The ultimate goal of the internet is communication. It allows us to impart our ideas over distance, over any period of time, in written, audio, and visual formats, and to others from any point on the world. It also allows people from all over the globe to work together to form communities and collaborate, creating things like amazing graphic design.
But as easy as it is has become to communicate through imagery in forums like 99designs, there are still huge barriers where language comes into play. Luckily, the internet is also exceptional at helping humans learn languages. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, are better at learning visually or auditorially, and regardless of how in-depth you want to go, there are companies online who cater to your style of language learning.
Here are seven organizations that can help you to improve your English, each in a different way (and mostly for free, or a small fee). Pick your favorite to brush up on your language skills and better your communication with clients!
Duolingo is all about gamification, so they make participation fun and competitive. This choice gets you some of the most important grammar and vocabulary of a language, but does stay at a fairly entry level.
There’s less emphasis on practicing speaking or writing in complex sentences than some of the other choices on this list. There is a less-oft utilized immersion program allowing users to translate sentences and paragraphs. And a communal discussion forum to get help solving language problems.
Specialty: Beginners overview of important vocabulary and grammar
Format: Online application, but emphasizes use on iPad and mobile devices (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
Supported Languages: Arabic, Dutch, Czech, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portugues, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese (In Beta: Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Thai)
2. BBC Learning English
Free audio, video, and text materials provided by the BBC on their new beta website (and it looks like they’re adding new features as they go!). Currently there are two courses available, the “Lower Intermediate” and “Intermediate”. These are fuller courses, but you can engage in single sessions within the course, on demand.
The site also hosts a series of shorter practice opportunities, like Podcasts or their partnership with a program called “English My Way.” This allows the user to function as a group leader and practice English with friends and family around them.
Specialty: Learn by immersion in nuanced cultural communications
Format: Online classes
Supported Languages: Chinese, Farsi, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese
Livemocha calls it a “Whole-Part-Whole” learning model. The user listens to native speakers in conversation, the program breaks down that conversation into vocabulary and grammar, and then the user practices based on interactive activities.
The interesting part of this program is that it’s a community based system. To access content and activities you have to earn points, which you do by helping other users learn your native language.
Level: Structured courses supported by conversations with native speakers
Price: Free with paid upgrades
Format: Online lessons and an interactive community
Supported Languages: Arabic, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Esperanto, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Marathi, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Urdu
Memrise a straight-up vocab mastery tool. With courses created by the company itself in addition to its user community, there’s a huge variety of options for different users. The learning process is based off of the idea of an educational meme, using tricks based on images or words to help the user make a mental connection between a word and it’s meaning.
Level: Beginning to advanced vocabulary
Format: Online application, with Android and iOS functionality
Price: Free, but with a Premium upgrade for $10 a month
Supported Languages: German, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Vietnamese are supported on the website, but since courses are created by the community, they’re offered in hundreds of languages!
5. Living Language
Touted as a good way to improve your existing language skills rather than start from the beginning, flexibility is Living Language’s best feature. They have many different features to interact with, all at different price levels so the company can cater to all levels of learners.
The philosophy behind the brand is to combine all different kinds of learning in an all-encompassing strategy. So if you’re looking for a more complete understanding of a language and are willing to put in some time, this is a great option.
Level: A long-term language study option
Price: The full year-long online course is $150, but you can have access in 1, 3, or 6 months at a scaling rate. Additionally, there are the “Essential” and “Complete” multi-media packages ranging from $20-50. Finally, they’ve got a ton of great free resources on the site, like the “Language Lab” to learn basics, and a free downloadable library of phrasebooks.
Format: Online courses, media libraries, e-tutors and a robust community
Supported Languages: This varies on the product, but most everything on the site is at least in Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish.
So often when you talk to those who have learned a second language, they’ve done a lot to achieve fluency by watching video content from the country in question. FluentU takes and expands on that principle. They find and constantly update video and audio content that is relevant to contemporary speech patterns. The site allows users to experience vocabulary in context, and look it up as they are watching, with the option to practice selected words at a later point.
Specialty: Contextual audio and video clips
Price: There are three plans — Free, Basic ($15/month), and Plus ($30/month)
Format: Online video library, and iOS/iPad and Android apps
Supported Languages: Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish
This is the virtual face-to-face interaction tool! italki facilitates individual interactions between lanugage teachers and learners. There are a couple of levels to the site: The higher level “Professional” lessons using certified teachers and slightly more casual “Informal” level where the user engages with a native speaker of the language. And it’s customizable to your schedule, where you can set times to meet with your teacher, or pursue instant tutoring with the teachers-on-call.
Specialty: One-on-one language teachers
Price: Free to join, but teachers set rates for how much you compensate them per hour
Format: Video chats online
Supported Languages: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Esperanto, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Vietnamese