultural notes. You can also buy a platinum package for €180 per year which includes books and CDs as well as access to the online courses and mobile apps.
Udemy is an online marketplace for learning, in which experts create their own course content and make it available to web users either for free or for a fee. It features a large number of language courses, designed for different learning styles and levels of engagement. Typically, courses will comprise a number of lectures which can you watch online, audio clips to teach you about pronunciation, flashcards to help you learn vocabulary, and/or quizzes to test your knowledge. As the courses are offered by private experts, the quality can be variable and you may have to hunt to find a teaching style which suits you. Each course has online reviews which you can check to help you find the right course for you. Prices range from free to several hundred Euros for a complete course, and courses range from total beginner to brushing up skills for advanced language learners.
Rosetta Stone is probably the best-known language-learning software, that aims to re-create the experience of immersion within a foreign language. Starting from basic sounds before moving on to words to sentences to conversations, it shows the basic sounds and structure of each language and helps you to see the relationships between different words. If you are a learner who prefers to understand patterns rather than to remember facts, this is the method for you. The idea is that once you understand the pattern of a language, you can use it intuitively and fluently, so the focus is on immersion rather than memorisation. You can either pay for a monthly access to online courses for €16 per month, or you can buy unlimited access to a complete course for €280, which includes access for other members of your household and can be used at any point in the future.
Babbel aims to promote fast learning by showing a large number of words or phrases at once, then reviewing each word or phrase one by one. Its primary focus is on listening and writing, so it fits the way users work with computers well. Some users might find the large amount of words to be overwhelming at first, however, if you're focused and determined and you want to learn rapidly, then this method can help you achieve that. Another unusual feature is that there is not a set pattern of lessons – first introducing yourself, then food, then directions and so on – which is typical for language learning. Rather, you pick yourself which lesson you would like to work on, based on your individual needs. If you've learnt a language before, and you know what specific information you will need in your new language, then this is very convenient. But it means that brand-new learners might struggle to choose an appropriate course for themselves. You can buy access either by month, by three months, by six months, or yearly, which costs from €10 / month to €5 / month respectively, and includes access to online teaching as well as to the mobile apps.
Coursera offers massive open online educational courses, which consist of teaching content optimized for the web and designed for unlimited participation and open access. This includes video lectures of one to two hours a week, plus quizzes, weekly exercises, assignments which are graded by your fellow class members, and possibly a final exam or project. The courses range from four to ten weeks long, and you can begin the course at any time which suits you. There are a huge range of courses which are taught in English, Spanish, or Chinese, but fewer options in other languages. There are fewer courses for learning languages on this site than for learning other topics, but those which are available are often put together by reputable universities and so can be expected to be of high quality. All courses are available for the public to access for free, or you can pay a fee of a few hundred Euros to gain a certification that you have completed the course, which is useful is you want to be able to prove your knowledge to a future employer or university.
Mindsnacks is cute, fun, and a little bit silly. It focuses on gamified learning, with teaching done through a series of minigames. The games are colourful, have cute styling, and are surprisingly addictive. There are achievements and level-up systems built into the app, so if you struggle to motivate yourself then these can provide an excellent reward system. Plus, there are also lessons with words to memorise, organised into themes such as family or food. However, there are no grammar lessons, so it's not for serious learners who need to be able to form perfect sentences. The software is however ideal for those who want an enjoyable and light-hearted language learning experience which uses gamification for effective motivation. Mindsnacks is one of the cheaper options, costing just €5 for fifty lessons for one language and including one free lesson; or you can buy access to all language courses for €20.
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