If you’re reading this, you’ve probably just recently decided to throw caution to the wind and learn a foreign language, traumatic high school Spanish finals be damned.
Or maybe you’re in the midst of learning a new language online, and your mission has been a fruitless journey of online translators and trying to navigate your Facebook timeline in Yiddish. Oy vey.
Either way, congratulations! You’ve just stumbled upon the most epic list of online language courses.
You no longer need to slam your face QWERTY-style out of frustration, begging the polyglot gods to give you some kind of direction for your linguistic quest. These courses will give you a roadmap to language learning success.
If you’re wondering what distinguishes an online course from the plethora of other resources online, it’s that a course contains lessons, modules, or quizzes—some kind of structure that newbies (and language learning vets!) need to help them weave other language learning tools into context.
There are many other types of language courses online that consist of everything from games and quizzes to one-on-one tutoring sessions.
With this many options to choose from, how do you even know where to begin?
Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of 2021’s best web-based courses that serve different language-learning needs. Whether you’re on a shoestring budget or need a course that satiates your podcast addiction, there’s something that fits your style below.
The 31 Best Online Language Courses in 2021 for Any Budget or Level
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Babbel is perfect for language learners who want to learn Spanish, Norwegian or 11 other languages. You can get a fun, game-like structure that’s accessible on your smartphone, and access to a learner’s community that can help make your adventure a little more social.
FluentU’s unique platform focuses on language immersion, which is something language learners of all levels need.
Did you ever want to sing along to “Let It Go” in German, or watch a crash course in world geography in Japanese? You can, with FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
LingQ is a web-based language-learning system founded by YouTube polyglot sensation, Steve Kaufmann. LingQ has a community aspect to the interface that rewards you for helping your peers. LingQ also has a massive database of lessons which are composed of text documents accompanied by audio.
With a Premium plan and points on this site, you’ll have access to their apps, vocabulary features, one-on-one English conversations, group conversations, writing corrections and a huge variety of learning activities and quizzes. LingQ offers lessons in 24 languages, including the more popular languages like Spanish and Chinese, and some less popular languages like Hebrew and Czech.
Duolingo is perhaps one of the more well-known options on this list. Designed more like a game than a course, Duolingo is a fun way to squeeze in language learning on your lunch breaks or whenever you would otherwise be playing “Candy Crush.” Duolingo focuses on making language learning intuitive.
Did we mention you can connect with friends and family through Facebook? You’re forewarned—things can get strangely competitive with distant cousins and passive-aggressive co-workers.
Duolingo teaches 36 languages, including some that you likely wouldn’t find in any of the other apps on this list, like Navajo and High Valerian.
With a dozen languages available for study, Busuu—named for an endangered language in Camaroon—is a lively platform for language learners.
Busuu integrates a great deal of social interaction into its program. Make and accept friend requests to connect with other language learners, and take turns correcting each other’s reading and speaking exercises.
Premium users can gauge their progress with placement tests from McGraw-Hill Education. These correspond to the mastery levels in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Gamified app Mondly introduces basic vocabulary through simple photos. In various exercises, you’ll swipe, drag-and-drop and use word banks to do simple translations. There are also grammar tips and conversation practice. Conversations are presented as text messages.
Mondly lets you take a few trial lessons for free, although your access will be limited. Once you sign up for a Premium plan, you can take the lessons in sequence, or skip around to different topics. Depending on the plan you pick, you can learn a single language, or have access to all the available languages.
One of the advantages to Mondly is that you can potentially study a couple of dozen languages—including harder-to-find languages such as Bengali, Magyar or Catalan. You can also choose to learn through one of many languages. So, for example, you could learn Italian through Hebrew, French through English or Bulgarian through Vietnamese.
The Pod Series is a network of websites with names like Spanishpod101.com, etc. You’ll find programs for the following languages:
They have free and paid subscription models with tons of material available, ranging from different types of lessons (generally revolving around themes), podcasts and a fun flashcard feature that uses vocabulary words from the media present on their sites.
Mango is known for its game-like design and its ability to have you speaking phrases within a few weeks. It’s much like Babbel and Duolingo, but it also has an added cultural component if you’re interested, incorporates augmented reality into learning and can be used for organizations and classrooms.
The monthly subscription includes access to more than 70 language courses.
Memrise may not be a course in the traditional sense—it started as a collection of user-generated courses in dozens of languages (including sign languages). Recent updates to the program have turned it into a thorough exploration of languages using vocab learning games, authentic videos and guided lessons.
At its core, though, Memrise still uses its original idea: Based on the spaced repetition technique, Memrise functions best as a resource for vocabulary retention. You can even create your own course to help you remember those specific terms that trip you up.
You may still have Rosetta Stone stuck in your mind as that yellow box in the airport, but it has come a long way in recent years to integrate online language learning. Rosetta Stone includes online classes, games and mobile apps, hopping on board with a lot of recent language-learning trends. This resource is recommended for long-term learners rather than quick phrase-building. It’s available for many languages, including:
This is polyglot super-star Benny Lewis’s brainchild. As someone who’s learned seven languages and has been traveling the globe for over a decade, he has tons of tricks and resources to help you hack your way through language learning.
A premium subscription to his site works best for those who want to learn how to become lifelong language learners rather than learn a specific language.
Rocket Languages has a number of different account types that may appeal to you depending on your budget. Rocket Languages is known for its incredibly vast amount of downloadable content, and it’s also very well-structured, which is great for those of us who have no clue how or where to begin!
You’ll be able to take courses for the following languages:
MyLanguages.org has lessons in 95 languages and all for free! Here you can learn vocab, grammar and quick phrases, and even quiz yourself on your knowledge. The courses on this site are mostly written (though they do collect some audio and video material), making them perfect for intermediate learners who need to review and refine their grammatical skills.
This is another curated list of courses in a number of languages, some free and some for a fee.
Omniglot also contains mini-lessons on over 600 languages, detailing some of the histories and origins of archaic scripts like Ladino or Old Norse. Omniglot is also useful for lesser-known languages like Xhosa, Igbo and Ojibwe.
Some awesome individuals have dedicated their time to creating an online collection of public domain language courses that were created by the United States’ Foreign Service Institute. You’ll find that most of these courses are broken up into audio clips that revolve around short conversations, so it’s best for those who are looking for some on-the-go material that challenges their listening skills. It’s great for beginners!
Designed for military personnel before deployment, Headstart2 is another good resource for beginners. Every language has two units made up of 10 modules each, which you can access online. It’s worth noting that the second unit focuses on “mission-specific tasks,” which could be great for those who want to watch war films in their target language.
The languages available are extremely varied and include Swahili, Kyrgyz, regional varieties of Arabic and many more.
The Live Lingua Project has made language courses from Peace Corps training freely available to all who visit their website. You don’t even need an account to access these free resources.
There are lots of hard-to-find languages, such as Anufo (spoken in Togo) and Q´eqchi (spoken in Guatemala). You can also find regional variations on more well-known languages—such as 11 different varieties of Arabic, three varieties of Russian and four different styles of French.
Many of the courses feature audio clips to help you learn pronunciation. While the materials are not brand-new, they will give you a thorough foundation in the languages you choose to study.
An indispensable resource for language learners, Internet Polyglot also contains a feature that most other online courses don’t: the ability to translate lessons to and from any language they have available. Do you want to learn French through Spanish? No problemo, mon ami. Thanks to this, there’s a huge selection of courses to choose from.
LearnaLanguage.com is another website filled with free language courses, but with a twist: Some of the lessons are delightfully weird. Learning Spanish? Why not play around with the “Burrito Builder,” or brush up on your Japanese love phrases?
Best of all, the website is dedicated to offering free content so you can learn key words, phrases and more in 19 languages.
Word2Word is a massive online database of free courses in over 100 languages. What’s unique about this site is that it also points you in the direction of language learning forums and more general polyglot guides and resources. Most importantly, Word2Word contains links to tools and resources from all over the web in less common languages like Frisian and Malay.
Want to mix your target language and social media? italki is the Facebook of language learning. Explained as a language teaching marketplace by co-founder Kevin Chen, this incredible 2.0 website has a massive listing of language tutors from all over the world.
There are plenty of free services, and you can connect with users who may want to engage in a free language exchange via Skype or another service. There’s no set pedagogical standard for italki, but you can find the teacher, learning style and lessons that work for you and your wallet.
This is the right option for you if you like having a tutor but also want to be able to review your lesson later, because all courses are recorded. These courses are customized to the student, and their instructors are known to be highly qualified professionals.
There are many languages to choose from and you can take a level test in some of the languages before you sign up for a lesson.
Known for its comprehensive fusion of online learning, mobile apps and web conference-style e-tutoring sessions, Living Language is well worth its access fee. Be prepared for very knowledgeable and professional teachers instructing you in small groups.
Not sure if you want to commit? Try a free lesson in a large selection of languages—even American Sign Language!
Do you ever get bored or lonely trying to learn a lesson by yourself? My Language Exchange is a great option for you social butterflies out there. On this site you complete lessons with language learning buddies from all over the world. Did we mention there are over a million members who speak upwards of 115 languages?
Find someone who speaks your target language and is learning your native language, and help each other learn!
Do you need a teacher to help you through your lessons? Verbalplanet.net has a large staff of native tutors to help you through the trials of learning a language online, and their useful analytic tools help you track your progress.
Did you ever think you could learn a Hawaiian language online? All you need is an internet browser, a Flash Player and an interest in Hawaiian languages. ‘A‘ole pilikia.
Would you like an MIT education? Wouldn’t we all? Thanks to MIT OpenCourseWare, you can download the syllabus and course material in the language class of your choice.
Interested in a literature or culture class? No prob. Check out this guy’s TedX talk about giving himself an MIT education through this program.
Looking for college credit? Oregon State has a very well-known and accredited online campus that’s worth looking into. If you want travel around and be a cool expat while earning class credit, this is the virtual campus you’ve been looking for. You can even get a bachelor’s degree in German, completely online! No pants? No problem.
The self-proclaimed source of the “best free cultural & educational media on the web,” Open Culture is another awesome website that collects free courses and resources for its users. Equipped with an engaging blog and links to over 1000 free courses, this resource is perfect for the culture snob in all of us. It’s not exclusively dedicated to language courses, yet you can still find resources in over 48 languages.
If you prefer a more traditional classroom experience, consider edX.
With curriculum from universities around the world—including Boston University, the University System of Maryland, Harvard, Peking University and University of Oxford—edX gives learners at all levels free access to top-notch language courses.
In addition to the languages you might expect, such as French, German, English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian, you’ll find more unusual topics such as Noongar (an indigenous language from Western Australia) and Tibetan.
Some of the language courses are very specific to particular goals, such as English or Mandarin Chinese for business.
At a paid level, EdX has professional certificates and an XSeries (for deep dives into a language).
Do you need to learn a language for work or business? Do you like a self-paced, straightforward approach with no gamification or frills? Give Alison a try.
Alison uses a “freemium” model: Access to the self-paced video lessons, with ads, is free—and you can take as many different courses as you’d like. Stick with a single language or learn several from among these available choices: Japanese, German, Spanish, French, Chinese, Irish, Arabic, Engish or Swedish.
When you finish a language course, you have the option of purchasing a diploma or certificate as evidence of your achievement.
For a modest monthly fee, you can remove the advertisements that support the free program. You’ll also get a substantial discount on any certifications you purchase.
Oldies but Goodies:
The following apps were cut from our list as of 2020, for the reasons detailed below!
Livemocha is a massive language learning community that gives you instruction in 38 different languages. Many liken its structure to that of Rosetta Stone, but instead of relying on a program to assess you, be prepared for native speakers and other language enthusiasts to rate your linguistic chops.
Update: Livemocha was acquired by Rosetta Stone and has been shut down since 2016. The website currently redirects to Rosetta Stone.
This is an app for learners on the go. Known for its crowd-sourced information, Hello-Hello World always has a professional on staff to make comments and corrections to your sentences. It’s a great option for those who want to review words and phrases on a tight deadline before a business trip or a big test.
The program has a collection of conversational courses as well as vocabulary builders in 13 languages.
Update: Although this website is still available, we’ve removed it from the main list due to its outdated style and numerous 404 errors on the website.
World Wide Learn is another comprehensive list of accredited language courses online. There are courses in 18 different languages, as well as in translation, ESL and TESL. There’s also a “live chat” feature if you need help figuring out which course is best for you. World Wide Learn is especially good for those who want to travel as they go to school, or have busy work schedules that don’t allow them to attend brick-and-mortar campuses.
Update: This program no longer offers online courses or lessons, but it’s still a good resource if you’re interested in learning about different degrees and even finding a local school that teaches the language you’re interested in learning.
Another free resource with lessons in 15 languages, ELanguageSchool is also ideal for learners who like to focus on written instruction. Without a doubt the best features of ELanguageSchool are its long lists of commonly used nouns and verbs, and the site’s surprising lack of ads.
Update: This program is on longer available online.
So there you have it, the online language course list to end all lists. It may come as no surprise that native material (video, podcasts, books, etc. in your target language) can far surpass any course when used effectively.
But several of us benefit more when we balance or supplement those authentic materials with a course, so now you know where to look. Choose a course (or several) that appeals to you, and get started today!
Carlo Aaron is a writer, artist and language-learning enthusiast who lives on the internet. She’s been featured on xoJane, Skirt Collective and Feministing. Follow her on Twitter.
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