In Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, interstellar travelers had a little fish, called a Babelfish, that they could slip into their ear and make them instantly literate in any language. We normal, boring humans, however, do not have this luxury, which is why we must rely on the internet.
Although there are endless resources to learn languages on the web, it is often difficult to find quality websites that offer structured lesson plans for free. I, however, have scrounged the murky depths of the web to bring you the following, resource-packed sites; may they be the Babelfish for your future forays.
BBC Languages’ site is very aesthetically pleasing, even though the organization is a bit confusing. The site is aimed at travelers, who only need to have a basic knowledge of a few key phrases in order to stay in a foreign country. Thus, BBC Languages offers “Quick Fix Phrases” in 36 languages to aid the weekend traveler in surviving abroad.
However, for those inclined to pursue either French, Spanish, German, or Italian further, BBC Languages offers a total of six 12-week courses in those languages. BBC Languages’ use of multimedia resources, including audio recordings of dialogues and videos of people encountering language-related mishaps overseas, makes this site a worthwhile site to check out, especially if you’re learning a language to travel.
LiveMocha is one of the most full-featured language learning sites on the web: not only does it offer structured lessons for over twenty languages, but it also links you with other users all over the globe who are learning, or already fluent in the language you are learning.
As an incentive, LiveMocha uses a reputation system to encourage its users to submit flashcards and other teaching content, contact one another in order to practice speaking, and correct one another’s assignments.
The only drawback of using LiveMocha is in the event you are learning a language that does not use a Latin writing system – LiveMocha does not teach other writing systems, so for languages like Korean or Mandarin, you are on your own.
Babbel’s premise is similar to that of LiveMocha – community driven learning. However, akin to previously mentioned Busuu, Babbel only offers Spanish, French, German, and Italian, and does not have LiveMocha’s structure.
Babbel teaches mostly vocabulary, and offers a very limited set of grammar lessons and writing exercises. However, when it comes to teaching vocabulary, Babbel is very thorough: it offers almost ten different ways to learn words, including “Listen and Match,” and “Slideshow.”
Like LiveMocha, Babbel also offers a chat, but rather than being one-on-one, Babbel offers five different chat rooms in the languages it teaches. In addition, Babbel hosts its own forum for users to interact and help each other learn.
The courses offered by the Foreign Services Institute were created by the United States Government and geared largely towards developing a verbal command for any particular language. All of the languages that FSI offers come with either a scanned textbook, a large number of audio lessons, or both. Some of the more popular languages even come with a workbook.
In terms of solid material, FSI has the most usable content, but its lack of social features that allow you to interact and practice with other people is a major drawback, at least for me. However, if you’re not me, and would rather not have a social component to your language-related pursuits, then that shouldn’t bother you at all.
So today, I’ve introduced to you a few useful websites that will kickstart your language-learning adventures. However, the above sites may not be enough for you knowledge-hungry cosmopolitans out there, so indulge yourself in the following, language-specific links.
Study Spanish - Best used in conjunction with Babbel, Study Spanish is great with grammar, but very limited with vocabulary.
Voices in Spanish- A Spanish Podcast – for intermediate to advanced students.
Learn Spanish at About.com – A conglomeration of other articles, the highlight being lessons on Spanish culture.
Min Multimedia – Although the main page is a bit disorganized, the lessons are quite structured. Each has embedded audio, practice worksheets, and homework.
Chinese Tools – Grammar lessons, in addition to useful tools for writing in pinyin, converting between simplified and traditional, etc.
CRIENGLISH – Every lesson comes with a flash video, a review of difficult points, vocab, cultural tips, and more.
French Language School – Very well organized grammar lessons, but lacking interactive exercises.
The French Tutorial - Lacks exercises, but the lessons are downloadable as a printer-friendly PDF textbook.
Learn The Kana – Uses cute image association tricks to help students learn Hiragana and Katakana.
Nihongo o Narau – A great collection of resources, including Japanese songs, to help you learn and practice Japanese.
Learn Italian at About.com – A collection of articles teaching various points of Italian grammar and vocabulary.
Italian Language School - The most complete, free Italian lessons I can find; comes with podcasts too!
Deutsch Lernen - 34 German grammar lessons (10 beginner and 24 advanced), accompanied by exercises and tests
DW-World – An impressive range of interactive lessons categorized by difficulty, and a progress meter for each lesson!
Whew, that was a lot of links. In any case, you should now have no excuse not to play around with the links and learn something new.
Are you dabbling in any languages? Do you have a tried and true site for learning languages? What do you think is the best method to learn a new language? Let us know in the comments!
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