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Sunday, May 19, 2013

10 Good Sites & Apps for Learning a New Language

Last summer I took a short trip to Iceland. Before I went I tried to learn a couple of phrases (I wasn't terribly successful, my mouth just wouldn't make some of the sounds). This summer I'm taking a short trip to Costa Rica so I'm brushing-up on my Spanish vocabulary before I go. If you're trying to learn a new language too, here are some free sites and apps that could help you.

Duolingo is a free language learning service and app through which you can learn Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese. To learn on Duolingo you read, listen to, and translate words and phrases. For example if I want to learn Spanish I'll be shown Spanish words with translations. I can can hear the words pronounced too. Then to practice I type and or speak translations. The activities start out with simple words and phrases. As I become more proficient, Duolingo gives me more challenging phrases. To help me track my progress Duolingo awards me point and virtual badges.

uSpeak HD is a free iPad app designed to help beginners learn Spanish. The app matches you with word lists and learning activities based on your current level of knowledge of Spanish. Before you even register on the service you take a quick assessment to match you to the appropriate lists and activities. Once you've registered all of your progress is stored in your uSpeak account. uSpeak's word lists are organized in webs of related words. Click on any web to reveal the words. Then click on a word to reveal a web of in-context uses of that word, images associated with that word, and synonyms and antonyms for your chosen word.

Spanish Is Your Amigo is a series of video lessons taught by Kristen Williams. The lessons are designed for beginners. The short, upbeat lessons cover the basics of things like letter pronunciation, numbers, syllabic stress, verb conjugation, nouns and articles, and common Spanish phrases.

iMendi is a nice little site for practicing vocabulary in the languages you're trying to learn. On iMendi you can practice vocabulary in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, Russian, Arabic, and Czech. To use iMendi just select the language you speak and select the language you want to learn. iMendi then gives you the choice of choosing a lesson (level 1, level 2, etc) or trying a randomly chosen lesson. The "lessons" are really just simple vocabulary matching exercises with a score and the correct answers revealed at the end.

BBC Quick Fix offers a selection of essential phrases for forty languages. The list of phrases varies slightly for each language, but they all include greetings and other essential polite phrases like "I'm sorry I don't speak Icelandic." All lists can be printed. You can also hear all of the phrases pronounced. The pronunciations can be downloaded as MP3 files to take with you on your iPod or phone.

Hello World provides games and activities for students to develop their knowledge of foreign languages. Hello World has games and activities in nine languages including Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese. Not all of the games and activities are free, but enough of them are free to warrant listing as a good place for free learning activities. 

Vocabla is a service for learning English, Spanish, and Polish vocabulary. The service can be used online or with the free iPhone and Android apps. The concept behind Vocabla is similar to a lot of other language learning applications. In Vocabla you can create lists of words and phrases that you want to learn. Alternatively, you can select a list that was made by someone else and shared to the Vocabla library. You can study each list in a flashcard style until you feel like you're ready to take a practice quiz. You can earn digital trophies and badges for your scores on the quizzes that you complete.

Pictolang is a CAPL service that offers four image-based language learning activities. The Visual Word Trainer is simply a flashcard activity that shows students an image and the word or words that picture represents. The Picture Match Game shows students one word and they have to find the picture to match it. Word Match Game shows students one picture and they have to find the word to match it. The Analyst Game is probably the most challenging of the activities. The Analyst Game shows students a picture and they have to identify where that picture came from.

Forvo can best be described as an audio wiki for word pronunciations. One of the problems with learning to speak a language that is not phonetic is trying to figure out how to pronounce the words. Forvo hosts hundreds of recordings of word pronunciations by native speakers. Along with word pronunciations, Forvo provides some basic demographic information about each language. Forvo's content is user-supported and user-generated. New pronunciations are added on a regular basis.

Surface Languages is a free service offering flashcards and practice activities to help students learn the basics of a new language. Surface Languages supports 38 languages. To use the site simply select the language that you are trying to learn then select a set of words or phrases to practice. After selecting a set of words or phrases you will be able to listen to the pronunciations of those words or phrases. You can also flip through the words and phrases in flashcard format.

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