Looking for the best online language learning programs for your kid(s)?
Good for you!
Whether you’re a language learner yourself or just an awesome parent, giving your offspring access to the joys and endless benefits of acquiring a new language is one of the best things you can do for them.
Same goes for if you’re going to be tutoring kids in a foreign language.
Or hey, you might just be curious about what kind of language learning resources are out there for kids… because you figure they might be fun and work for you, too!
Regardless of your situation, you’re in for a treat today.
We’re going to look at the best in online language learning for kids.
Let’s get to it!
3 Characteristics of a Kid-friendly Language Learning Program
Before I give you the resources that you’re looking for, I’m going to give you the three characteristics of a kid-friendly program. Think of them as the three equally supportive legs of a stool.
A language learning program tailored for kids is highly interactive. It engages the senses and imagination and makes the kids an important part of the learning process. When dealing with children, a straight-up passive lecture is not effective. They barely can sit still, much less keep their eyes on the lesson. You’re dealing with short attention spans and so you need to hit them with activity after activity that keeps them engaged in the lesson.
A kid-friendly program gives children something to do—with their hands, their eyes, their imaginations. It doesn’t expect them to get through the whole thing without a fuss.
So an online resource full of boring text won’t be a hit. It will barely register. If a language learning program is full of paragraphs, then move on.
Kids don’t think of language learning as a linguistic goal made up of words and phrases, they think of it as an activity—a game, a dance, a song or an audiovisual experience. They engage in the experience and forget that they’re already learning about the language. So it’s like you’re layering the lessons behind some fun activities. It’s not like adult programs where the language lessons are so explicit and in your face. It’s not like kids are going to say to themselves, “Okay, today I’m gonna memorize 10 vocabulary words about food.”
I’m sure you’ve had the experience of asking your little one to do something she doesn’t want to do. You’re feeding her, for example, and she stops opening her mouth, resisting you at every turn. So you start getting creative. You turn that tiny spoon into an airplane, doing backflips and somersaults in the air. Sometimes it’s a train “choo-choo-choo-ing” into her mouth.
Eating is an activity, but your way is more fun and creative.
Memorizing a list of words from a sheet of paper is also an activity. But it’s hardly creative. When dealing with kids, a program has to rise to their level of creativity and imagination. I’m talking about bright colors, moving objects, talking animals, cartoon characters, changing scenery, storylines, rescue missions, interplanetary drama, etc.
Suddenly, your kid isn’t just learning about numbers, he’s counting gold coins in Czech so he can buy the flying pony he’ll use to rescue the princess. And when he’s done saving her, he gets to meet her family—the king, some rowdy uncles—and along the way, learn about family vocabulary. That’s an activity, and a creative one!
They say that variety is the spice of life. If the same thing is done over and over, the novelty soon wears off. It’s not a challenge anymore. It becomes a chore. Kids will only engage with material if it still interests them. If there’s something new, something unexpected.
They don’t care if they learn the language lessons you want them to or not. They don’t look far into the future and think, “Being bilingual will raise my value at work.” They’re in the present, thinking, “What’s in it for me right now?”
And if it’s the same thing over and over, they’ll have nothing to do with it.
A good online language learning program for kids knows this. That’s why the creators throw in plenty of different activities. They try to teach the same lesson in different ways. For example, a lesson about numbers can be taught in a song. It can also be taught in a story, or a game, so the kids don’t get sick of the same lesson. Because hey, it’s not really the same lesson. (Wink!)
Resources can also test for the same vocabulary set in different ways, even involving different skills. They can test for pronunciation by asking the children to speak into a microphone, they can do word pairs and they can make the activity more interactive by asking the kids to type in the answer. They can also tap into that competitive spirit and facilitate language contests with other students online.
A good rule of thumb is that a really good online resource for kids will have at least five different types of creative activities.
With all that being said, I’m now going to show you some of the best online resources for kids today.
8 Online Language Learning Resources for Kids and Kids at Heart
Some of these programs are specifically made for kids, while others are all-ages programs that just happen to have features great for kids—both types of programs have their advantages. With programs designed for kids, you can rest assured that your children are being catered to by experts, whereas with general programs, you may be more inclined to join in on the fun!
Adults might run for dear life at the sight of a bear, but kids think they’re cute and cuddly.
Little Pim, that lovable panda, can be your children’s video guide to learning any or all of the 12 languages on offer. What used to be recorded on multiple DVDs can now be video streamed or digitally downloaded, but you still get that Little Pim cuteness and goofy goodness that won the program over 25 awards.
Their learning system, the Entertainment Immersion Method, was developed by top language teachers and neuroscientists. It employs repetition, play and child-friendly themes to tap into toddlers’ natural love for learning. The videos are a combination of animations and live-action clips that introduce topics like colors and numbers. They run for only 5 minutes to accommodate an audience of 0-6 year olds.
You can choose from a combination of download, streaming, DVD and book options. Prices vary depending on exactly what you want, but are generally affordable. For example, the full French program, which comes with two books, is $131.99.
Along with the books and DVDs, you can also get other physical products including flashcards, CDs, toys and posters.
The program is said to teach your little ones 360 basic words in the target language. To me, that sounds like an awesome deal!
Muzzy BBC is the BBC’s answer to language learning for all ages. This immersion program, described as “The World’s #1 Language Course for Children,” is centered around animated characters and stories in video “episodes.” The episodes are designed to naturally build on one another, enabling your child to learn through an engaging, interactive method, rather than traditional “teaching.”
Muzzy BBC currently offers courses in Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Italian, English and Korean. You can get started with the online program for $9.95 per month, or save by going with a semi-annual or annual plan. You also have the option of a DVD set with a risk-free trial period and payment plan.
The program will introduce your child to 600+ vocabulary words and cover the following subjects in the target language:
- Telling Time
- People & Places
- Past, Present & Future Tenses
- Asking Questions
- Days of the Week
- Life at Home
- Family & Friends
Since Muzzy BBC is effective for all types of learners and meant to let your child learn the language naturally, it’s a great low-pressure way to expose kids to a second language at any age.
FluentU is your best bet for authentic language learning videos the whole family will enjoy. While other programs often only have a handful of videos, FluentU has a wide variety of video clips that cover all language levels—from absolute beginners to advanced learners—as well as all ages.
FluentU takes real online videos and turns them into lessons that are personalized and digestible. You won’t have to struggle to get your kids away from the TV to do their language practice, because they’ll be able to watch the same sort of stuff they’d be entranced by on TV, anyway—but in the target language.
Videos range from content made specifically to appeal to children—like cartoons, music videos and movie trailers—to content you may enjoy yourself—such as politics, news and TED talks. This means you may want to help select content that’s appropriate for your child’s age, level and interests, but this is a great opportunity for you to get involved in the language learning process and for you and your kids to learn both individually and together as a family.
You can easily sort and search videos, and once you get started, FluentU begins to personalize your content and make recommendations for further viewing.
FluentU covers the world’s major languages, currently offering Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, English, Russian, Italian and Korean, with an upcoming program for Portuguese. (There are over 1,000 videos for Spanish alone.)
Each video clip has an interactive transcript so kids can closely follow what’s being said in the clip. Each word in the transcript is in itself a mini language lesson, because when kids hover on a specific word, everything they need to know about that word—pronunciation, translation, usage example, etc.—pops up.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
Dino Lingo is an award-winning language program that offers lessons in over 40 languages. They’re known for the package they send you that contains DVDs, colorful posters, flashcards and coloring books.
They do have online subscriptions, and for $99.95, you have a full year’s access to their online content.
It’s called “Dino Lingo” because a dinosaur introduces your kids to the target language. The online portal gives you access to six 35-minute videos that teach your toddler topics like household items, family, body parts, clothes, nature and actions. Your kids will happily repeat these lessons over and over.
Another feature is online games like “Word Wheel,” where kids click on the correct picture after hearing an audio prompt, and “Memory Card,” where vocabulary and mental acuity are honed at the same time.
Parents can also print some easily downloadable worksheets and activity books, so you can not only work closely with your little one, but also get a window into the things that she’s learning. You can gauge her progress and give her a helping hand.
This is a multimedia vocabulary builder suitable for learners aged 3-10.
PetraLingua has courses in English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German and Russian.
Each course has around 20 lessons that range from colors and clothing to fruits and vegetables. There are 10 different activities and exercises for each lesson. Each lesson opens with an introductory video that identifies the vocabulary set that can be learned in that lesson. This is then followed by a parade of reinforcing activities, exercises and interactive gives that the kids perform to help them learn the words. These include listen-and-repeat, listen-and-click and word-matching tasks that allow the kids to deal with the words in different contexts.
All told, each course features around 500 basic words, 80 language learning videos, 11 language learning songs, 140 interactive online games and a talking picture dictionary. For as low as $3.99 a month (if you get the annual subscription), you have yourself a great deal.
This one is suitable for ages 6 and up.
Your kids are going to use headphones on this one. The uniqueness of the program lies in its focus on conversational skills. If you want your kids to study in the morning and try out their newly learned phrases on the whole family in the afternoon, go with Mango Languages. It has that effect on children.
Each lesson starts by listening to a few lines of basic dialogue or conversation. It might be a greetings dialogue or a question-and-answer type of conversation. There’s a clear text of the whole exchange presented on the screen so learners can follow along. Everything is color-coded to make this easy.
In the remainder of the lesson, the whole dialogue is deconstructed and broken down into lines, phrases and words.
There’s a “Play” icon on every line so learners can self-pace and repeat the lines as often as needed. The learner is guided line-by-line and hears how each word is correctly spoken. If you hover the mouse on a particular line, up goes a translation of it.
The lesson zeroes in on individual words and phrases. And in addition to the replay button, learners can use a microphone to compare their own pronunciation with how native speakers do it.
And you can do this in over 60 languages, including Pirate language! For only $20 a month, you and as many as five kids can start learning practically any language in the world.
Languagenut is the perfect vocabulary builder, pronunciation partner and spelling teacher for learners 5-14 years old. The program amply covers all bases and touches on all four key linguistic skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The program has specific games that address each.
It’s widely used in schools in 32 countries around the world as a supplemental language teaching tool. But the program can be equally valuable for homeschooling families.
Languagenut may tackle the same topics (numbers, colors, greetings) as many other language programs, but it has some of the most graphically compelling interfaces this side of language learning. It teaches target words and phrases through games, songs and stories. Your child would find it very hard not to learn and engage. The games alone are worth the price of admission. (What do you say to 14?)
At £9.99 per year, it’d be a crime not to get Languagenut for your kids.
Duolingo is the most popular language learning program online. It’s probably because one, it’s free, and two, it gives adults permission to be like kids.
What I mean is that they divide the lessons into very manageable bits, make the pacing very gradual, add audio prompts and pictures, and, last but not least, feature an animal cartoon character. Mix all of these into language learning content and you have a concoction that could work with kids as well as adults. (Well, at least kids who already know how to read and spell.)
This is another program you can easily participate in with your child. Instead of leaving him alone, you can guide him and give instant feedback and praise, which would make for great bonding time!
Duolingo is one long activity where through repetition, vocabulary is embedded and kept fresh. Learners are given little tasks. The idea is, the more of these teenie tiny tasks they do, the more they’ll remember of the target language.
Learners may be asked to choose the translation of a word from the given choices. Sometimes the actual translation needed to be typed by the learner. Sometimes the task goes the other way and learners are given the English translation and will be asked to supply the target language equivalent.
Duolingo repeats the tasks, goes forwards and backwards between languages, mixes and matches previously learned words and keeps learners on their toes. It also does a good job of remembering the words learners have difficulty with so they can be offered for review.
Duolingo may look simple and straightforward, but there’s actually a lot going on under the hood. If your kids stick with Duolingo, they’ll pick up a greater number of words than with a lot of other programs.
Check out these seven programs and test them for yourself.
Each of them has their strengths and specialties, so choose whatever fits your situation.
And if you really want to make the best of it, learn a language with your kid. Two birds, one stone.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.