Speaking more than one language is generally a good thing. It can help you professionally, it can introduce you to new cultures and people, and it can make vacations in faraway places a lot more fun. However, the majority of adult Americans don’t speak more than one language. This is understandable. For adults, learning anything as complicated as another language is a challenge. And if you’re out of school, it can be especially hard to find time or resources to learn a language on your own.
So, how do you learn a new language? Many people recommend either taking a private or group class, or using language learning software like Rosetta Stone. Unfortunately, all of these options can be pretty pricey. While there’s no free equivalent to Rosetta Stone, there are plenty of free online resources that offer useful language learning tools. Here are some of our favorites:
For Starting a New Language
LiveMocha offers activities, self-paced lessons, and writing and speaking exercises in 38 languages. You can even get personal feedback on your grammar and writing — all for free. LiveMocha is able to offer this for free by relying on its community of learners to help each other out. You’ll be asked to review short, simple assignments in English; in return, you’ll get help from from real people who speak the language you’re studying. If working with other learners appeals to you, LiveMocha is simply one of the best resources out there.
BBC Languages offers courses and other resources for people starting a new language. Languages offered include French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese. Since the site is run by the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation), it includes many resources for accessing and reading the news in other languages. One downside of this site is that the main page isn’t very well organized, so it can be hard to know where to begin. Still, it’s a good resource for self-motivated learners.
For Practice or Reference
Verbling is a free video chat service that pairs you with conversation partners who speak the language you’re learning. Like LiveMocha, learners are expected to teach each other — you’ll spend half the call speaking your native language, and the other half speaking theirs. Verbling even suggests easy conversation topics to help you get started. While this service isn’t for absolute beginners, it’s useful for anyone who needs practice speaking and listening.
WordReference is the best online foreign language dictionary you can find. It includes English definitions for words in 15 different languages, including Spanish, French, Arabic, and Chinese. These definitions often include examples to help you understand how the word is used in context. Many of these examples come from the WordReference forum, where native speakers answer questions about various words and phrases. The site’s interface is well-organized and simple, with very few ads, so it’s easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Personally, I can’t say enough good things about this site — I relied on it when I was a student, and I still use it every time I have to write something in another language. I haven’t opened a paper foreign language dictionary in years.
I hope this has given you a good starting point. Feel free to tell us about any great resources you think I’ve missed! And be sure to let us know — what language do you want to learn?