3 Of The Top Online Language Learning Programs And Apps, Reviewed
Maybe we can FINALLY learn a foreign language.
How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? It's never too late to make some, and learning a new language often tops that list.
Many of us are still at home, with possible spare time on our hands. Add to this the hope in our ability to travel again in 2021, thanks to the promising new COVID-19 vaccines.
Online sites and apps are go-tos when it comes to pursuing a new language on our own.
Before you grab for your device, consider a reality check. Over 30 years of experience as a language professor has taught me that we need to temper our expectations.
When it comes to gaining the ease and fluency of a native speaker and retaining what we’ve learned, people need TIME — lots of it, plus plenty of exposure to authentically used language.
Realize that you won’t become fluent using these platforms alone, but when you do get the chance to venture abroad and step foot on foreign soil, you’ll have the confidence to jump right in, eagerly interacting with the locals, and you’ll probably end up having a much more enriching experience than if you relied on Google translate or an English-speaking tour guide.
For the nontraveler who wishes to keep his or her mind occupied while we ride out this pandemic — safely, at home — these platforms are perfect for just that: Jump-start a new language (Italian, Russian, Dutch anyone?) or perhaps review some of your high school French or Spanish.
How it works: Exercises: You match words and short sentences to pictures as you see them written and hear them spoken. You have the chance to repeat with your microphone off or on (although all repetitions are “approved”).
Rosetta Stone also provides free “Live Lessons,” which are livestreamed group sessions, corresponding to Rosetta Stone units. This is a good opportunity for live human interaction, using the new language once you have completed the unit.
What it costs: There is a three-day free trial. Subscriptions range from $36 for three months for a language to $179 for 12 months for unlimited languages, or Lifetime for one payment of $199 for unlimited languages.
Pros and cons: The main pro is that it presents the target language without translation to English (or another language), which is how real language is learned. Photos provide the context (true beginners will be doing a lot of guessing). If you pay attention and really think about what you’re doing, it’s a good brain game.
Details at rosettastone.com
How it works: Exercises: You’re given a picture and the word or sentence written under it, in both the target language and English. You listen to the computer say it, and you repeat. This is followed by fill-in-the-blank exercises where you can complete sentences with the new words. (You have to remember the spelling, or go through trial and error,)
What it costs: For one month/$14; three months/$30; six months/$51; 12 months/$83 — all with a 20-day money-back guarantee.
Pros and cons: They are the same — even beginning lessons provide full sentences rather than simple words. One con is that there is reliance on translation to English.
Details at babbel.com
How it works: Exercises: Many match photos to words and phrases, and many are based purely on translation. This is, essentially, a language video game.
What it costs: It is free (downloadable app).
Pros and cons: The main pro is using this one to jog your memory about the language as you pass the time at home or are waiting in line while out in public.
Details at duolingo.com