Today, I’d like to wrap up my series on learning a language (The Joy in Learning a New Language and Choosing a Language to Learn) with some recommendations for online tools to help you learn that language. I’ll also offer an opinion about Rosetta Stone.
The best way to learn how to speak a language is to, well, speak it. However, as a busy professional with a family, job, and an ever-changing schedule, many options are simply not very practical. In other words, packing my bags for an extensive “immersion” experience is not going to happen any time soon; nor is attending an actual course with a rigid schedule at, say, a university or a community college. Between getting my son to and from school and activities and getting myself to and from work, the last thing I want to do is drive across town to make it to class on time.
Fortunately, thanks to the internet, Skype, Google Hangouts, and on-demand tools have made it incredibly easy to conduct language sessions online. We all have different learning styles so the challenge is finding good language partners/tutors who are used to teaching online or equally motivated to learn a language.
By far and away the best online solution I’ve found (and there are many) is: italki.com. Italki has both professional (i.e., trained/credentialed) and non-professional freelance language teachers available. In addition to being able to find a solution that meets your budget, you’ll be able to use the system to schedule and pay for your lessons. Italki has also done a really good job of integrating its entire community of language learners into their site. As such, getting feedback and support are easily done.
To find the right teacher, I recommend “auditioning” a few before you commit. This way, you can find one that matches your personality, learning style, and budget. Professional instructors will likely use various tools such as Google Documents to facilitate lessons. Nonprofessional “community” tutors will probably just work through conversations with you. Most instructors use video, however, some don’t. I personally struggled through the lessons that did not use video and didn’t get as much out of them since facial expressions facilitate my ability to learn the language. It all depends on your personal preference. So, a little experimentation will be in order before you find success.
To keep track of new words and phrases, I recommend the online notecard system, Quizlet. It’s a great way to keep up with your practice between sessions and if your instructor has an account, even better, since Quizlet makes it very easy to share “decks” with other people. Quizlet also has a great mobile interface making it easy to keep up with your practice on the go. (Note: If you’re looking for an open source solution check out Anki.)
Consistency is key to learning a language. Consequently, you’re going to need something that will allow you to practice between sessions. Of course, one option might be to arrange an exchange with someone who wants to learn English and speaks the language you’re trying to learn. Because of schedule constraints that are worsened by time zone differences this is a solution I haven’t yet pursued. Instead, I’ve relied on Babbel.
Babbel is hands down the best system I’ve come across from a beginner’s perspective. In addition to allowing you to work through modules that are logically organized and filled with useful content, Babbel keeps track of words and sentences you’ve learned and creates a “review deck” you can work on daily. They also have a great community of language learners who can provide answers to your questions.
So there you have it: Italki, Babbel, and Quizlet are the online solutions I can wholeheartedly recommend to adults wanting to learn a language.
Here is my much-promised opinion of Rosetta Stone. If you are a time-constrained professional and are motivated to learn a language, I believe you will generate greater returns on your investment of time elsewhere.
I say this with some caveats:
- If you feel self-conscious. I remember how I felt the first time I played my bass guitar with a jazz group in front of a live audience: sick to my stomach from a fear of publicly messing up. Even picking a song I’ve played hundreds of times (Autumn Leaves) and knowing I was playing in front of a group of intoxicated senior citizens did little to subdue my desire to vomit.
So I get it when someone who is new to a language tells me they are afraid to speak. If you’re that person, I think you should start with the online version of Rosetta Stone. By incorporating live sessions into their curriculum they have made it very easy to get you to start talking. Although the sessions are scripted to match what you’ve been studying, the instructors (who are quite good) will attempt to add some variation and new words to keep things interesting – especially, if you’re the only one in the session.
- If you need to develop a habit. In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, Charles Duhigg argues that the key to achieving success is understanding how habits work. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, save money, or train for a triathlon, habits are a useful tool to reach your goals. Because everything is in one place and the modules are divided into bite size chunks that you can get through in a single sitting I think Rosetta Stone can help you develop a regular habit of language learning.
In any case, for those of you wanting to learn how to speak a language I hope some of the information above is useful.
And for those of you who couldn’t give a shit about learning another language and only made it this far for a song recommendation…you must be thirsty.
To make amends, here is Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats.
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Having said that, I am interested to hear from you. Good, bad, or otherwise, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m the only person who will read your email and, as time allows, I’ll do my best, at a minimum, to personally acknowledge receipt.