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The language learning app Duolingo has become one of the most trusted sources for people to improve their language skills. With lessons in over 20 languages through short games and challenges, Duolingo has captured all ages and language ability levels.
But it isn’t the right solution for everyone — and that’s okay! There are plenty of other great (and completely free) services out there that may be a better fit.
How Free Is “Free”? It’s Complicated
One of the reasons some people are looking to move away from Duolingo is the recent introduction of in-app purchases. While the core functions of Duolingo are still free, the purchase options can give learners a boost when playing games — much like the bonuses and extra lives you can purchase on Bejewelled or other addictive gaming apps.
Learners may become frustrated when they are prevented from working on a specific language skill or accomplishment because they ran out of “hearts” or need to purchase “gems” to continue. Other in-app purchases allow users to remove ads from their learning experience and to download offline content.
While there’s nothing wrong with Duolingo charging fees for its services, it can be frustrating for those looking for a truly free resource. Other language learners simply do not enjoy learning through games. This is especially true for those who require industry-specific vocabulary or who already have a background in the language.
Thankfully, there are many other online resources available for language learners. While you won’t get the same kind of program as Duolingo for free, you can easily use these resources to put together a language learning strategy that works well for you.
An Argument for Paid Services
While this article focuses on free services, it’s important to note the benefits of choosing to go with a paid language learning strategy. Julie Hansen, US CEO of Babbel (one of the most trusted paid language learning services currently available online) states that:
“Language apps on the surface might look similar, but they are not. Babbel teaches genuinely useful content that can be applied in real-life scenarios . . . When you consider that other language apps teach you how to say useless sentences such as ‘the penguin drinks milk,’ it is clear that Babbel is the most effective app for learning a new language in a meaningful way. None of our content is machine-generated or user-generated, with all of Babbel’s courses being created by a team of more than 150 linguists and teachers, and tailored to each combination.”
And research supports this approach:
“This efficacy was demonstrated by a recent study by City University of New York (CUNY), which found that truly novice users with no knowledge of Spanish need on average just 15 hours of study with Babbel in a two-month period to cover the requirements for one college semester of Spanish.”
If you are a serious language learner with financial resources in place, there are a lot of great reasons to invest your money in authentic language learning experiences, whether through an app, a university course, or an immersion experience.
But for casual language learners or those without extra income, there are a lot of great (and effective) options out there for you as well.
1. Online Communities
One of the best ways to learn a new language is to surround yourself with other people who have similar goals. Online communities of language learners are fantastic resources to learn tips and tricks about effective language learning, practice speaking with native speakers, and find out about other great learning opportunities online and offline.
This very active forum offers language learners a place to practice their writing skills in any language they choose, connect with language partners, post information about their language learning journey, and learn from the success of others.
Like most communities on Reddit, this subreddit is a mishmash of topics and discussions. Many posts recommend resources for continued language learning, share personal accomplishments, or pose questions to the almost 100,000 community members.
This free language exchange community focuses on getting language off of the page and into the conversation. The site offers opportunities for video chatting or in-person meetups, as well as free lessons and corrections by native speakers.
2. Rhino Spike
If you have difficulty “hearing” the native language as you read it, this site can be a lifesaver. You can use the recordings that are already online to hear how different accents sound in your target language while reading the accompanying transcription. You can also submit your own texts for native speakers to read, and record your own voice for others seeking help.
If you do want a game-style online language learning platform, consider Mango Languages. This program is available for free through many library systems, and offers language learning opportunities for over 70 languages. The program is intuitive to use, and prioritizes culturally and conversationally relevant language skills. I was pleasantly surprised at its availability — even my rural library in the middle of nowhere had a subscription available!
While this site isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing option on this list, it’s hard to beat the quality of its resources. Courses in the public domain intended for training the Foreign Service Institute, the Defence Language Institute, and the Peace Corps offer PDF instructional guides in numerous languages and dialects.
With some digging, you can also access multiple audio files and training materials. You can also access many of these resources through the Live Lingua website if you prefer its organization.
No matter what combination of online and offline language learning resources you use, YouTube should your #1 choice. You can learn almost anything on YouTube, and a new language is no exception.
Nowhere else online do you have so much access to native speakers talking about any subject imaginable. Whether you choose to watch specific language learning videos, news, or television shows, YouTube makes it easy to practice your new language.
Here are 10 channels to start with, but this list is far from exhaustive! Just a few minutes of searching will lead you to a wealth of resources for almost any language:
- Easy Languages
- 5 Minute Language
- Polyglot Progress
- Innovative Language Learning
- Slow Easy English
- Parapluie French
- Learn Spanish
- Eko Languages
- Sleep Learning
- Be Fluent in Russian
Looking for More?
The internet is an unending source of information, so it’s impossible to list all its language learning resources. But if you’re still looking for more, you can check out the exhaustive list at OpenCulture, watch foreign-language movies online, connect with local language learning clubs, continue hunting around on YouTube or follow the recommendations of other language students in the communities mentioned above.
Did I miss one of your favorite online language learning sites in this list? Or do you prefer paid services? Let me (and other language enthusiasts) know all about it in the comments below!
Image Credit: gpointstudio/Depositphotos