This uncertain time can naturally make us feel isolated, particularly as a country. What better way to look forward to reconnecting with the world than to improve your skills to do so? Learning a language online in older age can be very beneficial to keep the brain active and there is no real evidence that you ever lose the ability to learn one!
Here we will list the best websites and apps to learn a language while you stay at home; online and on your smartphone. Some are free and more targeted at getting the basics nailed down, whereas others may require a small payment for full features, but offer a more in-depth learning experience.
For beginners, Duolingo is a great free option to get started. It focuses on basic words and building up a good foundation of vocabulary from which to progress into simple sentences. It’s also a fun way to learn with interactive quizzes and games, hiding a scientifically proven method of learning – spaced repetition.
Duolingo also supports over 30 languages, including some fictional ones like Klingon and High Valyrian that can be just as fun, although may not be as useful in real life!
Memrise is similar to Duolingo in that it is an interactive, fun, and effective way to get you started and interested in a language. Memrise has tons of languages to learn with many different courses at various difficulties. Video clips of real native speakers help to enrich the experience, and if you feel like you want more there is a pro version for £7 a month, unlocking all the features and languages.
3. Rosetta Stone
Well established in the independent language-learning space, Rosetta Stone is a paid service (although short free trials are available) that aims to truly make you comfortable in holding a conversation with a local in the language of your choice. Lessons can come in many forms from purely audio lessons to help you get away from the screen, to Stories – where you read along with a native speaker. If your goal is a more comprehensive understanding (including writing the language), Rosetta Stone might be a good option for you, there is even an option to learn with a Tutor.
If you’re looking for a more connected approach, Busuu links learners from all across the world to help each other by giving feedback and testing conversational skills. Busuu has over 1000 of bite-sized lessons with proven methodologies implemented to help improve your level. Busuu has a smaller selection of languages that others on this list and to get the full experience, including unlimited conversations with fellow learners, you will have to pay for a premium membership of around £6/month.
Babbel doubles down on getting the conversational side of learning a language online sorted. It is a subscription-based app with materials curated by experts and speech recognition technology to improve your pronunciation. One of the best things about Babbel are the review sessions that test concepts you have learned in different contexts, exactly like real life conversations. Like Busuu there is a much smaller selection of languages, mainly European, and prices start from £4.75/month when you buy for a year.
Going on a slight tangent, one great way to practice a new language is through Google Chrome Extensions with Netflix, while you sit back, watch films and socially distance.
The idea here is to have two sets of subtitles to read while you watch a film on Netflix; one in the language you’re learning, and the other in your native language. Learning languages online like this helps hone in the conversational aspects of the dialect and can help to use words in the right way in the right contexts.
To get set up you need to be using Google Chrome as your web search browser. Google Chrome is just another program through which you can access the internet. You can download Google Chrome here if you don’t already have it.
Next you need to install the “Extension”. Extensions are in-browser applications to enrich your web experience. The extension we recommend is Language Learning with Netflix. You can choose the language you want to learn in, adjust how fast the subtitles are, and click on words to find out their definition. Click on the link and then “Add to Chrome”, then accept the pop-up.
Once downloaded Language Learning with Netflix’s website will open, explaining how to use the Extension on Netflix.
If you’re stuck for ideas on what to watch, take a look at our top Netflix series recommendations for the elderly.