Practicing a Language Online Has Never Been More Fun

Remember when computers and language learning meant repeating phrases? No longer, now you can practice reading, listening, speaking and writing all online for free.

Reading is one of the best ways to build your vocabulary, and it's also likely the first skill in which you'll be proficient in a foreign language. The best part, with the help of a browser plugin, you can read anything that interests you online and lookup any new words with a single click. These words will also be saved to a list so you can check yourself later. I recommend the WordReference Chrome extension plugin since it gives you dictionary definitions instead of single translation via Google. This is important since many words have more than one meaning.

Listening is the second easiest skill. It's passive, and you'll still be able to piece together meaning with even a basic vocabulary. Listening is a little harder, though. People use more idioms and less grammatically correct speech, you may not be accustomed to all of the sounds yet, and native speakers may speak too fast. That's what makes TV perfect. Good thing TV is now online and international. Odds are good you can find you favorite show on YouTube or Netflix in your target language. With Netflix, you can even set the subtitles and audio for each of their shows.

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Producing language, either via speaking or writing is the hardest. You need feedback from someone who knows the language in order to improve. The great part about learning a language as opposed to any other subject, there are probably millions of experts who speak that language perfectly. You just need one of them to help you out. So make a deal, have a language exchange with someone who is also learning your native language. You can help each other by communicating via Skype with each giving the other a turn practicing speaking. You can also post short essays and ask native speakers to correct them. Just be sure to return the favor by correcting other people who have posted their writing in your native language.

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Once you've started practicing, you may decide you need the structure of a course or a textbook. Don't worry, these can be free and online, too. A "MOOC" is an open course that is free as long as you don't credit. You can find tons of language courses in EdX or Coursera . There aren't as many free textbooks, but there are still quite few. Start with COERLL or Minnesota's Open Textbook library. If you don't find one, try just Googling Open Textbook and your language.

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by Todd Bryant