There are over 6,000 languages spoken in the world today.
Sometimes, it seems like there are at least that many options for learning just one of them.
Where do you start? How do you choose from so many language courses without feeling overwhelmed?
First of all, you will need to get the lay of the land to see what is out there. That way, you can find the best paths to reach your language learning goals.
We are about to discover how to find the best language courses the world has to offer.
Get your safari gear and let’s journey into some new learning territory!
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How Much Do Language Courses Cost?
Cost is a practical consideration and a useful criterion for deciding which of your many choices are more feasible than others.
There are language courses available at several different price points.
- Get a free lunch. Free courses usually come from community organizations, academic institutions or trial versions of premium courses. No-cost language courses might have fewer features than their paid counterparts. Also, their scope and support may be limited. Nonetheless, they have many advantages, which we will discuss in more detail later in this post.
- Buyer, be wise. Paid options have all kinds of different price points, ranging from double to quadruple digits for a single course. Generally, premium language courses tend to be of higher quality than free courses, offering an extended curriculum, more up-to-date interfaces and more responsive support.
- Be discerning. The sheer number of choices for language learners can be daunting. Where should you begin? How often should you study? Should you start learning a new language online or use a textbook? Set some ground rules for yourself so you do not feel inundated with the flood of available language-learning resources.
Which Language Course Is Best for Me?
Even respecting the budgetary restrictions you have set for yourself, you are still going to have an astonishing number of choices.
To help narrow down your options to find what will really work for you, think about what and why you are trying to learn and how you best learn. Then, promise yourself that you will make your best effort—and give yourself the tools to triumph.
- Set your goals. What is your motivation for learning a new language? How fluent do you want to become? How long do you have to learn the new language? Your answers to these questions will help you choose an appropriate language learning program for you.
- Find your personal best. Are you asking yourself, “What is the best way to learn a foreign language?” Frankly, there is no one right answer to that question. Your motivation, time frame and learning style are key factors in determining what is best—for you. Your available study time and how much you are willing to spend on language courses will also play into this decision.
- Plan to succeed. While it is important to find the right type of course that will motivate you and keep you interested, you are ultimately the driver of your own success at learning a new language. Once you have figured out what kind of foreign language courses would work for you, you still have to make a study plan for yourself. Cultivate good study habits and commit yourself to making progress every day.
With all this in mind, let’s take a tour through the many, many types of language courses you can use to learn your target language.
Language learning apps
While somewhat different than a traditional course, language learning apps are a popular option. They are a low-pressure, no-deadline way to try language learning. You can easily modify your study goals and feel free to make lots of mistakes.
Language learning apps travel everywhere. Most of them are cloud-based, so you can use them on multiple devices without skipping a beat.
There is some scientific evidence that learning in short bursts is actually better for retention than longer learning sessions. Language apps could be just the ticket for both battling boredom and improving your language mastery. While you are just standing in line at the store, riding to work or waiting for an appointment, you can squeeze in a few moments of reviewing vocab or doing grammar exercises.
The interactive exercises in many apps offer instant feedback, so you can easily gauge your progress as you learn. Many language learning apps are gamified, brightening up your experience with vivid colors, pings and whooshing sounds, study streaks and “game gold” (earned points). This makes learning feel more like playing—and motivates adult learners who dream of both language learning and more play time.
Some language learning apps also have a social aspect, with in-app friends, leader boards and discussion boards.
A few language learning apps take you far beyond stilted dialogues or machine-rendered pronunciations. Some language learning apps actually immerse you in authentic content that was produced by native speakers, for native speakers.
When you learn with real-world content like authentic videos, you can embrace the culture of the language’s speakers. You get all of the latest slang and idiomatic expressions. You hear the language as it is really spoken by the people who use it every day to communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs.
One language learning app that offers a particularly intriguing, engaging experience with native content is FluentU.
Not only does FluentU motivate you to learn with real-world content on a plethora of fascinating topics, but it also encourages you with positive feedback, study reminders and habit-building learning streaks.
You can enjoy many of the lively perks of gamified learning, along with seriously useful features such as interactive quizzes, multimedia flashcards and spaced repetition for increased vocabulary retention.
All the videos you will watch on FluentU come with meticulous subtitles. Display the subtitles just in the target language or add the English translation.
If you are not sure about any word in a video, you can just tap it to pause and see an instant definition—complete with pronunciation, pictures and multiple usage examples.
FluentU travels with you, accessible from your computer and all your mobile devices (both Android and iOS). The app tracks your progress and makes customized suggestions for your next video lesson, based on your current learning level and your personal interests.
You can even study multiple languages with a single account. Try FluentU for free today and discover the difference authentic content can make in your learning.
Free language courses
Easy on the wallet, free language courses are great for casual learners. You can study steadily or stop and start as you please, since your only investment is time and effort.
There are many ways to learn languages for free. Free language courses can include many different formats: Textbooks, apps, websites, MOOCs—even “word of the day”-type courses on social media or via email—can all be considered free language courses.
If traditional courses are more your speed, free language courses are often available through municipal programs. Your local public library might even sponsor language courses, sometimes in conjunction with other community programs.
Some colleges and universities keep an archive of older courses that are released on an “as-is” basis for self-guided learning. MIT’s OpenCourseWare model is a good example of this type of program.
Courses from colleges and universities tend to be high-quality, but you might find them dry. Usually, these courses were meant to be taught by an instructor. In their archived online versions, you will often just get the bare-bones curriculum, a reading list, some non-interactive exercises and maybe copies of lecture notes.
Another option is to look for “freemium” courses, which are time- or feature-limited versions of premium courses.
Keep in mind that the quality of the courses may vary from resource to resource. For example, some courses might only cover the most basic concepts, such as terms for tourists or elementary-level language.
The good news is that resources can be combined to fill gaps, with no extra cost to do so. After all, if the price tag for each resource were $0, you would still pay nothing even if you chose to take three free courses.
Language courses near you
Taking a language course locally has a few advantages: After a short commute to class, you can learn with neighborhood friends—or make the acquaintance of future friends from your area.
Since they are frequently offered by public libraries, community colleges and cultural appreciation clubs, local courses are often free or low-cost. These types of courses are usually introductory.
For intermediate or advanced studies, you might turn to local colleges with premium programs. One of the best colleges for foreign language studies might be right around the corner from you. Why not take advantage of your proximity to a great language learning institution? After all, it is not everybody who gets to live just minutes away from Middlebury, UPenn, UW-Madison or UC Berkeley.
There are many ways to find local courses: Search online, on community calendars, in your local paper, on social media or on discussion boards. You might even get suggestions from nearby friends.
Online language courses
If you are looking for language courses that you can take in your bunny slippers—or even on vacation—online language courses offer you many different learning choices.
Online courses include several different course styles. Some are more like virtual classrooms while others are app-based. What are the best online language courses? That depends on your learning needs and personal preferences.
For example, if you enjoy an innovative, personalized language course enriched with native-speaker multimedia content and interactive exercises, you might consider trying FluentU.
If you like the convenience of online courses but prefer a more conventional curriculum, traditional distance learning might fit the bill. Prestigious institutions such as Harvard, as well as cooperative course networks like Ed2Go, create a virtual classroom experience for language learners. You can study any language imaginable, from Arabic to Zulu.
Budget-friendly choices for studying online include e-learning language courses, several of which are free (or handsomely priced). Another benefit of these e-learning courses is that they sometimes have lessons and resource materials for languages that are a little off the beaten path, such as Oromo and Tamazight.
Language MOOCs are a learning free-for-all. These massive open online courses can accommodate thousands of students. With their high-volume virtual classrooms, MOOCs—which are often presented by well-known universities—provide an opportunity for flexible learning. Although each course usually runs within a set time frame, learning is largely self-paced. Many MOOCs offer courses free of charge, with the option to purchase a certificate of completion.
Language courses for credit
Your plans for learning a language might entail more than learning for personal satisfaction or getting a nice certificate embossed with your very own name.
Fortunately, there are several for-credit language course options, for high schoolers, college students and grad students.
With online foreign language courses for high school credit, students can supplement limited language course offerings at their current school or start working toward a college degree early.
Language programs for high school students also include immersion and foreign study programs. Immersion programs have both domestic and international options; a few combine the two.
College and beyond
Undergrads and graduates alike can choose to get a foreign language degree or simply take a few language courses for credit. Courses can be found on-campus, online or on a trip abroad.
Whether you decide on a double-major like Mandarin and international business or you plan to use your language skills in medicine, law, tourism or translation, for-credit courses will give you the experience and credentials you need to propel your career forward.
Private language lessons
If you are not looking for course credit but you would like custom, one-on-one instruction, look into private language lessons. There are many places to look online for a private tutor who can give you help for problem areas and a chance to practice live conversation.
Before you look for an online language teacher, or even one you would work with face-to-face, think about what you want to accomplish—and what skills your tutor would need to deliver that optimal learning experience. Use some common-sense guidelines, along with your own criteria, to find a qualified tutor who will motivate and encourage you.
You may be at a point in your language-learning journey where you just want to focus on casual conversation, without necessarily spending a lot of time on grammar or vocab.
Conversation courses, consisting of conversation groups with or without a curriculum or agenda, will help you improve both your auditory comprehension and speaking skills. Conversation practice can also help you build your confidence in using the language in discussions and everyday interactions. As long as you have a bare minimum of your target language under your belt, you can find conversation courses for all learning levels.
Local Meetup groups combine language learning with socializing. More formal groups, such as Alliance Française, sometimes pair cultural activities like films or symposiums in the target language with light refreshments and conversation afterward.
Virtual options, like chatting, texting, Skyping or Zooming, open up your conversation options beyond whatever is available in your immediate area. Venture to online meetings with native and practicing speakers in your target language.
Intensive language lessons
Sometimes, your personal or career goals might require language learning with boot camp intensity. If you have specific, targeted aims and you need a fastidiously well-organized curriculum to make your learning goals happen in a tight time frame, consider intensive language courses.
These accelerated courses are often taught on location, with some virtual options. Since you will essentially be compressing months’ or years’ worth of learning into mere weeks, you might need to take time away from your normal routine to attend.
Language courses abroad
When you study a language abroad, you can achieve better cultural understanding by meeting native speakers and participating in everyday activities with them.
Depending on your language level and your goals, you can choose from programs with different degrees of immersion. Some programs are more all-inclusive or immersive than others.
Summer language programs, taught on-campus, online or overseas, present an opportunity for college students who wish to level-up their language, start on a new language or take a few steps ahead to a higher learning level. Although registering for many of these programs might require dipping into a savings account, a few have options for financial aid.
Immersion programs for adults are designed for learners with various goals and circumstances. Whether you are hunting for career improvement, looking for service opportunities or pursuing personal learning satisfaction, there is likely a program that matches your objectives and preferences.
For language teachers, immersion programs can be a refresher course that keeps you current with more modern nuances of the language—and, especially if you normally teach beginner-level courses, it provides an opportunity for you to re-sharpen your conversational skills with native speakers.
Language immersion courses at home
Be it ever so humble—and not particularly exotic—there is still no place like home.
When you are ready to hang up your safari hat but still want to keep learning, you can design your own domestic language immersion program.
You might try for immersion 24/7 or only take a deep dive into learning on evenings and weekends. Home-based immersion programs are all under your control, so you can sink into your target language as deeply or as often as you would like.
Try integrating your target language into many areas of your life, like socializing, cooking and entertainment. Talk or text with conversation partners in your target language. Try following a recipe in the language you are studying. (You can even make your grocery list in the target language!)
Fill your ears with some of the best audio language courses as you buzz about the house tidying, dusting or folding laundry.
When it is time to relax, play some music in your target language. Enhance your home immersion experience by binge-watching hit shows with native speaker audio.
Incorporate inventive tools that support your learning routine. For example, immersion language software like FluentU puts you smack-dab in the middle of a virtual world filled with your target language. It takes you from simply listening to actively learning, so you can better understand and retain the new words you hear.
Whether your quest for language courses takes you around the globe, around the block or around the house, strive to stay curious. No matter which language courses you choose, or where you hang your safari hat, you will never stop exploring and learning.
Michelle Baumgartner is a language nerd who has formally studied seven languages and informally dabbled in a few others. In addition to geeking out over slender vowels, interrogative particles, and phonemes, Michelle is a FluentU staff writer and education blogger specializing in language learning topics. Find out more at StellaWriting.com.
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