Language courses can be daunting.
Whether it’s the price, the convenience or even just the uncomfortable plastic chairs, taking a language course can have its drawbacks.
But when you’re learning a language as an adult, sometimes you need a structured approach. If you want the benefit of more conventional coursework but want to be able to do it anywhere, online courses and private language lessons can give you what you need.
Additionally, free language learning websites and free e-learning language courses offer powerful money-saving potential.
When you’re looking for an incomparable combination of value and conventional coursework, though, nothing has your back quite like a MOOC.
What’s a MOOC?
MOOC stands for “massive open online course.” They’re a form of distance learning delivered online. Unlike conventional courses, MOOCs can often have an unlimited number of students. They often provide plenty of course material like texts, activities and videos. Some even offer forums to allow you to interact with other students.
Since 2012, MOOCs have taken off, with millions of students enjoying these courses.
Harvard Business Review notes that in some fields, using MOOCs to develop targeted skills may give you a competitive edge.
But why should language learners use MOOCs? There are a number of good reasons to welcome a MOOC into your life.
Why Use a MOOC to Learn a Language?
First of all, MOOCs are usually much more affordable than conventional classes. Since MOOCs can accommodate huge numbers of students, MOOC providers can afford to offer lower prices than a conventional class could ever possibly offer. Some MOOCs are even offered for free—it’s hard to beat that!
Additionally, MOOCs are flexible. Since they’re meant to be used by a wide array of students, the courses are usually self-paced, meaning materials are available for you to use at whatever time of day works best for you.
While there may be a set time frame in which you need to be done with the course, you can usually choose whether you’d rather rush through the material in just a week, delay until your time frame is almost up or spread the material out evenly.
And if you want to create your own custom flash card decks or find media that supplements the material you’re learning, an app like FluentU can be invaluable.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Plus, MOOCs allow you to learn from expert teachers. Since many MOOCs are offered by conventional universities, you have the option to learn from teachers who are truly experts in the language.
Finally, you can access MOOCs even from remote locations. If you live somewhere where there aren’t many language classes available, MOOCs may very well be as close as you can get to a conventional course.
Plus, being able to access courses from remote locations also means you can learn a language wherever you can get internet access, whether that’s at your local coffee shop or villa on an undisclosed tropical island.
5 Top Sources for Language Learning MOOCs
EdX’s pedigree is as strong as its MOOCs. It was founded in 2012 by Harvard University and MIT, and nowadays, many top universities contribute courses.
Language courses include English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese and Italian.
One thing that sets edX’s language MOOCs apart is that they come from universities from around the world. For instance, you can study Japanese with a course from Waseda University in Tokyo. Looking to learn Spanish? Universitat Politécnica de Valencia in Spain offers courses. If you want to improve your Chinese, you can choose between several options, including Tsinghua University and Peking University in Beijing.
Time commitment is usually about four hours per week per course, and most courses last six to eight weeks.
Course levels range from beginning to advanced, and descriptions usually provide clear insight into what each course will cover, allowing you to judge which is best for you. Plus, you can see what instructor/instructors teach the course ahead of time to give you a better idea of his/her/their qualifications.
Courses are usually free, though you may also purchase a certificate of completion when you finish.
FutureLearn is owned by The Open University, a British-based university that has long specialized in distance education. FutureLearn partners with dozens of universities and cultural institutions around the world to provide courses.
Courses offered cover some popular languages, like Spanish, English, Italian and Korean along with some less common options, like Norwegian, Dutch and Frisian. Language courses are usually offered by international universities.
Several language courses are also highly specialized, including topics like English in early childhood and studying law and economics in Italian.
Courses contain video, audio and articles. Plus, discussion topics are meant to stimulate conversation between learners.
Most courses offer the option of learning for free or upgrading. If you learn for free, you have access to all the course material except for tests for the duration of the course plus two more weeks. If you upgrade, you have unlimited access to course materials during and after the course, have access to tests and receive a certificate upon completion.
Courses are usually six to ten weeks long and require two to five hours of work per week.
Coursera was founded by two Stanford professors. Currently, it hosts courses from a number of major universities, including Stanford, Duke and Johns Hopkins.
Language offerings include English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean.
Coursera’s Spanish courses are often more specific than what you’ll find in other MOOCs. For instance, instead of just taking a course on basic Spanish vocabulary, you can choose to study Spanish vocabulary related to careers and social events!
Coursera courses feature video lectures, assignments and forums to help you connect with other students. You can also see profiles of your instructors ahead of time.
Plus, with Coursera, you can take individual courses, earn a “Specialization Certificate” or even complete an online degree.
Most courses provide some free material but require purchase to unlock all the material and/or earn a certificate.
Courses usually require about four hours of work per week and last four to six weeks.
This London-based company is concerned about learners as a whole and focuses on all types of skills, from nutrition to finance. They also offer a good selection of language courses.
As of right now, they offer language courses in Arabic, English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese. A couple of courses that might entice the aspiring polyglots are the European Languages Bundle course that teaches the basics of German, Spanish and French and an Exotic Language Bundle that focuses on Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic.
The courses are a combination of lectures, videos, slides and assessment so you always know where you stand. Prices are in pounds and range anywhere from approximately $27 to over $200, depending on the course. The type of course teachers vary between professional instructors to production companies that specialize in creating quality content for learners.
If you’re just getting started with learning a language, this might be the perfect resource for you!
If you are looking to learn a less common language, Udemy is a strong contender.
Udemy has a slightly different approach than other MOOC providers. Instead of being created by universities, Udemy’s courses are created by individuals in topics they are passionate about. While this means some of the instructors are not always established experts, it also means that there is a much wider selection of courses available.
Language courses cover common languages, like English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. You’ll also find courses for less common offerings like American Sign Language, Maltese, Thai, Vietnamese, Hebrew and more.
Perhaps best of all, because courses are generated by individuals, you might even be able to pick up some language skills you wouldn’t acquire in many other language classes. For instance, if your language skills come along with an artistic bend, you might study Arabic calligraphy or Japanese calligraphy.
Courses usually feature video and supplemental resources. Clear “curriculum” lists (essentially syllabi) make it easy to peruse the topics covered and how long each topic takes before you sign up for the course.
The length of the courses varies pretty wildly—some are just a couple hours long, while others are over 20 hours. Similarly, the price point varies. A few courses are free, but most do charge an affordable fee. Once you’ve signed up for the course, you have lifetime access to the material so you can always go back for a refresher. Certificates of completion are also available.
The next time you’re looking to improve your language skills or learn a new language, look no further than a MOOC!