Learning Languages Online: A Beginner’s Guide To Language Apps & Courses

It’s an increasingly popular myth that you can’t learn a language online. To learn a language, you need a decent range of material and a partner to practice speaking and listening with.

Naturally, it’s better to practice your chosen language in person, but if you want to build a basic foundation, there are plenty of practical language apps, language courses, and one-to-one language tuition opportunities online. Books are also an option to learn a new language.

This guide explains the different ways you can learn a language online, and why there very few ‘bad’ language course. Most of the online language courses I review prove to have something useful, and a combination of one or two are a great way to supplement your language learning online.

Read on to find out about different ways to learn, my recommended apps, courses, and online language teaching platforms to get started, and free resources to become familiar with a new tongue.

Ways To Learn Languages Online

When we discuss ways to learn a language, I refer to the type of platform. It’s important to distinguish between:

  • Platform: the chosen information source you learn from. For example, a mobile app, a course (package of prepaid language lessons), or one-to-one online tuition.
  • Practice Method: the medium which you use to practice the language. By medium, I mean the bridge from you THINKING in the language to actually INTERACTING with it. For example, you can take in a new language by reading and listening, perhaps with the supplement of visual material. Then, you can begin to write and speak on the language you’re learning.

When you choose an online language platform, you want to be clear on the best combination of practice methods that work for you. Check out this brief guide further down the page on how to choose a language platform, perhaps that will give you some insight on what to look for.

In the meantime, here’s a summary of the different ways to learn a language (platforms), along with their practical and weaker features.

Mobile Language Learning Apps

Best For: Beginners, supplementary learning, children, on-the-go

Let’s start by saying that 10-minutes per day on an app like Babbel or Duolingo isn’t going to cut it. Most mobile language learning apps are built with convenience in mind to make mobile language study possible, but that is not enough to learn a language to any degree of fluency.

Note: Fluency doesn’t mean perfection. It’s the ability to understand and speak continuously with a particular vocabulary. See what I mean by degrees of fluency.

That said, mobile language apps are not all designed for mini-lessons. Ones like Pimsleur have longer half-hour lessons and are based entirely on listening and speaking – – an ideal focus to speak with any degree of fluency as a beginner.

Many in-depth online language courses have transitioned to mobile apps, and more are in the process of releasing apps. This is promising for mobile language learners, since all language apps need to keep up with quality material to attract new learners.

Most mobile language apps have slick and highly interactive designs. You can jump ahead to the reviews of some of the most popular language app below.

Online Language Courses (Package Lessons)

Best For: All levels, especially serious learners with a plan

Before mobile apps became popular, online language learning courses dominated the web. Such courses are typically sold in packages with 30+ hours of material, often 100+ hours, and even more.

Advanced learners find these courses useful. Language course packs tend to outdo mobile apps with a more in-depth explanation of grammar and broader learning material. This naturally means that you’re encouraged to explore a greater variety of contexts during practice.

Note that platforms often cross over. For example, Pimsleur sells courses in packages, as well as with monthly subscriptions. It´s also available on mobile.

Online language courses may not always have the exciting interactive design of their mobile counterparts, but they’re improving. It’s a myth that they’re clunky and poorly designed – – that’s not the case anymore. 

If you want to practice writing and immerse yourself in learning a language like French, Italian, or Spanish, there are plenty of language course packages to choose from as a beginner-intermediate learner.

One-to-One Language Tutors Online

Best For: Conversational practice to reach fluency, beginners to grow vocabulary organically

Before I tried one-to-one lessons online, I discouraged people from learning exclusively online. However, if you don´t have the opportunity to travel and interact with native speakers in your learned language, online one-to-one tutors are great.

Platforms like Preply offer you a selection of private, online tutors. You can browse teacher profiles, read reviews, and get started without the hassle of long back-and-forth conversations.

italki is another online one-to-one tuition platform reviewed below. They have more than 15,000 language tutors on their platform.

What´s awesome about such online tutor platforms is that you can pay per lesson. Some of them give you the option to buy bundles that make each lesson cheaper. There are many patient and attentive teachers — you just have to find them by giving looking at their profiles and having a trial lesson.

Learning with a one-to-one tutor online is a must if you want to give yourself the best preparation for listening and speaking with real people in the future.

You can jump ahead to the reviews of one-to-one language tutor platforms below.

Textbook Learning

Best For: Understanding grammar and linguistic rules

Perhaps the most cost-effective way to supplement your learning is physical learning material. Language textbooks are relatively cheap, considering the amount of working hours you can get out of a 100 to 120 page book you buy for $15-$20 (or GBP if you’re in the UK.

There are many language grammar and practice books on Amazon, for instance. If you want to get better at writing and a book is convenient to carry around, it’s a good investment.

Where books fall short is that you can’t practice speaking and listening, so you’re limited to one core practice method — writing. You may also see images and visual content to practice your vocabulary through recognition.

Also, if you’re traveling, a book might take too much space in your backpack and you might find a mobile language app more practical. Apps like Rosetta Stone have in-app PDF books for beginner and advanced learners.

Check out this list of language book resources if you want to give it a try and practice writing in a foreign language.

Other Ways To Learn Languages Online

Aside from the language-specific mobile apps, courses, and tutors, many other learning platforms offer language learning plans.

Language learners may not take online courses on Udemy seriously, because it has online learning material for just about any topic you can think of. The same goes for Coursera, a platform with thousands of courses.

Still, generic educational platforms do cover languages, and much like with one-to-one tutor platforms, you can view the user and teacher who will teach you the course. This way, you can be your own decision maker and get a sense of what you’re getting.

Platforms like Udemy and Coursera offer subscription and one-off language packages alike. See these quick reviews of what they have in store for language learners.

How To Choose A Language App Or Course

Before you choose your learning material, you need to have clear answers to the following questions. You can even do this now:

  1. What language do I want to learn?
    • This depends on the challenge you’re seeking. If you’re learning you’re first or second foreign language and want to make it easier for yourself, start with a relative language. For example, if you speak a Latin-derived language like Italian, you’ll have an easier time learning Spanish or French. If you want to challenge yourself through blood and sweat, you can pick up a language with an entirely new alphabet and grammar like Hungarian, Greek, or Classical Chinese.
  2. What level am I?
    • Sometimes apps and courses ask you what level you think you are at. You often get beginner, intermediate, and advanced. If you’re unsure, it’s better to be humble and practice some more of what you already know.
  3. Do I learn the best reading, writing, listening, speaking, visually, or all of these combined?
    • Reflect on how you learn. If you have experience with learning a language, even better. If not, you can do some reading and dive in to try any practice method available.
  4. What is my goal with the language I want to learn?
    • It may be for business, travel, hobby, or to order in a restaurant. Or, it may be all-inclusive and you want to become fluent to speak and interact in many contexts.
  5. Does the language course offer the methods of practice that allow me to reach my goal?
    • Based on what you described as your best learning method, does the course offer an opportunity to practice reading, writing, listening, speaking, and visual material? If you are unsure of what works best for you, then it makes sense to try all forms of practice and find out.
  6. How much time can I make to learn?
    • The more the better, but you don’t want to burn out prematurely. 10 minutes-a-day is a good start, but you want to be hitting at least half an hour every day within a week. Choose learning material that suits your schedule, or if you really want to learn a new language, work your schedule around it.
  7. How much money can I spend on a language app or course?
    • You don’t need to splash hundreds of dollars, euros, or pounds on language courses. As a beginner, you can create a combination of learning materials, some premium and some free, for well under $150 per year.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to test out a handful of language apps and courses to suit your needs. This is when you need to be attentive of the quality you’re getting for your money.

The entire point of this site is to give insight on where to look at what to look for, but there is no one-size-fits-all language learning material.

It’s worthwhile to read a few language platform reviews and learn from others’ language learning mistakes — then you can go and make your own mistakes!

Popular Language Learning Apps In 2021

Here are some of the most popular language-learning apps on mobile this year. These mini-reviews are brief and a means for you to decide what you might want to try out.

Many of them have free trial lessons or trial periods.

Pimsleur For Listening & Speaking Anywhere

Languages45+
LevelsBeginner, Intermediate, Advanced
Reading & Writing✔️
Listening & Speaking✔️
Visual Learning
Avg. Lesson Time30 mins
Price£18.49/mo
Free Trial✔️ Try It Now

Babbel For Many Topics & Grammar Nazis

Languages10+
LevelsBeginner, Intermediate
Reading & Writing✔️
Listening & Speaking✔️
Visual Learning✔️
Avg. Lesson Time8-10 mins
Price£9.99/month
Free Trial✔️ Try It Now

Busuu For Social Learning

Languages10+
LevelsBeginner, Intermediate
Reading & Writing✔️
Listening & Speaking✔️
Visual Learning✔️
Avg. Lesson Time6-8 mins
Price£9.99/month
Free Trial✔️ Try It Now

Online Language Courses For Serious Learners

Some of the below courses may overlap with the mobile language apps listed on this page. That’s because you can purchase learning packs with some mobile apps.

The following online language courses are designed for beginner learners who want to progress to an advanced level.

Michel Thomas

Languages15+
LevelsBeginner, Intermediate, Advanced
Reading & Writing✔️
Listening & Speaking✔️
Visual Learning✔️
Avg. Lesson Time45-60 mins
Pricefrom £9.99
Free Trial✔️ Try It Now

Pimsleur

Languages45+
LevelsBeginner, Intermediate, Advanced
Reading & Writing✔️
Listening & Speaking✔️
Visual Learning
Avg. Lesson Time30 mins
Price£18.49/mo
Free Trial✔️ Try It Now

FluentU

Languages45+
LevelsBeginner, Intermediate, Advanced
Reading & Writing✔️
Listening & Speaking✔️
Visual Learning✔️
Avg. Lesson Time10-12 mins
Price$29.99/mo
Free Trial✔️ Try It Now

Free Language Courses Online & On Mobile

There are plenty of free language learning courses online. Most try to rope you in to buy a product, obviously. Still, the material is good enough to try out what’s out there if you’re rich in time and are a careful shopper.

If you want to take language learning seriously, these resources might be of limited use to you, but are worth a look:

  • Duolingo: A great free choice for kids and beginner learners who prioritize visual learning.
  • InnovativeLanguage.com: A popular free language learning hub where you can access 30+ online language courses. These courses can be accessed on separate websites. Popular ones include SpanishPod101.com, FrenchPod101.com, HungarianPod101.com, and PersonPod101.com.
  • The Open University: Free university introduction courses to languages like French, Italian, German, Chinese, Spanish, and English. These are 8+ hours courses designed to introduce you to a language, so they’re more time consuming than practical. Some of these free courses are 48+ hours and cover the use of a language in a particular environment or context for business professionals. Still, it doesn’t harm to see for yourself.

Remember that all the paid premium language apps and language courses also have free trials. If you want to learn a language and are in the market for online material, these trials are very useful.

FAQs

What is the easiest language to learn online?

There is no one easy language to learn and that is true for online learning too. If you speak a language with a similar root to another, you’ll pick up the latter easier. For example, if you speak French and want to learn Spanish or Italian, you’ll have it far easier than learning Chinese or Greek.

Can you learn German online?

Yes, you can learn german online with several mobile language apps and online courses. There are even free resources like GermanPod101.com where you can get started and become familiar with the language. German is a popular European language to learn, so you’ll find plenty of resources online.

Can you learn French online?

Learning French online presents one problem — there’s too much learning material to choose from. Whether you want to give Babbel or Duolingo a try as a beginner, or go with Pimsleur’s free trial and aim for fluency, you’ll be well looked after. There are also free resources to learn French like The Open University or FrenchPod101.com.

Can you learn Spanish online?

Yes, you can learn spanish online via mobile language apps, language courses, or even one-to-one teachers. Preply is a particularly great teaching hub to find native Spanish teachers for one-to-one language lessons online.

Can you learn Italian online?

Despite the musical and varied intonation of the Italian language, it’s entirely possible to learn it online. If you want to get familiar with Italian, it’s best to try a free resource or a free trial to one of the mobile apps designed for beginners. Pimsleur’s Italian course is great, since it centers on listening and speaking — an especially important aspect of Italian.