There are many reasons to learn another language; it can transform your travelling experiences, help you move abroad for work, study or other reasons, increase your earning potential and employability, boost your cognitive ability and provide personal gratification.
So it is little wonder the ever growing foreign languages industry offers countless courses to help you develop your linguistic skills.
Traditionally this would involve a costly and timely evening class, summer school or degree, but now it is possible to learn wherever and whenever you want for much cheaper online.
The beauty of online learning is you can do as little or as much studying as you want, no matter where you are, and with apps and mobile games it blends into your everyday life, which is exactly the best way to learn a language.
All you need is motivation, a good internet connection, a microphone and some headphones.
Today, learning a language online is affordable, flexible and effective.
What does learning a language online involve?
Learning a language online is no different to any other form of online study, except you may have to talk to your computer from time to time.
You will follow a course outline which can be completed at the pace best for you.
Every language course will vary, but all should offer interactive classes that focus on reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar and pronunciation.
On top of that, many will also have other features such as a personal tutor, pop tests, audio recording exercises, word games and video clips.
There is no wrong or right way to learn a language though many people do find little and often works best for them.
What course should I choose?
Ultimately this depends on your end goal, if it is just for fun you should choose the course you enjoy the most and can afford.
If you have fluency aims then you should look for one that tracks progress and offers feedback and areas of improvement. You will need an online language course that comes with guarantees and good recommendations.
If you just wish to understand the language then the speaking element isn’t necessarily that important, however if you wish to communicate effectively then you must ensure you enrol onto a class that offers interactive speaking classes.
How can I find which course is best for me?
There are so many courses out there it is important to find the right one for you.
Anki and Memrise use a flashcard system that works on you memorising certain words, phrases or images. You are then tested over and over again until they are committed to memory, both of these are free.
BBC languages offers a school like learning environment that will be familiar to most. It involves short tests, video clips and passages of text to translate. This is also free and offers a range of 40 languages.
However, the above are more language learning supplements rather than courses which will help you develop fluency from scratch.
How much should an online language course cost?
For an online course to deliver this you will need a paid option of which the most famous is the award winning Rosetta Stone. Instead of focusing on repetition like the above apps, it works on recognising patterns a method proven to develop long lasting language skills.
Another popular online course is Babbel. This costs $12.95 a month and you can unsubscribe at any time. However, while it is inexpensive it doesn't offer real time online classes like most of the others.
How long will it take?
How quickly you pick up a language depends exactly on you, how much you put in and how much you enjoy your online course.
However, to establish basic fluency (being able to communicate socially and undergo basic work instruction) from scratch should take about 480 hours, or less than 10 hours a week for a year.
Obviously if you surround yourself with stimulus in the language you are trying to learn (eg watching films, listening to music) then you should find yourself reaching this stage much more quickly.
How can I speed up learning a language?
Even if you don’t understand what you are listening to, watching TV or listening to music in the language you are learning can help speed up the learning process as it helps you recognise how words and phrases should sound.
It can also help to attach sticky notes to common objects around the house, so when you reach for your toothbrush twice a day you see its foreign name.
Try and incorporate the language you are trying to learn into your everyday life, change your phone settings (though remember how to change them back!), read a news story about something you are interested in and speak to a pen pal or language buddy.
It may also be possible to find a group of nationals who meet in an area near you, if they host any social activities try and attend.
How can learning another language help my career?
Being able to speak more than one language is an incredibly desirable trait in employees. Not only does it set you apart from other candidates applying for a role, it also demonstrates a higher cognitive ability, dedication and application.
It is also estimated a foreign language can add between 10-15% onto your wage.
It opens doors for greater movement within multinational companies, as well as increasing the chance for more interesting projects
While much business is conducted in English no matter where the deal, having an extra language can help you create and maintain good relationships enabling you to negotiate a more favourable deal.
It can also help when it comes to looking for a job, if there isn’t a huge need for your skillset in your current country, then you may be able to secure a job in another one if you have the relevant language skills.
Which language to learn?
It is always easiest to learn a language that has similar roots to your own, for example learning Spanish if you are Italian. It can be very difficult to learn a language that has a completely different alphabet and phonetic system, for example learning Mandarin if you English.
However, of course it all depends on why you are learning a language. If it is for business then top languages include:
- French: there are many Francophone countries in the world and it is one of the easiest languages for the English speaker to learn.
- Spanish: It is the world’s fourth largest spoken language and many there are many huge Spanish owned international firms like Santander, Telefonica and Iberia.
- Mandarin: As China’s economy continues to grow learning Mandarin can be an invaluable skill in international business, especially if you wanted to set up your own company out in China.