You’re moving to a new country, or you’re traveling for a holiday someplace exotic. But you can’t ask locals to find the bathroom or a place to eat since you don't know the language. Since you don’t want to be stuck on your travels without being able to communicate, you need to find the best way to learn a language before you go. And who wants to spend a bunch of money? Finding the cheapest option possible is key.
This task is not as impossible as it seems. You're living in the best time in history for learning other languages. The internet connects us to so many options that the real problem is not really about finding ways to learn a language for free, but rather, sifting through them to find the best choice.
The Science Behind the Best Way to Learn a Language
In Europe, taking classes in a second language is compulsory during high school in most countries. Comparatively, very few Americans are bilingual at all. This can be dangerous in a world that is constantly becoming more connected, as Americans are losing their competitive edge. We need communication and understanding to take part in the world around us. Not being able to communicate in a shared language could mean lost businesses, job opportunities, and even love.
Science has shown learning a language will also increase your brain size. Researchers have found those who speak multiple languages tend to not only have the capacity to learn new topics easily, but their hippocampus gets larger, too. If having a bigger brain wasn’t enough, researchers have found learning more than one language can be a good protectant against Alzheimer's.
Why You Should Learn a New Language
There are many reasons why you should learn a new language. Being bilingual — or even a polyglot — always looks good on a résumé, enhancing your business opportunities and job prospects. Next, learning a new language will increase your understanding and appreciation of a new culture or country. It will make it easier to communicate with the locals who will be appreciative that you are making an effort to converse with them. This may seem pretty obvious, but you’ll have better overall language skills with the more languages you learn.
What Is the Best Way to Learn a Language?
Research has shown the best way to learn a language is not just by rote memorization. Instructors and learners are finding a more holistic approach works far better than being in a stuffy and boring classroom. Immersive learning such as watching TV, speaking with native speakers, joining a meet-up, and taking specialty classes all greatly enhance your fluency. Other suggestions include playing games and devoting tiny chunks of time per day for studying. Even speaking to yourself makes great strides to becoming bilingual.
The argument for many years is children learn faster and are more adept at learning new languages, but researchers have found there is no age correlation on learning a new language. You can learn at any age! However, there is a correlation the more you immersion and fluency. The longer and more often you speak a language, the more fluent you become. Regardless of age, your ability to become proficient is the same.
How to learn a new language
There are a few things to keep in mind as you find the best way to learn a language. You should treat everything with curiosity. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Another thing to remember is you need to find a teaching method that works for you. For some, immersion may be best while for others, flashcards and videos will work better. There is no wrong or right way to learn a language. Third, pay attention and listen to native speakers in conversation.
Not only will you pick up grammar sequences but you’ll also learn correct pronunciation. Also, another best way to learn a language is to devote tiny chunks of time a day for studying. Learners who use space repetition, where you learn something over a sequence of time, have had great results in their language fluency. And of course, there is always reading, writing, and speaking the language itself even to yourself.
Free Websites That Are the Best Way to Learn a Language Online
Now that we’ve covered the "how" and "why," let's move on to the "where." Below are the top sites where you can learn a new language for free.
Duolingo is one of the most popular sites on the web for learning a new language for free. This top language website has over 30 languages available, including High Valyrian and Klingon!
It uses several immersion lessons to learn by using bite-sized daily lessons from five to twenty minutes each. One of the advantages of Dudolingo is its use of gamification by allowing you to “heart” things as you go, winning points for correct answers, and a rewards system in which you can use to modify your profile and experience. Duolingo is not only available on the web, but also has an iOS and Android apps available to learn on the go.
Memrise is another popular language course that also has free apps available for iOS and Android. With Memrise, there are over 30 courses available for English speakers. It also promotes immersive learning as the best way to learn a language. In addition to natural language, Memrise also has a pack for constructed languages such as Klingon and Esperanto. Memrise also offers classes in Sign Language, as well as topic courses in Arts & Literature and Math & Science.
Mango Languages is another popular site however it is a freemium site. This means the website and courses are available for free via your local library or there is a monthly charge if you buy it from the site. Like other language learning websites, Mango uses immersive techniques including film as well as gamification. Compared to Memrise and Duolingo, Mango is a bit more robust with 70 languages and counting. Mango also has an iOS and Android app available so you can learn on the go.
Other places to try
Another popular way to learn a new language is by using MOOCs. MOOCs, Massive Online Open Courses, are programs available for free via sites such as EdX and Coursera. MOOCs are a great option since leading universities and colleges develop them. Essentially, you get the structure of a classroom without stepping foot on campus.
While the goal is for users to support each other, support is also available via the course’s tutors. The downside of MOOCs is there is a limited number of languages to learn. And unlike the previous sites where there is always availability, MOOCs are sometimes open only certain times of the year. There is also no option to learn on the go or use immersion techniques.
Are There Other Options?
Finally, we can’t forget trusty Google Translate and YouTube. Google Translate is a free multilingual machine translation where it takes your word or phrase and gives you the literal translation of it. Using Google Translate is helpful when you come across a word or a phrase you need for quick translation, or if you’re traveling and you need to ask where the bathroom is located. Google Translate really shines in its voice module in which you can hear the word or phrase being translated. It outdoes its competition by offering over 100 languages in translation. Keep in mind Google Translate is not for those looking for structure or classroom techniques.
YouTube is also a popular destination for language learners for its breadth of television shows and videos available in a variety of languages. YouTube is often the go-to place if you want to immerse yourself in how native speakers use their language while enjoying entertainment as you learn.
Whether you're 7 or 70, there is a wealth of places that offer the best way to learn a language, from bite-sized options to taking full on courses. Good luck and adios!