There is a great demand for useful language teaching tools. By consequence, the variety of language programs available is vast, but many of these resources are often expensive as well. Costs can range from monthly bills to a flat rate of up to a few hundred dollars. This can be very discouraging for some. Undertaking the goal to learn an entirely new language is already time consuming. Add financial stressors to this, and a lot of people will shy away from the chance to learn. Fortunately, there are free programs available for those who want to avoid such expenses. Here are a few gadgets that offer a variety of different teaching approaches.
For exploration and immersion, BBC Languages is a convenient start; all attributes are easily accessed by clicking a link. The key aspect that makes BBC languages beneficial is the variety of learning tactics it offers. It lets the user focus on grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, or a host of other distinct learning areas. Pages are interactive and media rich. In addition to straightforward lessons, there are practical entertainment options as well, such as listening to radio or watching television in different languages. Primarily, BBC teaches Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Chinese, but there are a few lessons that go beyond these five options. Of all the programs available, BBC Languages is less extensive, so it is best for light self-directed learning or review. There are more fitting options for a student who desires a rigorous step-by-step program.
Byki is a detailed flashcard program for the trainee who desires to learn vocabulary quickly. It’s easily downloadable with an option to choose between the express or paid version. The express is completely free and has plenty of features. Byki has virtual flashcards that include the word and its translation, a representative image, and a recording that reads the card out loud. Phrases can even be slowed down for mastering pronunciation or increasing comprehension. One of the most impressive perks of Byki is the extensive list of languages to choose from, especially for people who want to know a less commonly learned language. Overall, this program takes vocab learning step-by-step while fully integrating visual and auditory learning styles.
A post about free language gadgets wouldn’t be complete without mention of Busuu. Busuu has been around for some time and though it is more commercialized than it used to be, it is worth mentioning. The idea behind Busuu is it takes the user through lessons in which, when surpassed, a tree that represents progress in the language grows. For those who want social lessons, it is also an online community: one can chat with native speakers. Despite all of its good qualities, Busuu does limit some of its lessons for free users, and might be subject to more changes in the future. It might not be the best long term choice for someone who gets annoyed by blocked features, but it is still worth a try.
Duolingo is another popular online program with prominent similarities to Busuu. Languages offered include: Spanish, French, Danish, Irish, Italian, German, Portuguese, and Dutch. Starting out, the Duolingo student has the choice of taking a placement test or starting from the very beginning. From there, Duolingo provides progressive lessons to teach new material while building the user’s confidence. The more one learns, the more xp is gained. It offers many useful features such as translating scrolled over words or slowing down audio clips to make them easier to understand. With its organized and progressive plan, Duolingo ranks well in its ability to teach.
Two programs that didn't quite make the cut for this list but still have something valuable to offer are Mango Languages and Yabla. Even if both of theme don't reach optimal usability in comparison with such giants as Busuu and Duolingo, but they both offer something that is very important for the advanced students: videos.
Although Mango's core content is weak, it has a Premiere section where experienced speakers can watch an entire movie in French, Spanish, Japanese, or Mandarin Chinese with subtitles in both, that language and English. After that, in a follow-up section, the learner can go through each scene's dialogue line-by-line.
Yabla teaches all its material through videos, which are too difficult for beginners but provide a great way for more experienced speakers to listen to native speakers with a variety of accents.
Our last program is lesser known and more general in its usage. Anki is a very basic downloadable flashcard application that can be used for any subject. The special part about Anki is it uses spaced repetition, a technique that has promise for learning according to one study published within the journal of “Psychological Science in the Public Interest”. It allows the user to rate the effort of remembering his or her current card, and then subsequently repeats that card more or less frequently based on that rating. Anki is a great program for those who prefer creating their own questions. With anki, this process is easy: each basic flashcard can be made in just a few seconds and can be embellished with images, videos or personalized voice recordings. It also tracks time spent studying and the user’s mastery of each deck of cards. Anki is a must have for foreign language classes where memorization is key. Its simplicity and flexibility makes it a great piece of free software.
The lack of extra cash or the desire to be frugal need not stop anyone from learning a new language. With these free gadgets, the language learning process is both fun and free.