Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just order a language?
If you could be served up Russian fluency within minutes of deciding, “Hey, I think I’d like to speak Russian”?
If you could say, “Hmm, Spanish sounds good,” then have it brought to you on a silver platter?
Sadly, it doesn’t work like that.
Instead, you google “the fastest way to learn ___.” You settle on something that seems worth it. You sign up. Then you have to sit down and do the work.
Learning a language can be like a full-time job, and you’ll probably need as much help as you can get.
But remember what Jimmy told Dottie in “A League of Their Own”:
“The hard is what makes it great.”
It’s a counterintuitive truth: If it doesn’t take work, it probably ain’t worth it.
And that said, learning a language can still be a good time. Plus, you can get lots of assistance without even leaving the room.
There’s probably never been a better time in history for language learning. There are resources everywhere, especially online.
It’s now easier than ever to connect with people who share your interests, and to truly enjoy the learning process.
All this connectivity can be overwhelming, however, and not all language learning websites are made equal. So we’re here to help. Once you get serious, it doesn’t have to be a solo struggle.
The world’s literally at your fingertips, and we’re going to help you navigate it.
While learning a language may not be as easy as ordering off the menu at your favorite restaurant, it can still be a satisfying, guided experience.
So here’s your online menu to language learning success.
12 Language Learning Websites in a Special 3-course Menu
Course 1: Start with the Nitty Gritty and Practice, Practice, Practice
It all boils down to the basics. In order to master a new language you need a foundation, and to build on that foundation, you need practice. You may think this sounds tedious, but it can lots of be fun, especially with the availability of apps and websites that turn language learning into a game. When you’ve decided that you’re ready to get going, you can start guided practice on any of these sites within minutes, maybe even seconds.
Babbel is considered the world’s first language learning app. It offers 14 languages, ranging from Spanish to Indonesian. Babbel’s goal is to get you speaking, reading and listening right away. Some users claim to be able to have small conversations in their target language within hours of starting their program.
Babbel uses real voice recordings, so you’ll hear how to properly pronounce and understand words. It’s tailored to your native language and starts you with vocabulary that’ll be easy to recognize. It also allows you to choose topics that are relevant to you, so that it sticks.
It’s a great resource for starting strong in your language learning journey. It’s also available for both desktop and mobile devices, so you can learn anywhere.
Ah, the ever-popular Duolingo. You’d be hard-pressed to find any list of language learning sites without Duolingo. It’s currently the reigning champion of apps in the language learning community, due to its accessibility and simplicity. Available on both your computer and your phone, it’s 100% free and ready to help you kickstart your language learning immediately. Currently, it’s host to many language courses, with others in beta or still “hatching.”
The way it works: You set up your account, choose your target language(s), set your daily goal and off you go. You’ll be taken through a cluster of modules that are designed to get you acclimated from the ground up. You start with the most basic of words and phrases, and they become increasingly more challenging as you complete each module.
There are a host of features to keep you motivated, such as clubs, “lingots” (Duolingo’s currency), a weekly leaderboard (to see how much practice you’ve had compared to your friends) and badges. There’s also a discussion board if you’re still unclear on something.
Duolingo really is a great tool for someone who wants an intro into a new language. It’ll give you a solid base and get you speaking and reading at a basic conversational level. However, if you’re aiming for fluency, you’ll still need to supplement with reading, speaking and listening with outside sources.
Duolingo is available on the web as well as on iOS and Android devices.
FluentU is a fast-growing website for language learners that takes a different approach from most of what’s out there. Simply put, if you’re into interactive lessons, videos, TV, YouTube or all of the above, then this is the place you need to be. Even if you don’t think you’re into any of those things, you may be surprised how fun learning a language this way can be. With a 15-day free trial, you can check out full access to tons of content, including movie trailers and music videos, all spoken in your target language.
What’s great about this is that you’ll hear actual, real speakers. Many websites teach with computerized audio, which doesn’t lend itself to being very helpful for when you finally listen to native speakers. In fact, many people feel a bit discouraged when they encounter native speakers of their target language after hours of computerized audio, because it turns out they haven’t really learned anything applicable to the real world.
FluentU gets you started with real speakers, and matches you with videos based on your experience level. After the video, you’ll go through a set of lessons based on what you just watched so that you get repeated exposure to these sometimes difficult-to-grasp words and phrases. It’s really worth the time and money to get your fluency to the next level. Also, FluentU caters to all levels from newbie through native and personalizes your learning, so you can use it all through your journey to fluency.
Coursera is much like an online classroom. Classes here are taught by professors from some of the top institutions around the world through pre-recorded videos. Classmates can communicate with each other in the class forum.
Coursera covers the most widely spoken languages, such as Spanish, Mandarin and more. Whether you opt for Chinese for Beginners or Spanish Vocabulary, you can use Coursera to begin with the basics and get the foundation you need.
If you happen to be a little further along in your studies, you might want to check out one of the classes that are actually taught in a foreign language. For most courses, you’ll have free access to the course material for seven days, and if you like what you’re seeing you can pay for full enrollment and receive a certificate once you’ve passed the class.
People who love Coursera are people who love classroom settings. You’ll have a clear lesson plan from start to finish. You get quizzed at the end of lessons. You get a real teacher who’s able to clarify some of the nuances in language that sometimes confuse us. You won’t be able to raise your hand and ask a question, but you can always pose questions on the forum so that your teacher or other students can respond.
Whereas with some of the automated language apps, you’re learning on your own, with Coursera you’ve got a network of others who are doing the exact same thing as you, so it’s a little less lonely and can be quite collaborative depending on how social you are.
LingQ is one of the most robust online language learning systems out there and comes with lots of perks: It includes a foreign language library with audio and transcripts, special vocabulary tools, a great global online community and more.
It’s easy to get started, and with their method, you’ll begin learning a language quickly through loads of input, including authentic web content, as well as practice with native speakers, all while tracking the vocabulary you’ve learned.
The unique standout aspects of LingQ are its community, organization and flexibility—as with Coursera, the ability to communicate with other learners is a big plus, only that communication isn’t confined by a specific period of time and can be ongoing. Also, you don’t only have access to other learners but also native speakers of your target language. You can use the forum to ask any questions you have about your target language and get responses from native speakers. You can also customize your approach while still keeping a firm handle on your progress.
LingQ is available on the web and also for iOS and Android.
Course 2: Get Motivated and Enjoy Yourself
When we’re learning something, a little moral support can go a long way. Luckily, the language learning community reaches far and wide. There are a number of internet gurus who know exactly what you’re feeling and are happy to share their experiences and offer up practical advice as well as more concrete resources. With the websites in this list, you’ll not only find further resources and communities you can directly apply to your learning, but you’ll learn how to organize your own learning and eventually move into the advanced levels. This list is by no means exhaustive, but below are the essential fan favorites.
If you haven’t already heard of Benny the Irish Polyglot then… you’re welcome. Benny’s website is built on a concept that would excite any language learner: speaking from Day 1.
The idea behind Benny’s philosophy is that if you truly want to learn a language, you can’t hide behind books and apps. You have to get out there and just do it. That doesn’t mean do away with books and apps. You definitely need them. However, many of us decide that we should wait until we’re at an “acceptable” level of fluency to begin speaking. With Benny, that just doesn’t fly.
If you’ve been struggling with learning a language, or if you’re just starting, then this is a great place for insight. Benny had similar struggles. He spent years trying to learn Spanish to no avail. Now, he speaks seven languages fluently.
There are tons of resources on Fluent in 3 Months, from success stories to books, courses and advice. When you enter the website, you can sign up for Benny’s free “Speak in a Week” email course. You’ll receive tips and advice to start speaking any language right away. You can also head over to the blog section where you’ll find articles such as “16 Must-know Words and Phrases for Any Language” that will let you prepare yourself to have an easier time getting comfortable with your target language.
You should also read about how one contributor chronicled his mission to speak only German in the course of 30 days. It’s quite inspiring and offers a lot of advice on how to get through such a nerve-wracking challenge. You can find the posts here: “New Mission: One Month Without English,” “Nerves, Tears and a Breakthrough: 2 Weeks Without Speaking English [Mission Update]” and “The Amazing Moment Speaking German Finally Clicked [Mission Completed]”.
Language Surfer is another great site for language learners that has a slightly different approach. According to Ron, the site creator, no one can ever truly master a new language. That’s not to say you should throw in the towel and take up knitting instead. However, the idea is that one must get comfortable with the idea of imperfection.
Languages are something to enjoy, like a surfer riding waves in the ocean. With many things in life, we don’t strive to be the absolute best—like with cooking or riding a bike. Some of us do, but most of us just get good enough for survival, and if we’re a little more ambitious we strive to impress.
Ron’s advice focuses on getting language learners to a level where they feel comfortable and confident. He offers articles on why making mistakes is good, and advice on how listening can help move you along to reach your goals faster. If you’re new to language learning, go straight to the New? Start Here! section of the website. From there, you can get started with a language learning roadmap, or if you’ve had some experience already you can check out what the next steps are after Duolingo.
Ron’s laissez-faire approach to language learning can be a great relief to those of us who put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. Check out his complete philosophy here. It’s quite good.
Sometimes we need a giggle. Cue Itchy Feet. If you haven’t started already, you’ll soon find out that sometimes learning a new language will make you want to bang your head against the wall and beg the language gods for mercy. FYI, they never listen.
Itchy Feet pokes fun at the peaks and pitfalls of both learning a language and travel abroad. Also, the comics aren’t just offered in English, but also in Spanish, Russian, Greek, French and more. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom and select one of the 18 languages available. This will lead you to a Facebook page and you’ll have access to all of the comics in that language.
So even while you’re acknowledging the woes of language learning, you’re still able to get some reading practice in. A good way to know if you’re making progress is if you read a foreign language comic in your target language and actually start laughing.
Course 3: Find and Master Speaking Practice
Speaking is key to comfort in language learning. That is to say, you probably won’t be comfortable at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets and the closer you’ll be to fluency.
But I’m learning Romanian, and there aren’t any Romanian speakers where I live. How can I practice speaking?
The internet has heard your call and has answered in overabundance. There are several language exchange sites and practice groups that will have you speaking from the word “hello.” Here are some of the very best.
The popular site italki offers live, face-to-face conversations with a certified instructor. It’s a great way to start speaking right away with native speakers. Even when you’re using apps, books or whatever your preferred learning resource, you need to add speaking to your schedule. Italki will get you speaking with the benefit of formal instruction. Speaking is a great way to gauge your progress. With each session, you’ll see that it becomes a little bit easier. Also, if you don’t have access to native speakers of your target language in your current location, then italki is gold.
Users are able to navigate through the list of instructors and choose based on personality, country, fluency, price and even schedule. If you want to give a teacher a test run, most offer trial lessons for much cheaper than their typical price. The website also has instructors that offer instant tutoring if you want to dive into lessons right away.
If you can’t afford the certified instructors, italki offers a community of tutors whose prices are substantially lower than the instructors. You typically won’t get formal instruction with a tutor, but most of them are native speakers of the language they advertise, so their lessons can be just as effective as those of the certified instructors.
If you’re really unable to spend money, then you can opt for a language exchange with other members. You’ll have to split the time so you both get practice in your target language, but if you’re comfortable with this, then go for it!
If the name of the site isn’t clue enough, this is another speaking website. It’s completely free and simple to use. Once you register you fill out a profile detailing the basics: name, age, geography. Then, you’re prompted to identify your native language(s), the language(s) you would like to learn and your current level of fluency.
From there, users have access to a large network of language learners who are all there for the same reason (mostly), which is to take part in a language exchange. The coolest things about Speaky are the video chat and text features. The video chat is offered “in-house” and includes note-taking, it suggests topics of conversation and even has a timer if you’re strict about keeping the language exchange fair.
You can always go to Skype if you’d like, but why would you when Speaky’s video chat is made specifically to enhance your learning experience?
The chat system—another cool feature—is like any other, except as a language learner you’ll find the correction feature quite handy. Users have the ability to go directly into the chat bubble to correct each other so that you can learn from your mistakes on the spot.
Speaky can be really fun, because there are so many users and people always jump at the chance to start an exchange. It can be a little overwhelming, but it’s a better problem to have than not having anyone at all. It’s not uncommon to go through a number of conversations before you find someone you truly click with. However, once you connect with the right person, you could possibly be on your way to a lasting relationship that will benefit you in more ways than you can imagine!
Verbling is a streamlined, all-in-one option for those specifically looking for online teachers. You can sort through hundreds of teachers, searching by factors like price, availability, skills, where they’re from and more. You can see how many lessons a teacher has taught, how they’ve been rated by other students and check out all kinds of other detailed information on their page, including their education, experience and qualifications.
If having a sense of structure makes you feel more secure, you can take pre-arranged one-on-one courses on specific topics, like Italian pronunciation, Chinese characters or Spanish conversation—all for a set price.
Once you find a teacher you like, you can book lessons with them right there. Like with talking to an exchange partner on Speaky, you don’t need an extra video chat program here—it’s all in-house. The site itself has a smooth, intuitive design—perfect for those looking for a comfortable online space to jump into remote learning.
While this isn’t a site that you’ll primarily benefit from online, it’s the next step. If the other sites above provide live-action conversation, then Meetup is your 3D, HD, IMAX.
If you’re looking for in-person conversation this is the place to go. On Meetup, linguaphiles gather to share their passion at local venues in small intimate groups to large, party-sized group. Groups offer a wide range of activities, from conversing in coffee shops to museum trips and more.
If you’re a social butterfly who enjoys meeting new people while actively pursuing your goals, then Meetup is probably right for you. All you have to do is sign up, search for your target language, and browse. Since there are so many groups out there, you’re sure to come across something suitable for you. Also, the gatherings are generally free, so if you’re on a budget this is a great learning option.
The internet is vast and there’s an endless supply of websites that’ll help you get started learning a language.
Take the time to find the ones that work for you. It’ll be one of the greatest steps you’ve taken to reach your goals!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.