So you’ve just returned from your trip to Europe, perhaps you’ve enjoyed the luxury of staying in one of our affordable holiday homes, and you’re keen to keep your language learning going…. but it’s summer and maybe your local university or language school doesn’t re-start classes until the fall.
When you’re still learning the basics of a language just a few months off can leave you feeling a little rusty. It’s all too easy to lose momentum when you no longer have the structure of regular classes, exercises and everyday exposure to the language.
But the fact is it’s never been easier to keep your linguistic muscles in shape, thanks to a number of free websites and services to top up your learning any time you like.
This free smartphone App and website is an absolute godsend for anyone who wants do little spurts of quickfire language practice every day. Modules are broken down into little test exercises of 12 questions each, translating sentences into your native language and vice versa and listening to audio and typing the words you hear. Duolingo uses some nifty game-like features to keep you incentivised to learn and use the site regularly.
You start each round with three lives, losing a life every time you get a wrong answer. Points are awarded for surviving a round and for ‘maintaining a streak’ of using the site for 10 consecutive days or more. You can use these points to ‘buy’ things with a virtual currency called a ‘lingot.’ With these, you can buy extra lives and unlock further fun content, such as popular idioms and how to flirt in your chosen language. As you gradually advance, learn new modules and go up through the levels, you earn extra points too. Each level is vast, and with there being 25 levels for each language working your way through them all should give you many months of free language practice.
So how come the service is free, you may be wondering? Well after you advance beyond a certain point you’re given the opportunity to translate real documents that are uploaded to the site or check over other people’s translations, so the site effectively operates as a communal translation service. Neat huh?
While it doesn’t teach you the basics of sentence construction or grammar, Memrise provides a fun and easy way to gradually expand your vocabulary. It cycles through a series of virtual flashcards which it helps you remember by accompanying the word with a handy visual image or ‘mem.’
For example, the Italian word for knee is Ginoochio, so for this you might see a picture of Pinocchio next to an image of a knee.
You gradually ‘plant’ new words to learn in your memory, while also ‘watering’ ones you’ve previously been introduced to. What’s clever about Memrise is that it uses a system which prioritises harder words to recall, meaning that you’ll see those words more often than easier ones.
I-Talki is a huge international online community and marketplace of language teachers, learners and those wanting to do a language exchange. You can vet potential teachers and purchase one-on-one tutorials through the site if you want to (especially useful for some of the more obscure languages that you may struggle to find local lessons for), usually delivered by Skype, but it’s not hard to use the site to find willing teachers who will be quite happy to give you some free tuition in your chosen language in return for helping them improve their written or spoken English.
Once you’ve reached a certain level of confidence and mastery in your new language, nothing beats the opportunity to have actual conversations, however stilted, with other speakers in ‘the real world.’ This is a great place to take your language learning beyond the screen, get you out and about meeting folks – and give your social life a boost into the bargain.
Meet Up is the go-to site for fun, informal gatherings based around all kinds of interests. Most cities are likely to have at least one language Meet Up group that gathers regularly in cafes, bars and restaurants, so you can even have a little fun trying to order in your new language if you want to. You’ll probably find that they typically comprise a mix of native speakers, expats and keen learners like yourself, and will be happy to welcome new members at all levels, so there’s no need to worry about being the dumb newbie in the corner!
Finally if you’re really lucky, you may even stumble across a useful service like Edinburgh’s Yakety Yak Language Cafe, in your own city. This combines some of the best features of meet up groups with regular lessons, by offering fairly informal drop-in conversation sessions you can attend for a modest fee. These are hosted by trained, native speaking teachers, usually in appropriate dining venues.
We hope that these get you inspired to brush up your Italian or French before your next trip!
How about you, have you come across any useful language learning sites lately? Share them with us by leaving a comment below!