No language learner is an island.
We all need others to succeed.
But who are these “others,” and how do we find them?
It’s easy. You won’t need a ship, a plane or even a phone.
As long as you have an internet connection, there are tons of online resources you can use to find educators, native speakers and other people who can help you in your learning process.
This post will show you the different online oases for language learners. You’ll discover what resources are available, how to use them and who you’ll encounter with them.
But before we explore those resources, let’s get to four important points we need to bear in mind when we ask others for language help online.
4 Points to Remember When Asking for Language Help Online
1. Make the first move and say, “hi!”
Help often goes to those bold enough to ask for it.
Nobody knows what language troubles or questions are percolating in your mind. You have to make it known to others before they can do something about it. And this process often starts with a simple “hi!”
Online, as in real life, somebody has got to make the first move or no social interaction would ever happen. So make it your personal philosophy to open the communication lines. (You’re the one who needs something!) Make others know that you exist and give yourself the space to ask for help.
Nobody’s going to be tapping on your virtual shoulder asking, “can I help you with anything?” No, it’s your job to come out and say, “hi! can you please help me with this?”
A single “hi!” can open a floodgate of support your way and you’ll never regret you said it.
2. Reach out to lots of people
A lot of things in life involve a numbers game, from elections to sports to dating.
Getting language help is a numbers game as well. You have to contact lots of people (especially when you’re in a hurry to get help) to maximize the chances that someone will respond. If you only reach out to one person, and the email address or username you’re contacting is no longer in use, or they’re too busy to read your email, you’ll be out of luck.
Plus, in many cases you may get a response, but with an opinion or just part of an answer. You’d want to have many responses, different points of views and approaches to your problem so you can benefit from all of them. They’ll help you see the bigger picture.
There’s strength in numbers and this will become apparent when you’re looking for support online.
3. Courtesy goes a long, long way
Well, being rude and crass also goes a long way—but in the opposite direction.
When asking for help online, the same rules apply as when you’re doing it face-to-face. Civility and courtesy open others up and make them want to go out of their way to help you. Be breezy, peppering your communications with magic words like “please” and “thanks.”
Don’t be demanding or betray a sense of entitlement for the help. You’ll turn off many potential allies.
And when you do get a response from someone, let him or her know that you’re grateful for their time. Be appreciative of what you get, and you’ll get more.
4. Ask yourself, “what can I do for the other guy?”
You’re not the only one who needs help in this world. We all do! And you might hold the answer to some issue another person is struggling with.
It may have nothing to do with language at all, but if there’s something, anything you can do to extend assistance to another, do it. Many say it’s good karma, but karma or not, you’ll make the online world a better place.
And beyond that, reciprocity is really significant. Reciprocity helps create a cycle of generosity, where you extend help and get helped in return. Your question that gets answered today won’t be the last language issue you’ll need help with. There will be a host of other issues and nuances you’ll tackle that may require the input of native speakers, tutors or language partners.
You don’t want to be the person who took and never gave back. You’ll easily forfeit future chances of asking for assistance. Instead, be an active member of a language learning community, fielding questions you know answers to and adding to the work of others. You’ll be a valuable member of that community and any time you ask for help, those people who’ve already experienced your kindness will go out of their way to extend theirs.
Speaking of language learning communities, let’s now look at some of the best places online where you can go and ask for some guidance.
Language Lifelines: 4 Top Sources for Language Learning Support Online
1. Language learning communities/forums
Communication in online language learning communities/forums is usually in written format, via a post and/or message thread. You may have to wait for somebody to read your post and address your query. (Thus, the wisdom of reaching out to as many people and forums as possible.)
Because of the nature of the communication, try to be as complete as possible in your post. Don’t just ask questions, ask follow-up questions too. Also, furnish details so that the people responding can have a clear understanding of what exactly you’re looking for. And as always, be appreciative of what you get. This may open a longstanding conversation where the whole community is psyched to help you out.
Here are two of the learning communities you can check out:
Fluent In 3 Months
Benny Lewis, a polyglot, the guy behind the blog, has built up a respectable community of learners who are often eager to address language questions.
Go to the blog’s main page and click “Forum” on the upper right hand corner of your screen. Two of the sections you might be interested in are “Specific language questions” and “Ask Benny.” In the first, you can post queries involving grammar and usage. The second one is for language learning questions that you can address directly to the guy behind one of the biggest language learning blogs. As somebody who has always been on the road to learning a new language, he can suggest a technique or two for you.
(And if you’re terrified of speaking in your target language, scroll down to the “Social skydiving” part of the forum. Here you’ll get plenty of encouragement to help you overcome that fear and anxiety of making very public language mistakes.)
You won’t be faulted for thinking that the site is only good as an online dictionary or translation tool. But click on “Language Forums” in the upper left hand corner of your screen, and you’ll be brought to a host of discussion boards that cover a wide range of individual languages and language pairings (such as Spanish-English).
These forums are serious about the nuances of grammar and vocabulary. So if your question is about translations, terms and word usage, posting it here could spark a healthy discussion that would benefit not only you but also the other readers of the thread.
When posting, remember to include in your post title the exact word or phrase that you need help with. Ask about only one topic per thread. If you would like to ask a different question, start a new thread. The discussion in the threads should only be limited to the word or phrase mentioned in the title.
What if you post and nobody answers your questions? Well, don’t fret. First, add more information and context to your question (if you think it’s warranted). This would help others to help you. Second, if still that doesn’t get a response, click on the “Report” button at the bottom of your post and ask for moderator assistance.
2. Language exchange sites
Language exchange sites are places on the web where language learners congregate to help one another out. Sometimes the process involves monetary exchange, in the case of tutors and teachers, and sometimes it involves language exchange, where you trade knowledge of your mother tongue for another’s. Unlike the previous section where the written format is the norm, interactions in language exchange sites usually take place over video call, often via Skype.
You’ll meet different kinds of characters in these language exchange sites:
- Teacher/Tutor. You pay for lessons from both, but the difference between a teacher and a tutor is the qualification. A teacher is often a certified professional who teaches the target language even outside the web environment. They may have teaching experience in classrooms and have studied to become a teacher.
A tutor has a little less teaching experience and would usually cost less. He or she may have a different day job and is tutoring on the side. He or she may be a native speaker and could teach a lot of the practical nuances of the target language.
- Native speakers. Native speakers are the people who speak your target language as their first language. You may find that many native speakers who are interested in language exchanges are happy to help you just because they can. They’ll be generous with their time, talk to you over Skype and try to help you out with your struggles.
Remember that they’re volunteering their time, so you won’t be able to schedule conversations whenever you like. Conversations also tend to be unstructured and freewheeling.
- Language exchange partner. Let’s say your first language is English and you want to learn Japanese. Your language exchange partner would be a Japanese speaker who wants to learn English. Essentially, you trade English help for Japanese help. So there will be times when you walk your partner through English, and there will moments when your partner will correct your Japanese.
- Fellow language learners. You should not miss out on reaching out to fellow language learners. They can teach you a thing or two about dealing with languages. The ideal person to talk to is someone who’s also studying your target language.
And better yet if you find others who are a little bit more advanced than you, because they can demonstrate how they went about tackling certain elements of the language, give you tips that worked for them and point you to resources you may have missed.
Here are three language exchange sites that you can check out:
The exchange site italki gives you almost total control of the kind of language exchange experience that you want. There are plenty of choices there. You can have your pick of seasoned teachers, gifted tutors or engaging native speakers.
Scroll down to the “Lessons” section and choose between “Professional Teachers” and “Community Tutors.” Or, if you want a “Language Exchange,” look for it under the “Community” section. You can then filter your options by choosing your language educator or partner’s experience, availability, rates, whether they have trial lessons or whether they have audio or video introductions.
Easy Language Exchange
With Easy Language Exchange, you get support from start to finish—that is, from initially looking for your ideal language exchange partner, to the actual process of interacting with him or her.
ELE has a “Working Together” section where you can post your questions to the community—whether it’s a translation or some point of grammar, you can make it known there. ELE also has an inspirational blog that keeps you informed as well as keeps your spirits up—for those nights when learning a whole new language feels next to impossible.
ELE helps you every step of the way. Afraid that you’re going to run out of things to say to your partner? Read this post from ELE so you can keep the interaction going.
The interface is very basic, which also makes it easy to navigate.
On the Conversation Exchange home page, you’ll have to choose if you want a “penpal” or a “chat partner.” Hit any of these buttons and you’ll be taken to a search page where you can browse through the profiles of members containing basic information like gender, age and location, even their hobbies and interests. There’s also a short intro and picture to give you a better feel for your potential language partner.
As always, reach out to several people so that you can have your choice of language partners that suit your personality and language requirements.
3. Question and answer sites
Question and answer sites are community-driven places where users can post a host of questions—which can then be answered by other users. Essentially, it’s a place where the answers to your questions, language-related or otherwise, are crowdsourced.
Question and answer sites make use of the wisdom of other users. And this is both a boon and a bane. It’s positive because you’re getting answers from a large pool of folks, but it can also be problematic as anyone can post an answer to your query, regardless of his or her qualifications.
That’s why you should always take the info you get from these sites with a healthy grain of salt. It’s better if you ask subjective questions such as, “which German language course in the market would you recommend?” Reserve fact-related and grammar-related language questions for learning communities and strictly moderated forums like those on WordReference.
Here are two question and answer sites you can use for language learning:
This is a very famous question and answer site from the once mighty Yahoo. Again, take what you read from it with a grain of salt. Not everything written there is correct, even those tagged as the “Best Answer.” But ask an opinion question, and you can be sure that plenty of people will make their thoughts known.
This site is geared toward a more mature audience and more in-depth queries. Quora has attracted many knowledgeable experts in different fields and Quora is probably where most witty, academically-inclined native speakers are. Used properly, the site can also function as a review hub for insights on the many different language products marketed online.
You can sign in through your Gmail or Facebook account. The first time you log in, you’ll be asked to set up your account and pick your topics of interest from a given list. Scroll down and choose “language” and your target language. This will make it easier for Quora to feed you questions you might be interested in.
Continuing on to the next page, you’ll be asked to choose topics that you know about and can help others with. Moving on from that page, you’ll land on your home page where you can ask your first question.
Type anything in the search box and, before you’ve even finished your question, Quora will suggest past questions that are similar to the one you’re constructing. Because, who knows, your question might have already been asked and answered! If it hasn’t been, you can submit your question (which you can do anonymously by ticking a box on the upper-right side of the page). You can also choose to add more details to your question if you like.
Hit “Submit Question” and let the midnight elves behind Quora get to work.
4. Government-related language organizations
National governments not only protect their citizens, but they also have the noble function of promoting their language and culture around the world. They often have an educational arm that provides a significant leg up to those who express a willingness to learn their language, including scholarships and opportunities to study abroad. Check them out to see what they have to offer in terms of content and opportunities for study.
Some of the most well-known of these organizations are:
The British Council works in over 100 countries to promote international and intercultural cooperation through the English language.
Named after Miguel de Cervantes, the author of “Don Quixote,” Instituto Cervantes’ mission is to promote Spanish as a second language, opening up opportunities for the study and use of the language in countries the world over.
Germany’s version includes forums and tutorials, as well as language learning resources organized by categories such as “German at work.”
The Alliance Francaise has more than 100 years of experience spreading the French language around the world, and is passionate about educating the teachers who will in turn become ambassadors of the language.
Istituto Italiano di Cultura
This institute supports education in Italian through language courses, cultural events and more.
Now, with all of the resources for language learning that have been presented here, you can feel supported in pushing forward in your language learning journey. Yes, even on those nights when acquiring the language may seem a lost cause. I encourage you to have at it.
Don’t lose motivation, plenty of help is on the way.