Learning a second language is a goal many of us share, with approximately 70% of all young people eager to go beyond their native tongues and communicate better with people from other countries.
Given how busy so many of us are, it’s often hard to find the time to do more learning beyond our daily five-minute exercises. Sure, we can get a decent understanding and learn some good vocab, but it’s not like we have the time to go back to college or attend night schools.
Due to the standard at-your-own-pace structure of online language courses, they’re a great way to learn as you want and gain a more profound fluency than simple apps can provide.
The best online language course for you will depend on your needs as well as which language you need to learn. While the most popular languages like Spanish, French, and Italian can be found almost anywhere, the more obscure or lesser-spoken tongues are a little harder to find.
Online sign language courses or classes in lesser-known languages like Catalan and Basque will require a bit more digging, so here we’re going to look at both the best language courses we could find for both the most commonly spoken and rarer languages available.
Why Learn a New Language?
You may want to pick up a new language for business, or for travel and pleasure, or maybe you want something new to learn simply to keep your brain busy.
The most common reasons to learn a new language are:
- Increase confidence when travelling
- Visit non-tourist-focused areas and regions
- Businesses purposes and resumé building
- Better communication with a friend or loved one
- Keep mentally active
- Better understand personal heritage
As well as these, there are some interesting etymological and worldly facts to be picked up along the way. For example, did you know that the onomatopoeic sound for a dog’s bark is different in almost every country?
Whatever your reasons, you’re going to need to find the best online language course for you. Whatever your language of choice, you’re sure to find your perfect course online.
Best Courses for Commonly Spoken Languages
The most commonly learned second languages aside from English are Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and European tongues like French, Spanish and German.
Many online language courses focus on these due to their popularity, and here we’re going to look at some of the best the internet has to offer.
FluentU is a great starting place for an online language course for those who want to learn a separate language but are unsure where to start. This is due to FluentU’s subscription giving you access to all their language courses, allowing you to dip your toe before deciding which one to dive into.
Each video lesson is connected to the tests and worksheets, bouncing you between learning and practicing with ease. This interactivity and easy-to-follow modules keeps the lessons feeling fresh.
European language learners can choose from Spanish, French, Italian, and German, while those looking to learn Asian languages will be happy to know that Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are also on offer.
We also have an article on the best Spanish courses online
FluentU’s UI is visually appealing and very easy to navigate, never being too cluttered or confusing to use. While not perfect for those with zero language experience, those who already know the basics of general language acquisition will find the courses engaging and helpful.
While the monthly subscription of $30 per month may seem steep, the annual subscription is available for a discounted $240. For those on the fence, FluentU also offers a 14-day free trial, so selecting which language you want to focus on and checking out the courses is made easy and free of charge.
Busuu’s online language courses are great regardless of your level. Whether you’re looking for a standalone course or need a study-aid, Busuu is a useful tool for language learners of all levels.
Where many of even the best online languages courses will have disjointed and unrelated modules, all the language courses available on Busuu are connected to ensure you don’t get lost even if you step away for a break.
With an intuitive and fun UI similar to Duolingo, finding the modules you want to focus on or picking up where you left off is easy. Older lessons can also be revisited so anything you feel you’ve forgotten or want to brush up on since your last session is a snap.
When you first start learning with Busuu, you’ll be given a placement test. This test lets you begin your learning from a place where you’ll be comfortable, rather than starting you with lessons you’ve already learned, or throwing you in at the deep end with classes you may not be ready for. This is great news for those with prior experience as it means non-beginners won’t have to wade through the basics again if they don’t want to.
Busuu also helps with real-world experience by linking to international newspapers as part of their subscription.
From simple greetings to complex reading comprehension, Busuu offers a wide range of language acquisition tools and resources for a reasonable subscription price of around $8 a month, though the free version has also been well received by those already in study elsewhere.
Memrise prides itself in its focus on real-world language applications. They achieve this with their library of thousands of videos showing native speakers in their home environments, as well as common slang terms and modern-day vocabulary use.
These native speakers address the camera in a casual manner, which will get you used to how locals will speak to and around you when traveling abroad.
Everyone knows that languages evolve much quicker than we’d expect, and many online language courses don’t teach to the more modern-day uses of various phrases and terms. Anyone who has gone from classroom to country will tell you that most courses don’t really prepare you for how natives really speak.
Because the courses are designed by native speakers, you’ll be sure that you’re learning exactly what to say and how. Useful vocabulary and pronunciation is taught alongside the basics so you can communicate with confidence and ease.
Useful as Memrise is, it is recommended for use alongside more standard language courses like FluentU or Busuu so you get the best of both worlds.
As well as structured courses, there is a wide range of user-created content. Learners and teachers provide you with vocabulary lists, useful advice like mnemonic tools for memorization, and even games and quizzes to challenge yourself and test your knowledge.
With a subscription price of $8.99 a month, Memrise offers some useful language courses for those who want to travel and speak informally and confidently. This does, however, limit options for those who want to learn a new language for work.
Language Courses for Less Popular Languages
There are many languages out there that are far from the top of many lists but are still widely spoken enough to be considered by those who want to travel to specific places or seek out their family roots.
Have you ever wondered why the road signs in Barcelona aren’t in Spanish? Or why airport signs in Ireland and Wales are in multiple languages? The answer is that even the most spoken languages in any given country is not always the native tongue there.
Languages like Catalan, Welsh, and Irish are often overlooked due to the prevalence of other, more commonly spoken languages within the same country. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth learning.
Here we’re going to look at some of the best online language courses that offer lessons in some of the more obscure languages of the world.
For those who prefer live, face-to-face learning, italki should be the first stop. With a range of professional teachers, most of whom are native speakers, and fully live classes, italki is a great place to pick up an online language course in which you practice what you’ve learned in real-time.
As well as offering the most popular languages, italki also has online sign language courses as well as access to teachers of Hebrew, Catalan, Dutch, Irish, and almost any other language you could want.
This impressive library goes even further than simple languages, though, as italki also allows you to select specific dialects within your language of choice. Not only does this let you pinpoint exactly where you want to focus, but also grants you a greater appreciation of the different linguistic and cultural subsets that you may never have even considered.
The only real downside to italki is that its teachers are all self-employed, and so the quality of the teacher varies and is generally down to luck of the draw. It’s recommended that you take a good look at the individual teacher reviews to ensure you select the one who’s right for you before booking a lesson.
There are also limited options for offline learning resources, meaning those with inconsistent schedules may find it difficult to keep up.
LanguagePod101 (Pod101 for short) offers online courses in dozens of languages that are all designed to be learned in your own time and at your own pace.
With a focus on fun, each course can be completed however you like, and you can take multiple courses at the same time if you’re up for more of a challenge. Each course follows the same format, allowing for an easy transition between courses should you decide to take on more than one.
Each course involves innovative learning experiences that include dialogue spoken at different speeds to match your comfort level. Every lesson goes in-depth, offering full explanations of each sentence or phrase instead of a simple ‘this is how you say this’ format.
Each course’s teacher will also explain the modern-day uses of each word to avoid overly formal speech which often makes us second-language users sound stilted or awkward in casual speech.
Pod101’s dashboard is easy to navigate and even fun to use, letting you keep track of where you are in any one of their courses and stay on top of your goals.
As well as offering the most popular languages, you can also select courses in Afrikaans, Bulgarian, Persian, Hungarian, Indonesian, and a host of others. However, they don’t offer courses in Celtic languages like Irish or Welsh.
However, they do offer a well-received course in ASL, which is good news for those looking for an online sign language course.
Pimsleur’s selection of online language courses stands out due to their focus on active participation over memorization. Using their tried-and-tested language acquisition method, they implement casual repetition within their exercises that push for active recall rather than cramming information.
While this sounds like a lot of pressure, Pimsleur is very good at making its language acquisition simple via visualization. The primarily audio-based lessons help with pronunciation and basic comprehension, though may be difficult for those who are used to learning by reading.
However, it’s worth noting that Pimsleur does fall into the common trap of mainly teaching the most formal versions of each language. While this is good news for those seeking the best language courses for professional use, it will make casual conversations during travel difficult to understand.
Those looking to learn the less commonly spoken languages will be happy to know that Pimsleur offers courses in Irish, Urdu, Swahili, and Pashto amongst others.
Online Sign Language Courses
Not all languages are spoken, and with 1 in 20 Americans being hard of hearing or fully deaf, finding an online sign language course is imperative to those who either work with the handicapped or have friends or relatives with whom they’d like to better communicate.
One of the courses offered via Pod101 mentioned above, Signlanguage101.com has two different levels of ASL.
Because sign language doesn’t involve much by way of grammar, this course teaches a huge vocabulary of words that can be learned through repeating the included video tutorials for memorization.
Over 8 hours of video teaching phrases, the alphabet, and over 1,400 words, Signlanguage101 is an inexpensive and very effective online sign language course that is worth a look regardless of why you want to learn.
The courses are taught to your speed and time, making them great for learners of all ages and all levels. The completion of these courses earns you a certificate to prove your competence in ASL to employers and charity organizations.
Galludet’s free language course in ASL is a great first step in building your sign language vocabulary. While basic at the free levels, its no-strings-attached course is an excellent first step and even includes interactive online lessons not often found in no-charge courses.
As well as courses for anyone of any capabilities, Gallaudet prides itself on providing a comfortable and supportive environment for deaf and hard of hearing students to learn ASL. The community support of these courses helps the recently deaf or those who were simply unable to learn before.
ASLU was founded in 1997 as an online sign language acquisition tool for deaf adults and children as well as relatives, friends, and interpreters.
While not a course in the traditional sense, ASLU offers a massive and completely free vocabulary taught in images and videos to act as both a learning tool and reminders that can be returned to for brushing up whenever you need to.
ASLU isn’t the prettiest or even easiest site to navigate, but it offers thousands of resources for free and shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone who needs to learn or know ASL for any purpose.