21st Century Learning: 4 Smart Strategies to Master a Foreign Language Online
The web offers countless resources for learning a foreign language, including a dizzying array of educational blogs, entertaining videos and training sites.
From studying the grammar of your chosen language to reinforcing your vocabulary, building a study map will help ensure you reach your goals.
Use the following essential tips to learn a foreign language online successfully.
21st Century Learning: 4 Smart Strategies to Master a Foreign Language Online
1. Choose the Right Instruction Tools
A veritable embarrassment of riches awaits the modern pupil looking to the net for learning resources. Of course, not all training programs and teaching tools provide the right keys for achieving your language learning goals. As you embark on a quest to learn a new tongue, you’ll want to search out two different forms of learning materials: educational programs and source content.
In a case study conducted in 2012, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center discovered that the way we’re exposed to a language determines whether or not we achieve “native-level” brain processing. Both classroom learning and immersion methods contribute toward this goal, but immersion has been shown to be more effective at mirroring the brain activity of native speakers. This is an important caveat you’ll want to consider when searching for instructional tools.
Of course, one of the driving factors in any self-study learner’s ultimate success is ongoing motivation. Unlike classroom students who are expected to show up for class each day, the online learner has to remain proactive. The internet is awash with source content that would make the language learners of yesteryear salivate. From viral videos to web series, blogs and forums, it’s simple to access content that correlates with your personal interests.
Ready to get started but not quite certain where to start? A language program like FluentU can help: It collects high-quality authentic videos and organizes them by level and topic so you don’t have to sort through all the content available online by yourself.
FluentU aims to immerse you in online videos in your native language, like the aforementioned viral videos and web series, along with vlogs, movie clips and more. The program pairs these videos with interactive subtitles, flashcards and quizzes to reinforce the vocabulary and phrases that you learn.
For more ideas on how to push your studies forward, consider the following links for learning tools in your chosen language:
2. Find a Language Exchange Partner
It’s not usual for language teachers to ask their pupils to spend some time conversing with one another, but the power of the World Wide Web opens doors in a whole new way. Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to find a language exchange partner, but you should think carefully about how to maximize the fruit of your discussions.
Making small talk and chatting about current events offers a simple way to expand your vocabulary and get your verb conjugations down pat, but don’t shy away from creating a more structured exchange with your partner. Why not attempt to replicate the experience you might otherwise share in a classroom? For example, ask your friend to role play as a shopkeeper and act out a scenario at the checkout line. Let your imagination run wild!
It might feel a little silly at first, but sharing a few laughs together can help break the ice. You’ll probably want to use Skype for your video exchanges, but don’t discount the long form letter altogether. Pen pals have long served as a resource for language learners, and sharing written correspondence can still pay a valuable role in a language exchange.
Why not make an effort to email each other once a week, and use simple word processing tools to make corrections for each other? It takes a bit of extra effort to sit down and write a message, but doing so will ensure you don’t neglect the written word, which plays an equally important role as the speaking portion of a language.
Finding a language exchange partner is a free solution, but if you really want to supercharge your learning prowess, you might also want to work with an online language tutor. With a tutor, you won’t need to focus on correcting or teaching someone to better speak English, but you can instead work to fine tune your language skills exclusively. Tutors may also be better able to explain complicated linguistic principles. Many different websites offer tutoring solutions, including Verbalplanet.com and tutor.com.
If you’d like to get some extra help from a native speaker, but you don’t have a large budget to work with, you might want to consider using a freelance site to connect with an independent worker. For example, Fiverr allows you to post one-off jobs at just $5, and there are many language teachers offering various services there. You might also want to consider posting a “gig” on Craigslist to find a language tutor on the cheap.
3. Make Study a Daily Habit
Remember when you had endless assignments, syllabuses and tests in school? As an online learner, you won’t deal with any of those. Instead, you’ll need to find innovative ways to make your study habits part of your daily routine. If you find it challenging to keep yourself focused, follow this simple game plan to develop healthy study patterns:
Set Mini Goals
You might be surprised to learn the powerful potential of your inner voice. Research shows that nothing more than encouraging yourself to keep going can have a profound impact on your long-term stamina. Just as the age old expression goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is it plausible for you to become a world class linguist in a few short months.
Instead, set mini goals you can achieve as you progress through your studies. These goals might look like:
- Master a challenging verb tense in both spoken and written form.
- Expand your vocabulary by memorizing 100 new words.
- Read a full novel in your target language.
To successfully reach these goals, don’t forget to break them down further into even smaller tasks. For example, if you’ve chosen a novel to read, set smaller goals by chapter or even by pages (i.e. read two pages every morning and night). The feeling of elation you experience when you meet those goals will help propel you further.
Eliminate Deterrents and Distractions
Tuning out the outside world is hard enough with a traditional textbook, but the internet offers a tempting array of distractions that can keep you from focusing on your studies. If you find your study habits just aren’t making the cut, proactively examine where you’re breaking down and try to work out how to overcome those obstacles.
If you just can’t seem to steer clear of social media networks or your favorite blog, use a tool like Anti-Social to prevent your computer from accessing those sites. It’s a simple fix that can keep you on track.
Try as you might to keep your studying in check, many of us still find it hard to stay motivated. When push comes to shove, sometimes it’s necessary to find a real-life accountability partner for your language learning.
Why not make some new friends through a service like Meetup and establish accountability goals? Celebrating your successes and working on your weaknesses with the help of a friend often proves immensely helpful in keeping learners focused.
Or you could commit to practicing your target language for 100 days, and track your progress on Instagram with 100daysproject. The supportive community will keep you motivated, as will the joy of actually seeing your progress over time.
4. Put Your Skills into Practice
As great as the internet can be for language enthusiasts, it’s only a tool for learning, not a magic potion. As you learn the various aspects of a foreign language, you need to put your new-found skills to work. Speaking the language will not only help you build confidence, but it also works to cement those ideas in your brain.
In an ideal world, you’d spend some time studying abroad. You’ll have no choice but to speak the language on a daily basis, and when surrounded by foreign speakers the real power of immersion becomes evident. If you have the means to do so, why not schedule an overseas excursion to coincide with an important language learning goal? When you know a trip is on the horizon, you may be more motivated than ever to keep studying diligently.
Of course, classroom studies aren’t the only activity you can pursue abroad. Consider tapping into your benevolent side by volunteering with a non-profit, charity or religious group. If you’re not already familiar with groups operating abroad, learn more by visiting a directory like Go Abroad. For a really affordable way to spend a longer amount of time abroad, check out HelpX and WWOOF, where you “work” in exchange for food and accommodation.
If spending an extended period in a foreign country isn’t a possibility, why not get involved with local organizations where foreigners tend to gather? Many communities have active cultural groups that sponsor events and meet-ups. If you live near a university, inquire as to whether the school sponsors any institutions that offer learning opportunities. Volunteering with one of these groups or attending special events can help you meet new people to speak to and learn from.
Learning a new language takes hard work and dedication, and there really are no shortcuts to fluency. Nevertheless, the internet and its myriad resources can serve as an invaluable learning tool for the modern student, whether you’re looking for a conversation partner or some top-tier language courses. By procuring the right learning tools, finding practice partners, studying diligently and putting your language skills to work, you’re bound to find success learning in the digital age.
Adam Zetterlund is a language enthusiast living in New York City. He spent five years honing his foreign language skills in Paris and London, and he currently partners with a number of international clients in a marketing capacity. Learn more by reading his blog.