I remember what it was like back in the day, when the Web was home to only a few amateur sites that claimed to teach various languages.
I was at the mercy of what my library chose to order or what the local bookstore happened to have in stock.
Actually speaking with native speakers online? Unheard of!
We’re able to practically take all these things for granted.
So let us take a moment of silence to be grateful for the modern internet.
You can immerse yourself completely, so that you’re only interacting in your target language. It’s beautiful!
But how exactly do you go about maximizing this wonderful modern world in which we live?
Keep reading, because I’m going to share the very best resources and tips with you!
5 Top Online Resources for Practicing Languages to Fluency
Online Conversation Sites for Speaking Practice
Speaking is really what we think of when we consider fluency in a particular language. It’s communication! It’s impressive! It’s… intimidating?
Sure. Whether you seek out speaking practice when you have only a few words under your belt (à la Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months), or whether you decide to talk after a lengthy silent period, talking to a native speaker for the first time can be a scary prospect.
That’s why conversation exchanges are one of the best ways to practice languages. You can find a partner on a site like italki. Someone who is in the throes of learning your native language from scratch. The mutual understanding works wonders and makes you both comfortable with baring it all in your stumbling first attempts at your respective target languages. The practice will make you all the more confident when you travel to the country or have to speak with a native speaker who doesn’t know about your language learning journey!
And, on a side note, italki is the perfect platform for finding a paid language tutor if you’re looking to invest a little more. A professional tutor can give you tons of feedback on your conversation skills.
What to Do with Your Language Exchange
When you first seek out a language learning partner on any of the above sites (or all of them—the more the merrier!), use the advanced search features so you have a higher chance of being able to relate to the person—because you’ll actually need things to talk about. Consider gender, family status, age, hobbies—things you can find on their profile that might indicate you two have something in common to talk about. Believe me—a conversation in which your only commonality is learning languages… well, it’s boring at best, and tedious at worst. Choose well, but remember—you can always call it off if things aren’t working out. Don’t hesitate to try someone new!
You’ll then meet up on Skype or Google Hangout. During the first couple sessions, I recommend simply getting to know one another. Talk about yourself, and ask them questions about themselves. Then, as you dive deeper, ask for constant corrections, as folks can be polite and overlook some errors. Constant corrections can be annoying, but your language skills will soar.
After your sessions, SRS those corrections so you remember them until your dying day. Ask lots of questions, but remember that grammar points might not be the easiest things for your partner to discuss, so entrenched are they in their own native language. Ask for resource ideas like movies, books, comics and TV shows. Share jokes with each other to acquire a new sense of humor. With luck, you’ll build a real relationship and maybe make a new friend in the process!
FluentU for Personalized Media-based Learning at Any Level
Are you not ready to dive into the conversational suggestions in this post? Or maybe you’d love to get into L2 immersion, but you have some concerns, or the vast sea of the internet seems too big to find something you might like.
It teaches languages based on native media, but in bite-sized amounts, so you don’t have to sit through a whole movie or TV show you don’t grasp yet. You can absorb vocab and grammar from cartoons and hilarious commercials. It helps you wade into native media while holding your hand with interactive captions, quizzes to test your knowledge and other cool learning features when you need them. No need to shy away!
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.
What to Do with FluentU
Like with any language program, consistency is key: Devote 20 minutes a day to FluentU. Make ample use of the built-in SRS and word list features so you never forget new vocabulary. Fortunately, you don’t even have to think too much about what to do because FluentU keeps track of all the words you’ve learned for you, automatically personalizing the whole experience.
And when you need to take a break, check out the language specific blogs (Chinese, Spanish, French, German, English, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Korean, Italian and Portuguese, alongside this one) for lots of extra language learning information!
Consistent use of FluentU will have you raring to go at more advanced language learning resources like conversation exchanges or targeted lessons with a tutor. And it’s a great option for accessing the world of native media.
Chat Rooms (and Games) for Writing and Communication Practice
Ha! You thought chat rooms didn’t exist anymore, didn’t you?
Well, you’re dead wrong on that. Chat rooms may very well be a relic of the early 2000s, but they’re still alive and well in certain corners of the internet, albeit a little tougher to find. And you can find them in your target language!
I personally love chat rooms because text chatting with strangers gives you real time language practice if you’re not quite ready to take on speaking just yet.
How do you track down these ancient beasts? Search for forums (in your target language) about one of your interests, whether it’s games, gardening, politics, crafts, whatever. Many forums have a chat room! For example, here’s a Pokémon chat room in French, a Spanish-language Star Wars/table top gaming chat and a French math and science chat. It’ll take some hunting, but you can get good results by translating “chat room” into your L2, and Googling that along with your hobby/interest of choice.
If forums aren’t your style, many online multiplayer games have that same real-time text that we’re after. Think World of Warcraft or League of Legends. You jump right in, and players converse in real time. All you have to do is start up the game in your target language, and many of these games have tons of different language options. Games are also great because they can be more active and easier to find than forums.
What to Do with Chat Rooms
What do you do once you’ve found a chat room or game? I recommend eavesdropping at first. Watch others’ conversations. What are they saying? How are they saying it? Take note of new vocab and slang, and SRS those so you remember them later. Then, when you’re ready, try answering in short, easy phrases. Stick to things you know—don’t attempt to express complicated ideas if your vocabulary is limited to that of a first-year textbook. But be patient, and you’ll slowly improve.
Considering these places are not learning sites, rest assured that mistakes may be met with laughter and teasing. Just dust yourself off when the inevitable embarrassment hits you. On the bright side, you’ll remember not to repeat those mistakes!
Twitter for Additional Immersion and Exposure
We all know that changing default languages is a great way to immerse and practice a new language. If you’re studying a new language, you should already have changed the language of your phone, your email client, your Web browser, even your OS!
So, why is Twitter any different?
Twitter is unique in that when you change the default language, you’re not just seeing the options and onscreen words translated. Instead, you’ll default to seeing tweets from target language sources! You’ll be constantly learning new online slang and abbreviations—lots of snippets of natural language.
What to Do with Twitter
How do you go about changing your default? If your browser is in your L1 (or a different language), simply click on your little profile pic in the upper right corner of the page. Go to “Settings,” and then the language option is the first one down. And if you don’t have an account and your browser is already in your target language, your Twitter will default to your target language when you sign up.
Now what? Check those trending hashtags on the left-hand side of your home page! Most tweets will probably be in your L2, so get in that reading practice. (If they’re not in your L2, it’s probably because you already follow English-language accounts, and the algorithm is trying to cater to you—just change the location setting by clicking “Change” next to “Trending” and you should get better content.)
You can also look for topics of interest in the search bar to find people talking about your favorite hobbies. The short format makes reading easier for those of us that shy away from novels or even blogs. It’s especially great for beginners who can probably parse a quick sentence, but maybe not long, convoluted paragraphs of a literary novel.
And then, follow the Twitter users you enjoy reading. That way, your feed will be peppered with target language exposure. Even when you’re checking social media during work, you’ll have to come into contact with your L2!
Online Tutors for Lessons and Corrections
While not free—and I love free resources—an online tutor can advance your language skills like nothing else in this mortal coil. You can get a real-life tutor by checking local universities or venturing online and hiring one from italki at very affordable prices per lesson.
Another great source that specializes purely in online language tutors is Verbling, where you can explore hundreds upon hundreds of language teachers and find the one who’s just right for you. But why would you do this after I’ve told you that you can get language practice for free with a language partner?
It turns out, trained tutors are trained for a reason!
A tutor with experience in teaching will be able to give you pinpointed language advice. They’ll have a vested interest in your skills and weaknesses, and how you cover up those weaknesses. You won’t have to worry about switching back to your native language as you would with a language exchange partner—it’s all you!
A great tutor will keep you talking and force you out of your comfort zone so that you can expand and be comfortable in more situations. And it’s all tailored to you. If you need writing practice, a tutor will ruthlessly correct your writing. If you need to get through a class, tutors will help you through your particular curriculum. And if you just want targeted conversation practice, tutors are there for you, too.
When you find a tutor you think you might like, send questions before you meet. Really explain in detail what your issues are and what your goals are, and where you see yourself going. The more detail the better, as your tutor can decide how to help you out.
In particular, grammar questions and issues are great to bring up with a tutor. A professional teacher is much better equipped to explain grammar and address your questions than a language partner (although language partners can be great in letting you know what “sounds right”).
After your meetings, SRS corrections (like always!). Make sure you meet consistently, or decide on a particular number of lessons. Take lots of notes before, during and after so that you’re gleaning all you can from these sessions. And then, when you go out into the real world (or just to Skype to meet with your conversation partner), apply what you’ve learned! Constant application and practice are what stretch your abilities and keep you improving.
Don’t underestimate the variety and depth of online language learning tools.
There really is something out there for everyone, at every stage of learning.
And before you know it, you’ll be moving effortlessly through online spaces—all in your new language!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.