Learning a language is never going to be easy. That’s the first thing you’re going to have to accept.
The second thing you’ll need to accept is that it’s going to require a remarkable degree of willpower.
You’re moving towards a specific goal – that goal being ‘knowing a language’. But for much of your studying that goal is going to feel like an abstract concept; something that exists in theory, but in practice can often feel unobtainable.
As you piece together broken sentences from half-remembered words, it can sometimes be hard to feel like you’re getting anywhere.
If you think that you’re going to breeze through learning a language and be fluent, or even basically conversational, within a few hours then you’re going to be disappointed.
90% of learning a language is your attitude.
Accept that it’s going to be a challenge, believe that its going to be an uphill battle towards a potentially far-off victory, and then you’re already over the hardest hurdle. You’re now on the right path.
How long is it going to take you to learn?
This is the fist thing people realistically want to know.
I think it often goes hand-in-hand with the concept of ‘difficulty’, for most people. If a language can be learned in 24 hours then it must be an easy language – but if it’s going to take you ten years then that implies a sense of difficulty.
This is written on the understanding that you, the reader, are an English speaker. This is an important disclosure, because those of us who employ English as our mother tongue will have an easier time learning other European languages, but will typically struggle with languages from farther afield.
If we were to break down the number of hours required per language, it would look something like this:
It’s very easy to see that the ‘closer’ a language is to English, the easier we English speakers will learn it.
Spanish and French we could learn within a handful of months of intense study; but if we wanted to learn Japanese to a proficient level we’re looking at nearly two years of intense work.
These more ‘difficult’ languages often require more mental acrobatics than the typical ‘account for tense’ or ‘don’t forget gender’ which would-be polyglots will have already encountered. With German or even, perhaps surprisingly, Indonesian we’d be looking at a low-level conversational proficiency within about a year. But Japanese or Arabic would prove a lot more taxing.
Are there things we can do to make learning a language a little easier for ourselves?
Luckily for us, we have access to the internet.
Learning a language used to mean poring over endless books and tests, practice papers and exams. But in the modern age it can all be achieved from the comfort of your own home. Learning a language has never been easier.
The internet has a firm monopoly on casual learning these days. Whether it’s browsing wikipedia to develop your understanding on some obscure historical event or discovering how to knit the perfect scarf – if we want to learn we start with Google.
Learning a language is no different. Many of us experienced mandatory language lessons while at school, but once you’re let loose on the world there’s no one telling you to learn Spanish any more; no one requiring you to memorise the gender of ‘table’ in French. So if you want to learn a language you need to do it off your own back.
A quick Google search will turn up a whole host of websites encouraging you to learn a language with them, often recommending a ‘premium’ package.
It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that much of it can be achieved for free.
Best Online Language Learning Sites
DuoLingo is one of the most popular resources freely available on the internet, insisting that it can teach you a language with just fifteen minutes of study a day.
DuoLingo is sometimes the butt of the joke amongst ‘serious’ language learners, because it’s simple and requires very little from you. Even at it’s most difficult the lessons can’t be considered particularly taxing. Rather than dismissing it as ‘too easy’ though, I think it’s actually an ideal place for a novice to start. It’s clean, simple, and demands very little of your time.
Choose a language, try it out, and if it’s not for you then you can try a different one. You’ve not spent a penny, and it’s exceptionally convenient to fit alongside your day-to-day routine.
The lessons are not gated behind pay walls and you can re-take them as many times as you feel necessary.
It offers free tests too, to make sure you’re keeping on top form.
Each lesson lasts less than five minutes, meaning you don’t really have an excuse not to do at least one lesson a day. You only need to do three lessons to meet it’s promised ‘fifteen minutes’ too.
It’s also freely available in a convenient app download for your phone.
Live Lingua advertises itself as the largest online resource of language lessons freely available.
The content is user-generated, which brings to mind the maxim ‘you get what you pay for’. Much of the site is a treasure, and the lessons often eclipse DuoLingo in terms of difficulty – but the lessons at the ‘bottom of the barrel’, so to speak, aren’t worth your click. This is the well-established downside to user-generated content.
Imagine a library filled with books that had no minimum requirements for publishing. Many of the books are beautifully written and will last an age; but some of the volumes aren’t deserving of the paper they’re printed on.
The trick is in sorting the worthwhile from the worthless. Crack that skill and Live Lingua will be an indispensable tool in your arsenal.
LearnLanguage has more in common with Live Lingua than it does with the likes of DuoLingo – it prioritises user-generated content with a focus on more ‘difficult’ lessons.
With resources on over nineteen different languages submitted by users, LearnLanguage also maintains a dedicated core of nine languages which it moderates itself.
It also reports a high level of user happiness, being well-maintained and looked after. The lessons are accessible and the community is often regarded as being particularly supportive.
Streema is something of a more unorthodox recommendation.
Rather than being a formal language learning service, Streema provides you with free access to television shows from all across the world. This is often regarded as being one of the best ways to learn a language: picking it up through hearing it in use.
So tune in to that episode of that German TV show you’ve never heard of, and see if you can absorb any of the language by seeing it in use.
It’s different, and it’s a little ‘out there’, but there’s no shortage of testimonials from people saying ‘I learned [X language] from TV’. Give it a try, and if it doesn’t work out then remember: it’s free.
Preply is a website designed to provide students looking to learn any language with their own online tutors.
You can learn anything from Mandarin to Swedish by booking an online tutor for a one-on-one video class.
You can also apply to become a Preply tutor through DigiNo if you wish to teach English, or any other language, whilst you learn a new one! You can learn more about applying below:
But what if you’re looking for something a little more traditional?
Maybe you want to limit your screen time, or can’t afford that jazzy new smartphone. There shouldn’t be any obstacles to learning, and lack of access to technology shouldn’t stop you learning a language.
Even if you don’t want to learn ON the internet, there’s plenty of things you can buy THROUGH the internet that will help you.
The old school pen-and-paper approach is still viable, and there are an abundance of exercise books, audiobooks or DVDs available on places like Amazon which will make your learning so much simpler.
Take a look at this selection of resources to help you develop your ability:
Spanish: Best Way To Learn Spanish Online?
Learn Beginner Spanish Bundle: The Ultimate Spanish for Beginners Bundle, by Patrick Jackson
Practice Makes Perfect: Complete Spanish Grammar, by Gilda Nissenberg
French: Best Way To Learn French Online?
Easy French Step-by-Step Exercise book, by Myrna Bell Rochester
Learn French with Paul Noble Part 1: French Made Easy, by Paul Noble
German: Best Way To Learn German Online?
German: Learn German for Beginners, Including German Grammar. German Short Stories and 1000+ German Phrases, by Language Learning University
Living Language German, Complete Edition: Beginner through Advanced course, including 3 Coursebooks, 9 audio CDs and free online learning, by Living Language
Japanese (Easiest way to learn Japanese?)
Speak Japanese in 90 Days: A Self Study Guide to Becoming Fluent (Volume 1), by Kevin Marx
Learn Japanese with Innovative Language’s proven Language System – Level 1: Introduction to Japanese, by Innovative Language Learning
Chinese: Best Way To Learn Mandarin Online?
Learn Mandarin Chinese with Paul Noble – Comkplete Course, by Paul Noble]
Beginners’ Chinese, by The Open University
These are great if you’re looking to teach yourself – but what if you want an actual teacher?
If you’re looking to learn English online then there’s no shortage of possible companies to choose from.
But if you’re looking to learn almost any other language online, with face-to-face teachers, it can be quite difficult to find them.
There’s been a huge rise in teaching English online these last few years – but if you’re looking to learn German online or to learn Spanish online, then it can be quite difficult to find somewhere reputable offering face-to-face teachers and lessons; and these are still ‘easy’ languages.
Japanese has become more popular over the last decade or so, meaning that it’s not inconceivable that you could pin down some online Japanese teachers – but God help you if you want to learn something like Czech or Indonesian; there just isn’t the market demand for it.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Here are some websites that you might want to look into:
LearnByCam does what it says it does – it provides lessons through the use of a webcam.
You arrange face-to-face lessons teachers of varying skills and experience, and from thereon it’s much the same as any other online class-structured learning.
They’re also looking for new teachers, which is a promising sign that the service is performing well and actively chasing expansion.
It offers courses in Arabic, Bengali, German, and even Hindu and Urdu – as well as many, many more.
It has an extensive list of language lessons, with no shortage of experienced teachers there to help you learn.
Verbling provides access to classes for over 50 languages, boasting a promising seven and a half thousand registered teachers.
It’s worth keeping in mind that many of these teachers profess an aptitude specifically for English, meaning that the number of teachers providing lessons in other languages is likely to be much more spartan.
The teachers prices are clearly advertised, and they’re each afforded a star rating as well as clearly displaying a total number of lessons conducted.
Verbling is definitely one to consider if you’re looking to learn face-to-face from a teacher, rather than through websites like DuoLingo or Live Lingua, or even from textbooks.
Verbling vs iTalki?
Here is an iTalki review from a teacher:
Learnissimo encourages you to learn a language from a native speaker, with certification beyond what you might expect from something like LearnByCam.
It provides lessons in Spanish, German, Russian and even Arabic.
They also have a variety of teachers, but lack a discernable means of seeing teacher gradings or qualifications, beyond the site’s general and vague insistence that all teachers are ‘qualified’.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that this is the most expensive resource listed not just out of the three face-to-face sites we’ve discussed, but it’s the most expensive resource listed in the entire article.
With not even the suggestion of a free trial period, their ‘try us out’ feature is an 18€ half hour lesson. If you want to progress to ten lessons of thirty minutes each you’re expected to pay a hefty 165€, which is the equivalent of a brazen $185 USD or £140 British Pounds Stirling.
This is a resource for the committed, and I’d recommend the casual learner make use of some of our earlier-discussed resources before committing to Learnissimo.
Learning Languages from Skillshare
You can learn from video courses for from Skillshare teachers with a 2 month free trial from DigiNo. Here is an example of courses below:
Want to become a Skillshare teacher? Here's how much you can get paid: