Use These Apps, Programs and Classes to Learn a New Language
Learning a new language – or brushing up on one you took in high school – is easier than ever these days, thanks to smartphone apps and YouTube videos that allow you to learn and practice anywhere, often for free. That said, there are still plenty of real-time language classes out there, too, with classrooms, instructors and the whole shebang. No matter which option you pick, success boils down to consistency. “You need to make [a new language] part of your life if you want to see results,” says Teddy Nee, a multilingual language tutor in Taiwan, and the author of Nee’s Language Blog. He recommends practicing daily, even if only for a few minutes. Here are some tools to help:
The following programs use phrases to help facilitate learning, which is important, says Nee. “If you only learn vocabulary, you won’t know how to use the words in a sentence,” he says.
This popular app makes learning easy with game-like lessons and levels to unlock. The interface is no-nonsense, both with the mobile app and the desktop version, for a simplified learning experience. Choose from 29 languages, from Spanish, Greek or Hebrew to High Valyrian from Game of Thrones. Free.
This program ‒ available as an iPhone or Android app, or on your web browser ‒ offers several language courses that encourage you to see, hear and spell new words and phrases. The creators consulted a scientific advisory board to engineer the courses in a way that encourages deep learning over shallow memorization. There’s also a strong community presence, to help keep you motivated. Free; “Pro” upgrade available for $4.90/month.
The name is underselling what this Android- and iPhone-compatible app can do: There are actually 59 languages to choose from, listed alphabetically from Adyghe to Vietnamese. Play games, practice sentences and download mp3 files to hear native speakers. Free.
Audio and Video Programs
Listening to native speakers has an immersive benefit. “You’re training your brain to hear the native accent,” Nee says.
Nee recommends watching documentaries or other television programs in your desired language. “Use a keyword in the foreign language when searching YouTube,” Nee says. “For example, ‘en vivo’ means “live” in Spanish, and can help you find live TV shows.” And don’t worry if you can’t follow what’s going on. “You’re immersing yourself in the language as it’s realistically spoken, and progressing, whether you realize it or not,” says Nee. Free.
This service offers podcasts in 34 languages for audio learning, so you can hear phrases and carefully designed lessons on the go. Begin with a free trial before committing to a monthly fee. Starts at $8/month.
“It’s important to know what kind of learner you are,” Nee says. Some people pick up information more easily from a real-life instructor, while others aren’t as self-motivated and thrive on the structure of a regularly scheduled class.
You can find language practice groups in your area, or even a partner to regularly meet with ‒ where you’ll agree to speak only your foreign language of choice. Search local community boards, or use meetup.com.
“Your teacher is guaranteed to show up, whereas a practice partner might not always be motivated,” Nee says. “You’ll also have someone who can be patient, and answer questions.” Call your local community college to ask about continuing-ed language courses, or check out fluentcity.com, which offers classes in five U.S. cities.