Speaking more than one language is generally a good thing. It can help you professionally, it can introduce you to new cultures and people, and it can make vacations in faraway places a lot more fun. However, the majority of adult Americans don't speak more than one language. This is understandable. For adults, learning anything as complicated as another language is a challenge. And if you're out of school, it can be especially hard to find time or resources to learn a language on your own.
So, how do you learn a new language? Many people recommend either taking a private or group class, or using language learning software like Rosetta Stone. Unfortunately, all of these options can be pretty pricey. While there's no free equivalent to Rosetta Stone, there are plenty of free online resources that offer useful language learning tools. Here are some of our favorites:
Duolingo offers activities, self-paced lessons, and writing and speaking exercises in 23 languages. Duolingo is available as a website, and as a smartphone app, so you can practice your language skills on the go. Unlike other sites, using Duolingo feels more like playing a game at times. It tracks your progress as you learn, and users earn XP (Experience Points) for successfully completing lessons and unlocking new levels. Another cool feature of Duolingo is placement testing. If you have some previous knowledge of a language, you can take the placement test to skip over some of the beginner lessons. Even if you’re a complete beginner though, Duolingo offers a clear, straightforward approach to learning a language that makes practicing skills easy and fun.
BBC Languages offers courses and other resources for people starting a new language. Languages offered include French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese. Since the site is run by the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation), it includes many resources for accessing and reading the news in other languages. One downside of this site is that the main page isn't very well organized, so it can be hard to know where to begin. Still, it's a good resource for self-motivated learners.
Verbling is a free video chat service that pairs you with conversation partners who speak the language you're learning. Like LiveMocha, learners are expected to teach each other—you'll spend half the call speaking your native language, and the other half speaking theirs. Verbling even suggests easy conversation topics to help you get started. While this service isn't for absolute beginners, it's useful for anyone who needs practice speaking and listening.
WordReference is the best online foreign language dictionary you can find. It includes English definitions for words in 15 different languages, including Spanish, French, Arabic, and Chinese. These definitions often include examples to help you understand how the word is used in context. Many of these examples come from the WordReference forum, where native speakers answer questions about various words and phrases. The site's interface is well-organized and simple, with very few ads, so it's easy to find exactly what you're looking for.