Evaluating Online Programs for Studying Foreign Languages

A Google search for “Studying foreign languages” will quickly and unobtrusively provide you with so many options you won’t know where to start. There must be thousands of books, CDs, websites and courses dedicated to teaching people Spanish, which is only one of the approximately 7000 known languages found on earth today. How should one choose? How does one know which methods will work and which won’t?

After flitting from a site that promised I could learn Spanish faster to a site that assured me many, many people had benefited from their language courses, I found what I was expecting to find but hoping not to: the majority of websites that offer to teach you a language proceed by getting you to repeat words after them as you read how they’re spelled, the transliteration of the words, and their meaning.

Memorizing words and terms is a very slow way to learn a language, and is inefficient in terms of actually carrying on a conversation with a native speaker. You’ll end up wanting them to write everything down before understanding about 45% of what they’re repeating over and over again.

Most sites offer you lists: lists of verbs, lists of vocabulary, lists of pronunciation, lists of translated phrases, etc. It is my experience, however, that at all costs, you should avoid lists in a pinch, your memory will fail you if you don’t have the actual skill to back you up.

Some sites offer to sell you an audio CD, tantalizing you with the words “fluent” and “proficient”. Again, I’d argue that without real-life trial and error to lend context to your language experience, your ability would be lacking in depth and functionality.

Free “idiom generators” could be fun, but you would just be reading a language whose pronunciation and intonation are still not natural to you. I guaranteed that you’ll become more proficient at recognizing your chosen second language when you hear it spoken or see it written, but without practice, it’s doubtful that you will be able to actually converse with a native speaker.

Also, to the chagrin of all of those who have degrees in Spanish or French or Mandarin or whatever, knowing what to call the parts of speech doesn’t mean you deserve the title of “Fluent”. God knows most English speakers don’t know a diphthong from an adverb, and we are still able to carry on wordy and witty conversations!

The moral of the story is this: find a course that provides you with back-and-forth conversation opportunities so that you gain real-life context and a skill that your brain will learn and retain when your vocabulary lists have sunk into the quicksand of time. Don’t spend your money or time on anything less than that!