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The best tools to learn a language online

3 awesome tools — and how to use them.

I’m an online language teacher, and a passionate polyglot. Concretely, this means that I have been spending a big part of my free time browsing online resources to learn languages, either for myself, or for my students.

The industry of online language learning has become huge. The next amazing app which pretends to entertain you AND bring your language to the next level gets released every month. It’s easy to get lost.

With all the gamification around, you can literally spend hours playing with an app or a website, and make no progress at all. I’ve made that mistake myself over and over again.

I speak 6 languages — who knows how many languages I would speak, had I not lost so much time on over promising platform.

So, among all the tools I tested, who really kept their promises?

1.italki

italki is an amazing language learners community. And it is by far my best online discovery.

When I registered on italki, I had very low expectations, having had so many disappointing experiences with other platforms. But italki does keep its promises.

I first registered as a teacher and quickly got contacted by students who wanted to study French and/or Esperanto with me. They are the ones who convinced me that the italki system really works. Seeing as they were making fast progress, I decided to use some of my earned credits to take lessons myself. I started studying Thai, and, after 10 lessons, I now know way more Thai than all the Chinese I could learn in over two years of “trying” to learn Chinese by all possible means and miserably failing at it. I do plan on taking Chinese classes on italki once my Thai has reached a satisfying level. I’m optimistic about it this time.

Clearly, one-to-one teaching works wonders. And I would say online one-to-one teaching is second best to real life one-to-one teaching. But cheaper and available on your computer, anywhere, anytime.

My Thai teacher is amazing, and it is clear to me that much of the success of learning is due to her great energy and the special connection we have, because we have many things in common. But italki has more than 1000 teachers and 2000 community tutors, so the perfect one for you is in there too.

Even better, lessons are not the only highlight of italki. Actually, it is the only functionality which requires a premium membership. All the rest is available for free.

You can find language partners: just browse the platform for a native speaker of your target language, who is learning your native language, and start exchanging.

The notebook feature is also great. You write in your target language and community members will correct your writing. You can also correct the writings of members who write in your native language.

Both are great ways to connect with natives and make new friends.

The articles on the site are also written by community members, and carefully selected by the team. They will deliver great insight on languages and language learning.

You should totally check it out!

2. Memrise

Memrise is THE vocabulary tool I always recommend to my students. It is the best flashcard application out there.

You can use the website and/or download the app onto your smartphone. Once you’ve registered (it’s free), choose a “course” — it’s really more like a deck of cards — and start studying. The integrated space repetition system will ensure that words are presented to you again right before they slip from your memory.

I highly recommend having the app in your phone and having a look at it whenever you have one minute free: while commuting, waiting at the cash desk, or even in an elevator. The word which you most urgently need to revise will be waiting there for you.

Can’t find a card deck which suits your need? Make your own! It’s easy and fast from the website. Sync your new deck to the app and take it everywhere with you. You will know your vocabulary in no-time.

For Memrise to work at its best, you will need to check it everyday, at best several times a day. But the good news is: it really takes no time. Just get in the habit of checking Memrise before you check Facebook or Twitter.

3.YouTube

One would not immediately think of YouTube as a language learning tool. Nonetheless, it is where I end up sending all my advanced students — and myself.

There are two ways you can use Youtube to improve your language skills:

  1. Specifically look for language learning videos. Search for “learn [target language]” and look at what YouTube has to offer. Many online teachers or teaching companies have YouTube channels with great resources available for free. This works regardless of your level.
  2. For advanced students: find channels in your target language, made for natives. It will help you get familiar with the way natives speak, including slang and internet culture. Great skills which you generally don’t learn in school or in books. Those channels are not easy to find, but the trick is always to ask a native. Take a look at my list of best French speaking youtube channels. I had a new one each week on Friday. If you have a friend who is a native of the language you study (I bet you do), ask them for their favourite channels. Chances are, you will like them too. 

With both options, once you have subscribed to a few relevant channels, youtube will deliver your studying material straight to your dashboard from now on. Just click, sit back and learn.

Conclusion

You got it, the goal of these tools is to have the strongest possible effect with the smallest effort and time investment. We all lead busy lives and we can never dedicate as much time as we want to studying. So, get the best tool, and make the most of the little time you have.

Do you know an awesome tool which deserves to be mentioned here? Just write a comment, I’ll be happy to check it out.

On this same topic, check out my article about duolingo.

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