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Water Cooler: Resources for learning a new language this year

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 4, 2021

Teacher Eugene Montoya works on English phrases with students in a remote learning class at the Valencia Newcomer School, on Sept. 2 in Phoenix.  (Associated Press)
Teacher Eugene Montoya works on English phrases with students in a remote learning class at the Valencia Newcomer School, on Sept. 2 in Phoenix. (Associated Press)

2021 has come and although most international travel is still limited, learning a new language can still make for a worthwhile New Year’s resolution. It might be a great way to put some optimistic intention toward the possibility of future travels, not to mention the great mental and cultural benefits that come along with language learning. As Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini once put it, “A different language is a different vision of life.”

Thanks to our increasingly digital world, living through quarantine is actually a great time to start learning a language. There are endless online resources available for language learning, perfect for passing time during a socially distanced winter. From apps and podcasts to YouTube channels, to language exchange websites, the internet has you covered for your multilingual journey. That said, where to start? Here are a few recommended and popular resources that can get you started.

Pimsleur – One of the biggest brands in the language learning market, the Pimsleur Method offers strong focus on speaking right away and less emphasis on memorization of grammar and vocabulary. Being on the higher-end of language products, this program is a bit more expensive than others but offers a seven-day free trial and $14.95 monthly subscription. Their app uses a lot of high-quality images as well as beneficial cultural notes. It offers courses in more than 51 languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, German, Chinese Mandarin, Norwegian, Hebrew, Korean, Portuguese and Russian.

Babbel – This affordable program is very similar to other courses but finds a middle ground between feeling like a game and feeling like a comprehensive language course. It is well structured and follows the general language progression of most textbooks, and it’s mobile app has enough interaction and progress trackers to provide some fun incentive. It tends to prioritize grammar and vocabulary, but with emphasis on conversational use in order to provide better context. Depending on how long you subscribe, the program ranges from $5.21 to $8.95 a month with their current New Year’s deals.

Duolingo – This app doesn’t offer a comprehensive learning course, but it is free and fun. It is very vocabulary oriented, but is designed to feel like a game. This makes it addicting and light, great for those that want to sample a language before getting too invested or as a fun vocabulary supplement to a more comprehensive course.

CoffeeBreak – This podcast is an excellent free resource hosted by Radio Lingua. They offer podcasts for English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Swedish and Chinese all for free, and then if you like the podcasts, you can purchase additional online courses that follow along with the podcast lesson structure with video materials, lesson notes and bonus audio content.

Easy Languages – This global project includes a variety of YouTube channels, such as Easy French, Easy Polish, Easy Spanish, Easy Italian, Easy Turkish and so on. The project’s goal is to help beginner and intermediate language learners hear their target language on the streets through interview-based videos of native speakers. The hosts pick an easy topic, like favorite music, transportation or favorite beverages, then go interview people on the streets. The video comes with English and target language subtitles. Find them on YouTube or visit easy-languages.org for supplemental materials.

These recommendations only scratch the surface. If you want to learn more about what is available for the specific language you wish to learn, visit alllanguageresources.com for a comprehensive breakdown of the best and worst language learning resources.

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