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Learning a new language online can open doors to new experiences, even life-changing ones! So, it’s not surprising that the search for the best online language programs is heating up.
Language skills are in such demand that a new language was listed as one of the top four in-demand skills you can learn online by Entrepreneur. From better job prospects to the opportunity to engage more deeply with a diverse community, to even simply challenging yourself more, learning languages online can truly change your perspective.
For Chad Fowler, that certainly was true, though he didn’t start off as an avid lover of languages. In fact, Mr. Fowler’s extent of knowledge of a second language only extended to what he called “the bare minimum” Spanish he needed to pass in his Arkansas public school. Despite having and multicultural family-his father is German, his mother Japanese–he was not motivated to learn a language until his 20’s.
Mr. Fowler had grown up surrounded by different spoken languages, but never picked any up. He more or less accepted this, until a coworker of his revealed he knew over 6 languages, and, almost on a whim, Fowler decided to start learning a new language.
With no one to teach him and his own busy schedule, he purchased CDs and audio software on the Hindi language. What began as a whim soon grew into an immersive experience not only into learning a new language, but also a new culture. Mr. Fowler ended up traveling to India, which, he says, has forever changed his life.
Why Americans are not as multilingual as the rest of the world?
According to a report, less than 1 percent of American adults are proficient in a foreign language. If true, that’s especially astounding, considering that language courses are required by offered in 93 percent of classrooms and usually required for graduation from both high school and college.
It seems that Americans are attempting to learn a language, or ostensibly being required to, but it isn’t sticking. Many argued that it isn’t that language courses aren’t being offered, but that it’s the way they’re being taught. In many other countries, foreign languages are introduced at a young age, when the brain is more malleable and receptive to learning new languages.
And while there is evidence that it is easier to learn languages at a young age, that still isn’t the full story. Disruptions in courses, too little variation on types of immersion, and repeating already learn concepts are other reasons Americans are less adept at picking up new languages.
Also important is that language courses take into consideration different learning styles, and, for both children and adults, an environment in which they feel comfortable and able to express their own needs. Without the ability to learn in multiple ways, many will struggle to pick up a language, no matter how many courses they take.
Why should anyone bother looking for language courses?
Learning a second (or third, or more) language might be more consequential than you think. The benefits include social, professional, and even benefits for your cognitive health.
- It may improve cognitive processing: Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, a New York Times bestselling author, argues that a number of studies suggest that being even bilingual improves the brain’s executive function. In layman’s terms, executive functions are responsible for planning, executing tasks, and problem-solving.
- It exposes you to new cultures: Learning a new language, if you choose to fully immerse yourself, can introduce you to a new culture and ways of living. And exposure to new cultures not only enriches your world but may even increase empathy.
- It can give you a leg up on the job market: It does depend on what industry you’re in, and what language you learn, but there’s evidence that learning a second, or third language can lead to more job opportunities. Journalism, film, insurance, government/political, non-profit organizations, publications, international relations, health, and social services, and education are just a few sectors where knowledge of another language will make you a more competitive candidate.
- It helps you communicate better (in your native language): Networking skills, improved memory, improved ability to multitask, and even higher cognitive skills in other areas make you a more effective communicator. Taking language courses can improve all these areas.
- You might even reduce your risk of dementia: No matter your age, you can do things to protect your brain. And while there is no foolproof way to protect against dementia, several studies have shown that the risk for dementia decreases with statistical significance for those who are bilingual or multilingual, as opposed to those who are monolingual; (only know one language).
Why should I consider looking for online language courses?
Online learning has truly changed to the way people learn languages. For one, Anna Codrea-Rado of The Guardian argues, it has become far more accessible. While a focus on language acquisition, she argues, has in the past been associated with the elite, now more can afford the time and money to learn a language.
Adding to that, learning more languages has in some ways, perhaps, been popularized through the ease of online learning. This past year, Babbel, one of the best online language programs, sold an impressive one million subscriptions. In 2016, the market for online language courses was valued at $51.5 billion.
And it’s not just because it’s simply popular for the sake of being popular. Learning online also tends to be far more affordable (both time and money wise) for people with busy schedules, or who do not feel comfortable attending on a regular basis.
And online language courses are far more advanced than you’d think and continue to be. Instead of simple audio, the best online language courses incorporate a balance of different media, learning styles, and learning techniques to mimic an immersive experience you’d get with a more traditional course.
Is an online language course the best option for me?
Of course, not all individuals will excel in online language courses. Whether it’s the best option for you depends on your situation and preferences:
- You have a packed schedule: You don’t have a lot of free time and may have considered learning a new language in the past, but attending in-person classes simply didn’t seem practical.
- You’re on a tight budget: All languages have a pretty different price tag, especially if you’re looking at traditional in-person lessons. The more difficult the language for English speakers, like Mandarin Chinese, the more you’re likely to end up paying. If you go for a private tutor, expect to pay at least 40 to 60 dollars per hour, and likely more (for experts, it could even be double that). While that doesn’t sound like much, it takes many hours to even feel comfortable with a new language, so you can imagine that adds up quickly. In contrast, even the best online language courses cost a couple hundred dollars at most, for a fairly comprehensive introduction.
- You’re self-motivated: This one is important. You do need to be self-motivated in order for online learning to work for you. Since you obviously won’t have anyone reminding you, it’s up to you how you want to learn, how quickly, and how in depth.
- You’re fine with being on the computer a lot: While this sounds obvious, it is important before enrolling in an online language course to consider that you’ll need to feel comfortable and be very open to spending a good amount of time on the computer. And of course, reliable internet access is a must.
How do I find the best online language programs for me?
Now that you’ve decided that online language learning is the best solution for you, finding the best courses take some research and, of course, knowing what it is you’re looking for. Here are some factors you might want to consider. Of course, what factors are applicable depend on you.
1. The price seems reasonable (but not too good to be true)
While we always recommend comparing when it comes to finding the best online programs, for any discipline, with online language courses it’s a bit trickier because it’s a mistake to just make a direct price tag comparison. Instead, you need to understand what you’re getting for that price: how many lessons? What kind of features? We suggest making a checklist so you can go back and compare easily. You should look for a program that costs a few hundred dollars unless it is a very extensive program. Too far below $100 may be a warning sign that there’s not much to the coursework. (Unless of course, you’re opting to take a short-term, single course).
2. Online tutors
The best programs include support staff and even qualified online tutors so you can stay on track, ask questions, and get the help you need. Even better is a life coach, who can help you not only with general language questions but with pronunciation. Speaking with others is critical to becoming fluent in another language. Even if becoming fluent isn’t your ultimate aim, speaking is critical so you can hold casual conversations should you travel abroad or within a multilingual community.
3. Online community
Since the language courses are online, you shouldn’t be learning languages in isolation. The best courses will give you access to an online community where you can share feedback, questions, and even meet other students. And like speaking with someone else, communicating with others helps sharpen your skills, strengthen your motivation, and make a more enjoyable and immersive experience.
4. It comes with an app
This is certainly an optional feature, but most of the best online language courses at least offer an app you can download, making language learning even more accessible for anyone constantly on the go. Ideally, the app should be free with enrollment, and simple to use, and, of course, able to be used on a variety of devices such as tablets and Apple and Android smartphones.
5. A focus on real-world conversations
While of course a solid emphasis on basic grammar, like verb conjugation and sentence construction, as well as vocabulary is a must, the best online language courses make an effort to incorporate everyday phrases and conversations that will be useful to know. This should be incorporated not only in the curriculum itself but with your access to an online tutor or coach.
6. The ability to go offline
Not all online language courses offer this, but the ability to unplug every once in a while is not only nice but also practical if you’re not going to have access to the internet. Downloadable lessons also are a way to mix it up if you’re tired of learning online. And it’s a way of learning in a different way, which is important for appealing to different learning styles.
7. You can preview before you purchase
A free demo is not an absolute must, but it does increase confidence that what you’re purchasing will be worth your money. At very least, though, you should be able to preview features and even sample lessons. If you can’t preview anything, signs are that it’s not one of your best options for an online language course.
8. There’s more than just lessons
Some of the best online language courses offer additional resources outside of lessons. Examples include reading and stories from native speakers. That actually helps test your language acquisition more effectively, introduces you to a more immersive cultural experience, and energizes your studying sessions.
9. It’s fun
Learning a language online is not meant to be especially easy. While lessons are meant to appeal to even very beginning learners, learning a language in of itself does take dedication and hard work. But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be enjoyable. In fact, the best online language courses are fun, immersive, and highly interactive. The inclusion of materials like games is helpful for freshening up your study sessions, making you apply your knowledge in new ways, and increases the chances you’ll stick with the courses in the long run.
10. Lessons are visually appealing
Nearly everyone who’s tried to learn a new language probably remembers staring at a long and dense textbook or pouring over countless worksheets. And while such tools sometimes are helpful, online learning courses should be visually appealing and engaging. That’s especially important when you’re staring at a computer screen. The use of readable web pages, purposeful color, and design are all more important than you might think, and it’ll only become even more so the more courses you take.
11. Additional resources are available to help
Virtual phrasebooks, dictionaries, and reference tools are a big plus when taking an online language course. And while you can purchase these types of resources on your own, it’s helpful to have it right at your fingertips as you study online. Other features that might be helpful including highlighting and bookmark tools, so you can go back to pertinent information when you’re reading.
12. You can find outside reviews
Customer satisfaction and company reputation are also important. How long have they been offering online language courses? What is the overall impression these languages courses make? Can you find any external ratings, and if so, is there a consistency in what customers say? You can also see if these online language courses have been covered by any mainstream media or other publications. Make sure you at least know something about the company, and customer satisfaction, before you purchase an online language course.
13. There are professionals involved
If you can’t get any information about who runs the courses overall, and who the tutors are, it’s not a good sign. The best online language courses will enlist trained and skilled experts who are also great communicators. Make sure the company lists at least some names, and if they don’t, ask. If they do list names but provide no information, contact them and ask how they determine standards for their online tutors and coaches.
14. They help you decide which courses are right for you
You should be given some guidance, as to what courses are right for you. At best, some online courses may offer a quiz to determine your current reading level. But at very least, each course offering should be accompanied by a detailed description. Also, someone should be willing to speak with you and discuss the best courses for your situation
15. Customer service makes you feel welcome
It seems like a small thing, but when you’re taking an online language course, you’re going to need support while you study. Speaking with a representative about all the courses have to offer will give a sense for the company as a whole, and if they’re the best fit for you.
Where should I start?
If you’re convinced that online language courses are the best option for you, take a look at our short list of best programs below. All are well known and offer a variety of tools, including tutors, immersive materials, and other studying options, plus a reasonable price.
Pick a Language
- Best Apps and Courses to Study Japanese
- Best Apps and Courses to Learn Korean
- Best Apps and Courses to Learn German
- Should you Learn Spanish or Portuguese?