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One of the best ways to gain a more profound understanding of a country’s culture, people and history while travelling is by learning the local language. Not only will it make life easier and help get you out of potentially difficult situations, you will be able to immerse yourself in a way someone who cannot communicate with the local people cannot. However, without having a friend who is a native in the language and with whom you can converse, it is difficult to learn and practise, while attending lessons can be expensive and time consuming. That’s where online language courses come in. Not only are they accessible to everyone with a computer (or even just a smartphone) and an internet connection, you can find almost every language imaginable, using a variety of different methods to find the one that suits you. They can be used on the metro, on the beach, in a plane or while waiting for a friend, giving you the flexibility to learn how and when you want, allowing you to feel more comfortable when you visit a country where the language is different to your own.
Hence, we’ve compiled a list of the very best language courses, including free apps, paid courses, classes via video calls with teachers and messaging platforms, that will give you a myriad of ways to achieve a level you’re happy with, whether on your travels or at home. From platforms that are totally free to ones where you choose the amount you would like to pay, this list features the top ten courses that will help you get started in a range of languages, including Spanish, French, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese and Portuguese. In creating the list, we reviewed each language course, picking out each one’s highlights, what makes it unique and its potential drawbacks. With so many similar courses on offer, it can be difficult to know which one is best to use, hence we took into account a range of factors to ensure that only the best were selected. The pros and cons are also listed in an easy-to-read set of bullet points below each review.
One of the first factors that was taken into consideration when reviewing each language course was the number of languages offered. While the majority of platforms included more popular languages like Spanish, English and French, many also give users the choice of less common ones, such as Polish and Catalan. Duolingo, a free smartphone app, currently has 23 languages on offer, meaning you can start to learn several languages at once, without having to download multiple apps. Verbling, on the other hand, is a platform that connects professional standard teachers with students and hence provides a fantastic way of learning a language. However, away from the most popular languages, the selection of teachers is very limited, while those that do offer less common languages charge far higher prices. That being said, having more languages on offer does not necessarily guarantee the same standard across the board, with Babel’s content for courses such as Russian far less comprehensive than for Spanish, for example. Therefore, when reviewing the platforms, we tried to find the ones that offered a combination of a good selection of languages together with a good standard across all courses.
Another aspect of the courses that was reviewed was the usability of each one, including how stimulating it was for users. One of the most important things when learning a language is to enjoy it, otherwise you will lack the motivation to continue. Courses that feature a wide range of content yet are unengaging and dull make for less effective method of learning than those that have the user each time wanting more. Duolingo is an example of a platform that prides itself on its effortless, and even fun, way in which it makes learning a language, adopting a variety of images and symbols to make the process play out like a game for its users. You can set levels and achieve badges upon completing tasks, therefore giving students something to strive towards and keep them interested. The Mango Language Course, on the other hand, offers more languages than Duolingo, yet their style of learning is is much more dry, lacking a fun scoring system and making each task feel like a chore rather than a fun activity. Hence, it was important to consider the style of teaching when reviewing each course, as this can make a big difference in how quickly someone learns judging by how engaged they are with the process.
Pricing of the course was another factor to be taken into account, however not to be confused with quality. While Duolingo is a free mobile app, its content is at times questionable, featuring sentences that do not make practical sense and are unlikely to come up in a day-to-day conversation with a native speaker. Conversely, italki offers ‘teachers’ who charge per hour, with differing rates usually dependent on experience. This provides a great opportunity for students to practise learning a language in the best way possible (speaking) despite it not being free like Duolingo. Coursera, meanwhile, has courses that can cost as much as $99 USD each, with no face to face interaction with tutors or teachers, meaning it does not represent great value for money in this sense, even though the course has a better, more systematic structure than alternatives. With that in mind, we ensured that we assessed value for money when reviewing each course, as there is little point in suggesting that the best ones are the free ones when the content is not as good as if you pay a bit more. Further to that was whether the content could be accessed offline, or if this required purchasing a premium membership. Offline use can prove to be infinitely useful, particularly when travelling, as it can mean save racking up significant data roaming charges, while it can also then be accessed in places where there is no connection to the internet, such as the metro or a plane.
Finally, we considered the variety of ways in which a course teaches a language, meaning whether it included all four methods – reading, writing, speaking and listening. Babbel, we discovered, was a great platform with several years of experience in the industry, meaning their courses were well structured and thought out. However, the voice recording function that is intended to help you work on your pronunciation of the language was in need of development as it often tells you that you are correct, even if you are not spot on. Italki offers one to one classes with natives, allowing you to considerably improve your speaking and listening skills, however it lacks the reading and writing practice that is also important in knowing how a language looks and is structured. Therefore, it was essential that in reviewing the platforms we took into account the variety of methods offered to ensure a more well-rounded learning experience.
Overall, this list provides the ultimate selection of courses to get you started in a wide variety of different languages. Learning a language can be an enriching experience that will undoubtedly help you to assimilate in a culture and get more out of your travels. Not only can you can detach yourself from the dependency on English-speaking companies, you will be able to learn more about the culture, history and people from a first-hand perspective, gaining insight into areas that would previously have been inaccessible with just one language. These courses have been thoroughly reviewed, taking into account the aforementioned factors, to bring you ones that will help with speaking, listening, reading and writing across more than 50 different dialects. Connect with teachers, play addictive games, use flashcards, watch clips and watch your level improve by referring to this list featuring only the top courses available.
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