Humans need to interact.
In our daily lives, we send each other pictures, text, chat, meet up for coffee and plan get-togethers.
So why should language learning be any different?
Interactive learning resources can mean a world of difference in your language learning.
They can help create community, or simply provide feedback.
They’re a breath of fresh air, and including them in your language learning journey will keep you motivated and having fun.
So take a break from traditional learning methods, and start using some interactive resources online!
4 Types of Neat Interactive Tools for Learning a Language Online
1. Journal with Purpose
Some of the coolest online resources are language-learning blogs and diaries. On these sites, you can post a blog entry in your target language, and native speakers will correct your grammar.
Turnaround is quick, so you can often have your corrections within the same day. And since more than one native can correct your entry, you’ll often get more than one right way to express a concept—that’s great help in developing nuance. You also can ask them to clarify their corrections. All in all, it’s a great way to practice writing!
Popular Journaling Websites
- Lang-8: The most well-known journaling site, Lang-8 has a huge community, and you won’t have difficulty finding native speakers to correct your work. Correct others’ entries in your native language to rack up points and increase your visibility on the site!
- iTalki: While iTalki is better known for its language exchanges and tutoring, it also provides a platform for those of us who want to focus on writing. The Notebook feature works much like Lang-8, although the community often uses it more for asking questions about the target language.
How to Maximize Online Journals
So, you’ve decided to make an account on either Lang-8 or iTalki. Now what? How can you get the most out your language practice?
Mix in SRS
If you use an SRS (spaced repetition system), you can enter corrected sentences into flashcards so that you review the corrections with regularity. You can enter the whole sentence with an English translation on the back, and you’ll remember the correction! If you get more than one correction, put both on the front of the card so you remember the variety. Simply seeing the corrected sentence over and over will solidify the correct grammar into your memory.
If you enjoy SRS and want to make this tool as efficient as possible, you can also check out Olly Richards’ “Make Words Stick,” a guide to maximizing electronic flashcards and SRS technology for your language learning.
Stick with a Schedule
Writing practice can be great, but you’ll reap more benefits if you stick with a schedule. Regular practice will help you improve far more than sporadic writing and feedback. Whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly, regularity will ensure you make progress.
This whole post is about adding interactive variety to your language learning, but we can add variety within these resources, too. To get the most out of online journaling, write about a host of different things. Diary entries are great and easy to compose, but they use limited vocab and grammar since you’re only talking about yourself and simple things that happened during the day.
To branch out:
- Try writing book reviews for novels or comics you read in your target language.
- Summarize a TV episode or movie you watched.
- Type out your textbook exercises so that native speakers can correct them.
- If you’re enrolled in a class, get feedback on your class assignments.
- Write faux (or real!) letters to friends, family, penpals, fictional characters, etc.
And if you’re imaginative and creative, try your hand at writing short stories or poetry in your target language! Variety will stretch your linguistic muscles by forcing you to adapt to different styles and formats. The vocabulary you’ll use in a book review is vastly different than what you would use in a friendly letter. And variety means you won’t get bored!
Keep It Attainable
If journaling seems intimidating, keep your word count goals simple and attainable. If 200 or 300 words is all you can do on a weekly basis, that’s fine! Remember—consistency is better than sporadic wordiness.
2. Learn Languages Through Interactive Games
Games are a great way to solidify vocab and grammar. They can make memorization fun by giving you achievable goals to strive for! Now, when you’re addicted to a game, at least you can say it’s educational.
Popular Game-ified Websites
- Duolingo: Learn basic vocabulary and grammar by completing your Duolingo Skill Tree. You’ll work through basic greetings to abstract concepts by taking quick and easy quizzes. Duolingo tracks your learning streaks if you play every day!
- FluentU: FluentU provides access to short snippets of native materials, along with all the resources you need to decipher and learn the language. Learn your target language through movie clips, trendy music and hilarious commercials!
- Memrise: Memrise allows users create flashcard sets that take advantage of spaced repetition. There are plenty of language options, so Memrise is a great way to get started on a new language or to brush up on advanced vocabulary.
How to Maximize Language Learning Games
Get the most out of your gaming by, again, setting goals. If you commit to a certain number of lessons each day, the consistency is sure to pay off. Set alarms and reminders to make sure you put in the time!
Play to Win!
Many of these game sites tally your score in some fashion, which means you can compete! For example, Duolingo has its “Lingot” system where you rack up points for maintaining long streaks of consistency, Memrise tracks your points and posts them to your course’s leaderboard and FluentU keeps track of what percentage of a video you’ve learned so far.
Whether you compete against your real-life friends, strangers on the leaderboards or just yourself, you’re sure to boost your progress! And if you can’t find someone to compete with, check out point #4 on this list to find some language-loving friends to challenge.
Don’t Go Overboard
All that being said, games are supposed to be fun. So, if you don’t have much time to learn or are feeling stressed out, these game-ified methods will be most effective if you play in shorter spurts in between other tasks, language-related or otherwise, as opposed to forcing yourself to do a long stretch all at once.
3. Hack Your Language Exchanges
Online language exchanges have never been more popular. Your speaking ability progresses by leaps and bounds when you can talk with a real live native speaker. The feedback and practice are priceless, and you can get all this without leaving the country!
Popular Language Exchange Websites
- Conversation Exchange: This is a general language exchange website. You can search for conversation partners using a number of different criteria. Message someone who seems like a good bet, and go from there! This site is used only to contact people initially—all speaking practice happens on Skype or a similar app. Conversation Exchange is great if you’re looking for a long-term partner and regular practice.
- HelloTalk: HelloTalk is a twist on the “traditional” language exchange setup. With the HelloTalk app, you select your target language, and the app gives you a list of “matches” for you to talk to. Choose one and start talking—no need to download Skype or anything else! HelloTalk is great for quickly finding someone to practice with; however, other language exchange sites might be better if you’re looking for a long-term friendship.
How to Maximize Your Language Exchange
Find a Great Partner
No matter which resource you decide to use, including a language exchange in your study regimen really helps, especially after you’ve reached an intermediate level or so. But finding a good language partner can be hard. A partner who has more in common with you will be easier to talk to than a random person.
- Career or field of study
- Married/single/kids/no kids
- Interests and hobbies
- Level of language learning intensity (It’s hard to keep to a schedule if your partner is interested only in practicing when it’s convenient, and vice versa!)
Get Some Conversation Inspiration
Once you have a partner, you need to keep conversations going, and this can be difficult when there’s a language barrier and when you don’t quite know each other yet.
Try questions from resources like Conversation Starters World. Sure, the questions are cheesy, but in language exchanges it keeps things varied and fun. It’s the same principle we talked about with language journaling—you want to talk about a wide variety of topics to get the most out of your language exchange. Talking about the weather or what’s new isn’t going to keep you going for long!
Connect to the Culture
You can also use your partner for native media suggestions—movies, music, books! When you’re not a member of a particular culture, it can take time to get that “insider” level knowledge. With a new friend who’s grown up in it, you can access more pop culture!
Take Notes and Study
And finally, take notes during your exchanges and review them regularly. SRS is helpful here, as always, but don’t let your conversations go by without digesting the helpful information you get.
4. Take Advantage of Online Language Learning Communities
Interaction doesn’t have to come part and parcel with the resource itself. Instead, you can seek out interaction and community to support your language learning! We all know having a friend or two striving for the same goal keeps us all on track. But what if we can find more than that? There are a number of forums online with serious and newbie language learners alike. Commiserate with fellow newcomers and get advice from veterans. Everyone benefits!
Popular Language Learning Forums
- How to Learn Any Language (HTLAL): This is the oldest and most popular language learning forum. These learners vary from people learning a language for work or study, to serious hobbyists and polyglots.
- A Language Learners’ Forum: A sister site to HTLAL. The original forum had technical difficulties, so some users moved here to continue talking and practicing. The community, however, is not identical to HTLAL, and more recently, it’s grown into its own entity!
- Unilang: This site has language-specific forums where people learning the same target language can share resources and advice. Whether you’re learning Faroese or Spanish or Latin, you’ll find others who share your passion!
How to Maximize Language Learning Forums
While the games listed in point #2 are great platforms on which to compete, these communities are where you’ll find fellow serious language learners. Language learning communities also get creative with their competitions, so don’t feel limited to games that explicitly keep score!
- HTLAL and A Language Learners’ Forum regularly compete in Super Challenges where learners commit to watching a huge number of target language movies and reading a mammoth amount of target language books.
- For the less hardcore out there, there are six-week challenges, where learners keep score on Twitter. During a six-week challenge, learners commit to a goal they make themselves, and then try to put in the hours to achieve it within (obviously) six weeks. Learners with busy schedules are free to make achievable goals for themselves, while learners with more free time can shoot for the stars!
Log Your Progress
Additionally, language logs are an awesome feature of HTLAL and its sister site. The HTLAL and A Language Learners’ Forum logs can be found here and here, respectively. You can keep track of your language learning (goals, achieved goals, new materials, etc.) and other learners can comment. Iversen, an accomplished Danish polyglot, writes his log in multiple languages—use his example for inspiration!
If you’ve decided to join Unilang, share your progress on one of the language-specific forums. Others will benefit from your breakthroughs.
And if you’re having a rough time, users can suggest resources or provide other help. It’s community at its finest!
Keep trying out exciting interactive resources, and breathe new life into your studies!
Experimentation is everything when it comes to learning a new language, so keep exploring and stay curious about all the great ways to learn and practice.
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