Picking up a new language, especially as an adult, seems overwhelming and expensive; today’s technology challenges both of these predispositions. The Internet allows the entire vocabulary of the world to spread to any user, making language learning as accessible as ever. I marked free applications as such and those that cost money with a dollar sign.
The best resource for language education lies in the devices carried around day to day: cell phones. From websites for mastery to applications geared to teaching the basics, reading and writing in a new language no longer requires dusty books, outdated packages of CDs, or overwhelming lessons that inspire learners to give up, or 半途而废 (Chinese, lit. to walk half the road and give up).
Duolingo (free), which offers nineteen languages through a website and application, offers a series of game-like modules that reinforce basic vocabulary, grammar, listening, and pronunciation. The app allows learners to keep track of the percentage of a language learned and can link up with social media accounts for group learning and competition. Furthermore, it reminds users to brush up on skills already learned after long periods of time to keep them fresh. The application continues to update periodically with new lessons, new languages, and new ways to learn, including a recently-added chat bar with computer-generated conversations starters.
Busuu ($) follows in the same vein, with short lessons for learning eleven languages. The app requires a premium membership, starting at $3.75 a month, to learn any language other than English. The program’s superiority over Duolingo, and its rationale for charging, includes advanced grammar guides, priority corrections for writing exercises, and official certificates from McGraw-Hill.
Fluenz ($) also offers language-learning but caters specifically to homeschooling, school systems, businesses, and governments and therefore charges more. Offering lessons for seven languages, the learning system mirrors standard school curriculum with video footage, writing exercises, and pronunciation tools.
Other applications focus on supplemental materials for learning, like quizzes and flashcards. Memorization apps like Anki ($), Memrise (free), and Quizlet (free) make creating and finding existing flashcard sets easy and offer multiple ways to study them, including games and tests.
Beyond applications, the Internet also offers websites with a variety of tools. Whether interested in dictionaries, alphabets, or pronunciation, web creators offer multiple versions without charge.
For alphabets from a swath of languages and dialects, Omniglot (free) reigns. The website offers detailed Wikipedia-like pages for every language from Afrikaans to Zulu. Each language profile boasts linguistic affiliations, countries where spoken, alphabets and syllabaries, pronunciation, and a sample recording.
BBC Languages (free) also offers similar tools, with lessons and games for basic phrases in 40 different languages. The lessons align to the secondary school curriculum for the United Kingdom and make the learning experience interactive and easy. They also provide interesting articles from a dictionary of slang words to the use of certain languages in sports.
For advanced learners, reading applications like iBooks (free), Kindle Books (free), and Project Gutenburg (free) provide translated and original copies of all kinds of books — the last specializes in classics. Reading in the target language helps increase vocabulary and comprehension that will reflect as a better understanding of the language itself.
Lastly, changing phone keyboards and languages can greatly improve learning efficiency. With the current attachment to phones, changing settings to the target language allows for mini-lessons and every second of learning counts, or tutto fa brodo (Italian, lit. everything makes broth).