Language Learning

7 Underrated Free Online Tools to Use When Learning a New Language

By December 7, 2020 No Comments

There are many myths about learning a new language. A lot of them go something like this:

“You can’t learn a language without traveling to the country where they speak it.”

“You have to pay for a course led by a professional. You can’t do this on your own.”

“You need to buy all these expensive textbooks, otherwise you won’t have enough reliable learning resources.”

All of these snippets of advice have two things in common:

  1. They cost a lot of money.
  2. They truly are only myths.

I’ve been learning languages most of my life — since I was 8 years old, really. A lot of the time this has been in a school environment. I’ve done university courses, school classes, and language institute lessons. But I’ve also done a lot of learning by myself. Right now, I’m learning Norwegian, and I am doing so on my own. I’m not paying for or buying anything, either. And I intend to keep it that way.

I’ve had a lot of experience with language learning in many different settings. What I’ve learned along the way is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on learning a language. You don’t need a course, and you don’t need expensive textbooks. You don’t have to move to a different country to master a language. At least not when you know what you’re doing and where to look.

Think about it: we live in a globalized world. We have the Internet. There are so many ways we can connect with each other without ever leaving our own homes. This has never been more obvious than in the last couple of months.

The great thing about the Internet is that there are so many wonderful resources at your fingertips. I find that the problem is never lack of material — it is that we don’t know where to look.

When I first started learning languages on my own, I hardly knew where to look. I knew about Duolingo. That was pretty much it. But there are so many excellent online tools out there that you might not have considered using for your language journey before. I know I hadn’t for the longest time. And that was a mistake.

Here are the top 7 free online language learning resources:

. . .

1) Anki

Everyone’s heard about Duolingo, but there’s another app in town that’s worth your time — Anki.

I’ve seen this app around for the longest time, but I always thought it sounded a tad complicated. That’s why I hesitated for so long before I finally tried it. And now that I have, let me tell you: I have been an absolute fool for avoiding it for so long. Yes, the interface isn’t as easy and fun as Duolingo. But Anki is amazing and has been a real trooper on my Norwegian quest.

Anki uses a special spaced repetition algorithm that will make your language journey easier over time. All you have to do is create or download a vocabulary pack and then spend about 5–15 minutes a day reviewing flashcards and telling Anki how difficult or easy you found them. The app then notes this in its system and shows you all the cards within different time frames.

Basically, if you tell Anki that you find the word hund (dog) difficult but the word katt (cat) easy, Anki will remember that. The next day when you do a set, you might see hund there. Katt might only come up again three days later. If you find both words easy now, the time between repetitions will stretch. If you still find them difficult, they will come up more often.

There is a lot of cool science behind Anki that takes into account how our mind and memory work. If you’re interested in learning more about it, here’s a pretty comprehensive guide that you can read.

Tip #1: The system is incredibly intuitive, but you have to use it every day to reap the benefits. Luckily, it only takes a couple of minutes to complete a set, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

Tip #2: Instead of creating your own sets, look up ones that have a great reputation and download those. I’m using this deck for Norwegian, which has over 2300 words and phrases, including audio (so I get to hear the pronunciation, too).

. . .

2) Facebook groups

Who hasn’t heard of Facebook groups, right? I’m sure we’re all in multiple spammy groups we don’t remember ever joining. But have you realized how valuable these can be for your language learning?

Language focused Facebook groups are amazing in that you can connect with other learners as well as natives of your target language. Just type your language in the search bar and see what comes up. These communities are filled with passionate language learners and teachers who are all too willing to help out. There are very few places on the Internet where you can find so many people who are thrilled to be learning a language.

While Facebook groups aren’t the way to learn a language, they are a helpful resource to keep in mind. Everyone with any language learning experience will tell you that sometimes you have a question you just can’t seem to figure out. These groups are great for that — post your question on there and watch the magic happen. I’d be surprised if you didn’t get your answer within the hour.

Tip #1: If you’re looking for a language exchange buddy, Facebook groups are a great place to start. I’m sure someone will be eager to join you, and then you can practice speaking together.

Tip #2: Engage with the community. Learning a new language can sometimes feel lonely and tedious. But that’s what the group is for! Share your achievements, complain about the difficult grammar. Seeing that you are not alone in this is a great way to rejuvenate your love and passion for the language and keep your spirits up.

. . .

3) Reddit

Reddit is, in many ways, similar to Facebook groups. But where Facebook is filled with hundreds of enthusiastic learners, Reddit is (mostly) a smaller place with more serious students.

The good thing about Reddit is that not that many people use it — and those who do are usually very interested in what they’re on Reddit for. The other good thing is that there are subreddits for almost anything — including a language sub for most languages. And the people on there are some of the most helpful and dedicated individuals you will ever find.

Reddit is a great place to ask questions. There are both native speakers and learners on there and they have tons of free resources and advice ready for you. In comparison to Facebook, where you can get a quick and easy answer to your query, Reddit is more focused. Prepare for detailed descriptions and insightful answers that will blow your mind.

Tip #1: Don’t just go on Reddit to ask questions — answer them, too. I once answered someone’s question about why I’m learning Norwegian and this led to me being sent a beautifully long message with even more Norwegian resources, including an invite link to a helpful Discord server that I now use frequently.

Tip #2: Read other people’s posts. Whether it’s questions or general tips, there is so much you can learn by going on Reddit every once in a while, and reading what others write about. Remember that Anki pack I’m currently using? Yes, I found that one on Reddit.

. . .

4) Quizlet

To me, Quizlet is like the Holy Grail of language learning. Yes, I use all these different websites. I keep up with my Duolingo courses. But do you know what I do after that? I put all the vocab in Quizlet and drill it into my brain.

Quizlet has both an app and a browser version, and I use both often. Like Anki, Quizlet is a flashcard-based system. It’s different, though. How I use it is that after each language lesson, I write down all the vocabulary and create a set on Quizlet. Then I use the ‘Write’ function and keep at it until I reach 100% correctness.

This is a great way to keep track of all your vocabulary. You can easily see how much progress you’ve made, the number of words you know etc. Plus, it’s always good to go back to older sets to refresh your memory! I try to do at least one newer and one older set every single day. This way I’m making sure I don’t forget some of the words I learned a while ago.

Tip #1: My favourite thing to do is to create little sets of words I collected from all the target language media I’ve been consuming. The rule is if I notice a word in a book or a film and I find it unusual or interesting, I save it on Quizlet. This is why, while my Norwegian is pretty basic, I can already say some fun words such as hermit or shaman— and a couple of useful slang phrases and curse words, too, of course.

Tip #2: While the ‘Write’ function is arguably the best, try out some of the other stuff Quizlet has to offer. There are some more game-like and fun options that can spice up your language learning life.

. . .

5) Spotify

Listening is an important part of learning a language — and what’s better than listening to some music?

Spotify is probably the biggest music streaming app out there right now, and it has many songs of many genres and languages. Look up ‘Norwegian music’ (or whatever your target language might be) and you’ll find many playlists at your disposal. This way, you’re not only listening to the language, but you’re discovering new music and diving deeper into the culture, too.

Tip #1: If you’re quite picky with your music, try listening to some playlists and then creating your own one with only the songs you actually like.

Tip #2: Spotify also has a lot of podcasts, some of which are specifically designed for language learners. While this might be more suitable for advanced learners, it never hurts to listen to the language, even if you still don’t understand much.

. . .

6) YouTube

There are two ways I use YouTube for my language learning. Firstly, I use it to look up language teachers and lessons of the target language. This is helpful for listening and pronunciation. Moreover, if you are more of an audio learner, this is the place to be. There are so many native speakers out there putting up some genuine work that can be incredibly useful. And they do so for free.

Secondly, I look up videos in the target language. Whether it’s YouTubers and their original content, or clips from random TV shows — YouTube is the place to go. A lot of it is subtitled, too. Again, by watching these clips, you’re learning a lot — listening, pronunciation, culture. And it’s fun.

Tip: Look up what the most popular TV channel in the country of your target language is — then search for it on YouTube. They will most likely have their own YouTube channel that will be swimming with free content. Some of their more popular stuff might have subtitles, too.

. . .

7) Free online courses

Did you know that there are many courses by actual universities that can make your language learning so much easier? Forget textbooks — these courses are free, online, and available to all.

One of my main resources for learning Norwegian has become the Norwegian on the Web course by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Really, it’s the best. It has everything — listening, grammar, vocabulary, exercises. The lecturers at universities know what they’re doing, and it shows in their final products.

I prefer these courses to textbooks, and not only because they are free. The added bonus of easily accessible audio and visual aspects makes it even better and study-alone friendly.

Tip: Many of these courses are available on websites such as Futurelearn. Start by looking there.

. . .

Learning a new language is always going to be at least a little bit difficult. To succeed, you need time, patience, dedication — but what you don’t need is to spend money.

The Internet is full of wonderful free resources that you can use. All you have to know is where to look. While I have talked about some of my favourites, there are many more out there. Next time you’re wondering whether you should pay for that expensive textbook, go online for a bit instead. I’m sure you’ll find better ways to learn a language without splurging on unnecessary things.


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Photo by Robo Wunderkind on Unsplash

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