Can anyone learn a foreign language online and free? Yes, you can!
“Wait a minute”, you might say … are you telling me I can learn any language online? For real? Yes, you can.
But …. of course, there had to be a BUT! The internet is full of free pages to learn a foreign language, but not all are reliable, either because they don’t offer a program structured to your level, or because the method presented doesn’t suit your learning personality. Moreover, online learning is not the ideal medium for everyone, let alone those who are not disciplined and organised.
As a teacher, of course I stand for classes with a teacher. That’s the best choice. But not always the feasible one.
How can you learn at home?
Firstly, find a way of motivating and organising yourself. Tell others what you’re doin; that should keep your accountable, at least initially. Secondly, set up a list of resources for your learning process.
Google up easy reading texts in your target language. Read a paragraph of a news story. A fairy tale. A piece of the transcript of an interview of a politician, artist, footballer or any other you might fancy and find interesting. Check the pronunciation, the vocabulary.
YouTube has tons of videos in your target language, not necessarily about learning the language. But clips of news or documentaries are great starting points.
Focus on listening to news and documentaries that have a clearer speech. Podcasts are a great source of listening material that you can download and listen to anywhere, anytime.
This requires some courage. Dare to speak. Skype provides a language exchange forum for you to connect with people around the world.
You see? As I told you before, free online language learning is posssible but no magical solution. You’ll have to apply yourself to it regularly, especially if your goal is to learn “fast”.
This week I came across an episode of the podcast TEFL Training Institute with the question quoted above where Ross (one of the hosts) interviewed his parents who worked as teachers for a combined total of almost 50 years. And myself? Well, I started at my church’s Sabbath School initially teaching the primary class (kids between 8-12) . I was 15 at the time, so I’ve been involved with teaching for over 35 years. The questions asked on the podcast are relevant to all of us involved in teaching either as volunteers, professionals or both. Here they are:
1. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Professionally speaking – money is a motivating factor. yeah, yeah… You may say whatever you want but you still need to pay your bills at the end of the month and buy a pair of shoes once in a while. But although money is a very visible factor, it isn’t enough to get you going. I like speaking in different languages, so… I look forward to every opportunity I have to speak in English, Spanish or French. I love watching tv in other languages. I like reading magazines and newspapers from other countries. The students are the same but also different. You’ll have similar difficulties and challenges but their attitude, behaviour, reactions always surprise me. I’m always open to learning new words, getting to use new teaching materials. I wish I could attend more TEFL conferences, but sometimes they end up demotivating me using the same themes ad nauseam, being more of a marketplace where language schools and publishers come to sell their goods instead of teachers discussing their best practices and the future of their industry. Since traveling can be quite expensive I really appreciate when the organisers of those events make them available online on YouTube.
2. How has teacher training changed?
Sadly enough I haven’t notice great changes in teacher training. You may use a smart screen instead of an overhead projector but still present the same ideas, and interaction activities.
3. What advice do you have to new teachers?
Welcome to this rewarding career. Yes, there will be challenges and you will never become a millionaire from your classes (Some exceptions may apply) but you will be always learning and always growing if not from anything else, from at least being in touch with some wonderful human beings, yes, you’ll also encounter some dreadful, horrid creatures, but they are still, thank goodness, too few and far in between.
Happy teaching and enjoy the journey.
Whenever I’m talking to a prospective student, he or she says:
“My listening is not as good as it should be”, or “I just can’t understand what’s being said”. “Give me the text of what’s being said and I’ll understand everything.”
Well … life doesn’t come with subtitles so, … what should you do if you want to improve your listening skills in the language you’re trying to learn?
Here are 3 simple steps – which if followed will most certainly help you out:
- Listen everyday – and I mean it. It’s way easier said than done. Especially if you’re not living in the country where your second language is spoken, you will have to go an extra mile to listen to it. A little and often will work wonders. You may ask how much is a little – well it will depend on your time availability. But I’d say that anyone can squeeze 15 minutes of their BUSY day to listen to some of the language their learning.
- How to listen – podcasts are a great idea – available anytime, anywhere. You do not necessarily need to use podcasts on learning Spanish or French or English but podcasts produced in that language. Of course, if your L2 level is below intermediate you will have to choose podcasts where the audio quality is good and the content is appropriate to your level. Moreover, if the speakers are way too fast you can slow down their speech by just pressing a button. Isn’t technology something wonderful? It is my own experience listening to podcasts for nearly 10 years that when you have 2 people chatting the listening becomes more entertaining and pleasant. Monologues tend to be sooooo boring. More than 2 people can get confusing on identifying all the speakers especially if some don’t have a clear voice.
- Read and listen – many audio / video broadcasts have a transcript choice. For example, CNN and NPR provide tons of transcripts of different shows and you can listen to them whenever / wherever you wish and read the transcript to check the parts you didn’t get. Also, many kindle e-books have an additional feature that is the professional recorded audio version available – on Audible or equivalent. So you can listen and read the text – alternating. Or read first and then listen. And then go to another section and first listen and then read.
He who has ears listen to what the teacher has to say to the learner.
A year ago I listed some of the podcasts I think students should be using to practice their English and language skills. With the ebb and flow of technology and projects new podcasts have come up with new ideas and new presenters, so here’s an updated list of the podcasts and tested and seen commitment by their producers.
- Download the podcasts you enjoy
- LISTEN TO THEM. Dammit!
So… without much ado, here’s my (not comprehensive – but a good start) list of English Learning Podcasts:
1. 6 Minute English podcast – produced by the BBC with 2 hosts always asking some challenging questions found in the news. It always presents some new vocabulary and context for its use.
2. All Ears English podcast – 2 chicks always teaching some cultural and language point in the English spoken in the US. Beware: one of them slurs and speakstoofastasifshecouldntbotherwhethershesunderstoodornot.
3. Aprende Inglés con la Mansión del Inglés – 2 dudes (one from Belfast and another from London) host the show with good humor and focus on a teaching point. Emphasis on Spanish speakers http://www.inglespodcast.com
4. Edward’s ESL Edge – a show devoted to bringing interesting content to #ESL learners
5. English Across the Pond – it’s an interesting approach for language learners – Dan and Jennifer, UK and US residents teaching English as a second or foreign language in a conversational style including cultural and linguistic differences between the 2 Englishes.
6. English Harmony Podcast – prepared by Robby, a non-native English speaker with tips on how to learn English more effectively.
7. English Experts Podcast – Produced by non-native English speakers focuses on the common needs of Brazilian English learners.
8. ESL Podcast – The host for the podcast is Dr. Jeff McQuillan, directly from sunny Los Angeles, and he helps read the scripts and provides explanations for them.
9. Inglés en la oficina -it’s a podcast series produced in Spain by Sandra and Colby with situations related to the office and work world. https://www.acast.com/inglsenlaoficina/english-podcast-36-problem-pairs
10. Inglês Online Podcast – a podcast produced and hosted by Ana Luiza Bergamini, a Brazilian now living in London, with tips of idioms and phrasal verbs for Brazilian English learners – intermediate to advanced.
11. Inglês Todos os Dias – it’s a podcast produced by an American family based in Brazil. Tim and Tammy produce weekly short mini-podcasts with expressions and idioms that his students frequently confuse or ask about.
12. Luke’s English Podcast – produced and hosted by Luke from England – it’s a very good way to expose yourself to British English. But it requires a little patience usually no shorter than 45 minutes.
13. Real Life English Podcast – Founded by three young passionate, world traveling, native speaking English teachers, RealLife is a community based learning portal whose mission is to inspire, empower, and connect the world through English, both online and in-person. Oh Yeah!
14. Richard Vaughan Live podcast – controversial Texas-born Richard Vaughan has painstakingly been trying to teach English to Spaniards. His ramblings are quite entertaining. I love the episodes when he loses his temper with some of his on-air students.
15. VOA’s Learning English Podcast –
dating back to their shortwave transmissions even before the Internet, VOA has been my companion with good quality of listening content on American history, words and news.
Happy New Year and Happy Listening.