Does learning a language online really work?Everywhere you turn, whether it be at work or a local restaurant, you're surrounded by data, the internet, computers, tablets and smart phones. If technology follows you everywhere you go, then why not use it to learn a language?
More and more people are turning to their computers and smart phones to learn a language online. But does it really work? Can you really learn a language online? In this post, I'll address the topic of online language learning, whether or not it really works, its pros and cons, and some strategies to best learn a language online.
Can I really learn a language online?This is everyone's first question, although the answer isn't an easy one. The concept of learning a language online is a relatively new one, and because of this, there have been very few studies done to prove its effectiveness. There are, however, countless testimonies proving that yes, it is possible to learn a language online, but there is a catch: you can learn a language online if you dedicate enough time and use as many resources as possible. These resources should include live interaction with other speakers, whether it be online or in person, as much practice as possible while offline, and even other offline material such as phrase books and grammar workbooks. In the end, it will require just as much--if not more--time, motivation, practice and dedication on your behalf than any well-done traditional course or immersion program.
But before you start searching for language learning phone applications and computer software, let's take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of online language learning.
The Pros of Online Language LearningFirst of all, there are some very great advantages that come with learning a language online. Here are a few:
Easily AccessibleIf you have a computer, tablet, smart phone, or access to any combination of these and internet, you already have almost everything you need to start learning a language online. It's easier than ever to access almost everything you need to learn a language, whether it be vocabulary lists, online video chats, audio and video recordings, flashcard generators, grammar books and language learning software.
Cost-EffectiveAnother great benefit of learning a language online is knowing that you're not going to go broke paying for private lessons, expensive academies, or hefty textbooks. Thanks to an increasing number of online language learning programs, the increasing competition has led to more and more options, and software that was once very expensive is now more affordable, better, and easier to use than ever.
VocabularyOne of the biggest benefits of online language learning in the actual learning process itself is its practicality when it comes to learning and memorizing vocabulary. Online language learning allows you to be exposed to many different words and to memorize these words through repetition, something that isn't possible in a classroom or immersion situation.
MobileUnlike a language academy, online language learning can be taken with you anywhere as long as you have a phone, computer or tablet and internet. Whether you're at home, on a bus, on vacation, or visiting family in a different city, you can always find a few minutes to go online or open an application and study.
PersonalizedLearning a language online is also a great way to personalize your learning experience. If, for example, you know that you're having problems learning past tense Spanish irregular verbs, a lot of language learning software and applications allow you to repeat lessons and complete additional activities to help you improve your troubled areas. You can also use any of the countless online resources to help you pinpoint your needs and tailor your lessons to them.
Encourages Active LearningSince learning a language online can help you to personalize your own learning, it also encourages you to become an active learner and take control of your own education. This really helps to keep learners motivated and ensure that they're learning exactly what they want to learn and not just something a teacher tells them to learn. It also encourages them to try more creative and non-traditional learning methods, which often aid learning very well.
FunFinally, we humans are naturally drawn to technology, and the novelty of learning a language online feels fun to us. Many software programs take advantage of this by offering a points or reward system as well as friendly competition between users. The more fun it is to learn a language, the more motivated we will be to learn it, and the more motivated we are to learn it, the easier and faster it will be to become fluent. Online language learning helps make language learning a game, and that's great for us.
The Cons of Online Language Learning:There are, however, a few disadvantages to learning an language online that you should keep in mind when planning your online language education. Here are some:
Impractical VocabularyWhile there are more possibilities to personalize your learning process online, many online language learning programs still haven't quite perfected their presentation and teaching methods.
Let me give an example: I'm studying French and decided to give a certain popular language learning app a try. I currently live in Montreal, so I already am exposed to French on a daily basis and am learning naturally through immersion, but would like to speed up the process with more vocabulary and grammar. I started with this app and learned a lot of vocabulary, but none of it has been very practical. I can, for instance, tell you that "The boy is eating a big cake" and "Pigs respect wolves" (these are real sentences that appear on the application), but I can't ask for directions or ask how much something costs and understand the answer. I can't apply much of what I've learned to my daily life, and this app isn't the only program that teachers impractical vocabulary first; I know people who went through a similar experience with other online language learning companies.
Grammar PresentationLearning grammar has also proven problematic. Since I already speak Spanish, Italian, and Catalan, I'm familiar with conjugating verbs in Latin-based languages. When I start to learn a new language, I like to roll up my sleeves and dig right into conjugation by learning all forms of the irregular and regular verbs tense by tense. With the "popular" language learning app I mentioned previously, however, I was never given any list of conjugations and simply provided with the first person, second person, and third person conjugations in random sentences with different verbs (both regular and irregular). I saw no pattern. If I hadn't already studied other languages and learned about the different verb forms, I would have been completely lost and wouldn't be able to use my knowledge of the different verb endings at all when speaking.
Fortunately, however, some language learning software has caught on to this, and Rocket Languages, for example, presents much more practical vocabulary first and provides grammar lessons :)
Unnecessary RepetitionWhile repetition is often a good thing when memorizing vocabulary, some online language learning programs take it a step too far. Most programs are very repetitive, which can become annoying for some fast learners and make them lose motivation. As soon as learners lose motivation, they risk giving up.
Staying MotivatedThat being said, staying motivated while learning a language online is sometimes difficult. Since motivation is one of the key factors needed to successfully learn a language, this is one challenge that online language learners need to face. Without a fixed schedule, teacher, or other learners to help you stay on track, many people simply lose interest in learning a language and give up.
SpeakingAnother disadvantage to learning a language online is that it often means less speaking practice, and more and more studies have shown that speaking practical is critical to successfully learn a language. While studying with a teacher and classmates, speaking is unavailable, but for those who study a language online, it's more difficult to find ways to meaningfully interact in the language they are studying.
How to Successfully Learn a Language OnlineEven though online language learning still has a few bugs to work out, that doesn't mean that it's not the best method for you. It is possible to learn a language online, but you need to make sure to do it the right way by using as many different learning methods as possible. Take advantage of some of the many benefits of online language learning by maximizing your time and using of all of your resources. Make a schedule that includes as many different learning methods as possible and incorporates a mixture of vocabulary, grammar, speaking, listening, reading, and writing, and stick to it. Set goals, challenge yourself to achieve them, and reward yourself when you do in order to stay motivated.
Practice as much as possible, whether independently or with others. Take advantage of the speaking and voice recognition features of great online language learning software like Rocket Languages, find ways to speak with others (whether online or in person) and even talk to yourself to practice. Watch videos and movies in your target language, listen to the radio or audio recordings, and read as much as possible. Write in your target language with other learners in forums to practice and support each other. And meanwhile, don't forget to learn about the culture of the places where your target language is spoken, which is not only interesting, but can also help you to understand the language even more.
Finally, always remember that every learner is different, and in the end, you are responsible for making your language learning experience the best possible it can be. You decide how to make online language learning work best for you, and you determine your language learning success through your dedication, motivation, and use of resources.
This year, take advantage of all of the wonderful technology at your fingertips and make online language learning work for you.
This is a guest post by Andrea Reisenauer. Please share this article!