Learning a new language can open up employment opportunities, reduce stress during international trips, and ― at the very least ― allow you to effectively communicate with a wider swath of the population. And thanks to the advent of interactive online technology, it’s never been easier to add to your linguistic repertoire.
If you’re seeking an intensive curriculum designed to render you fluent within a matter of weeks or months, then it might be wise to fork over some extra dough for a program like Rosetta Stone (if it’s good enough for the U.S. State Department, then it will probably satisfy your needs). But if you’re seeking an assistive program or app that will build your vocabulary and provide some foundational knowledge for the language you wish to learn, then this list is a good starting point ― and best of all, each of these entries is dirt cheap (if not completely free-of-charge).
The BBC offers online courses that cover essential phrases, pronunciation, grammar, and other fundamentals of 40 different languages. The site also includes crossword puzzles, video lectures, and other interactive resources to help sharpen basic skills. When you’re feeling confident with your new linguistic abilities, feel free to browse the list of links to news agencies, podcasts, and other media outlets that correspond to the language you’ve been learning. Tools for teaching children are also offered.
This site that features online courses, exercises, and apps has been accessed by more than 30 million users worldwide. busuu only offers 12 languages at this time, but each module covers all the essential topics; motivated learners can achieve advanced intermediate proficiency by the time a free upgrade is required, thanks in part to easily accessible community pages. A handy, free app (iOS and Android) is also available in all of the languages except Arabic, and kid-teaching tools are also offered on the site.
Transparent Languages, one of Rosetta Stone’s major competitors, has been in business for more than 20 years, and its past customer base includes MIT and the U.S. Department of Defense. Byki Express is the company’s most basic offering: a flashcard-based module that allows students to learn a new language by listening to native speakers. Paid upgrades are available, but the Express version provides plenty of foundational skills in 70 different languages.
Crowdsourcing has its pros and cons, but a user network can be invaluable for those hoping to learn a new language. This experimental module essentially teaches through translation; learners convert foreign words and phrases into their English counterparts, and then rate the translations other site visitors have contributed. This accomplishes two goals: foundational knowledge of a foreign language for the student, and a vast, user-generated library of translated text that benefits future Duolingo users. This might seem backwards, but considering the site enables users to interact with an entire network of fellow learners while being completely ad- and cost-free, it can’t hurt. Six languages are offered at this time.
Unlike Rosetta Stone, which is designed to help students achieve fluency, this comprehensive program breezes over linguistic conventions and focuses on building practical oral and listening skills. The goal is to help travelers feel comfortable speaking the native tongue during their international travels, thereby reducing their use of English words and phrases while abroad. The company offers packaged courses that cover everything from greetings and introductions to dining and using public transportation. These are available for $79 ― but Mango’s language-learning software is also available free-of-charge through libraries across the country. More than 60 languages are available.
Google Translate, Interpret, and Jibbigo
If you don’t have time to master a new language before your international trip, then the least you can do is download a helpful translation app. Google Translate is the most commonly used platform, and is fairly simple to operate; users simply speak words or phrases into their mobile device, and the program can translate it in more than 60 languages. Interpret essentially uses the same interface, but pulls results from Google and Bing to yield more comprehensive results in more than 50 languages. Jibbigo, which signed a deal with Facebook earlier this month, allows users are able to access its vast dictionary offline.