Your Language Learning Solution
Are online language learning websites just gimmicks, or have I been missing out?
We linguists desire the most time-efficient methods of language acquisition possible. Like the majority of my peers, I started learning French at the age of 11 and it has felt like quite a slow process since then. Spanish, on the other hand, I only picked up last October and we’ve been racing through the vocabulary and grammar like there’s no tomorrow.
While studying both of these languages, my first port of call, provided my teacher isn’t available, has always been a textbook, dictionary, or a popular forum for finding out what certain words refer to (yes, you know it). Luckily, I am your typical ‘visual learner’ – which is how I justify the extensive amount of doodling I do – but I often ask myself: surely my independent study could be enriched by involving more of the senses? And I don’t just mean films here guys.
So when I was offered the chance to try out an audio-visual course online, I jumped at it. It was through a website called my-language.com. I made use of their resources for advanced French but there are 18 other languages to choose from.
My-language.com claims to keep you ‘motivated to learn a language using a number of interactive activities to help you learn fast and effectively’ (there are up to 45 different activities to be precise) using ‘one of the world’s most natural and effective ways to learn a language’, namely ‘animated and auditory cognition’.
The layout of my personalised webpage was, to use a cliché, very ‘user friendly’. Broken down into four chapters, the course immediately seemed manageable, but promising of a swift progression at the same time. And, as I soon discovered, there is actually a graph which monitors your progress as you go along.
First of all though, I explored the ‘help’ tools (in the top bar), which I would recommend doing before starting any online language course, in order to get the most out of it. Here I found a ‘lifebuoy’ tab to give you hints if you should get stuck on an exercise, a ‘native language function’ which can be enabled and disabled, and a ‘transcript function’ which allows you to read the transcript of a video so you don’t have to watch it again. Most importantly, you have access to a ‘support function’ so you can submit any questions or requests via instant messenger or email. Despite the lack of human interaction and the priceless advantages that that brings, I felt reassured that I wasn’t going to be left in the dark at any point.
The chapters are broken down into the obvious categories of reading, writing, etc. So you can focus on what you most need to improve on. Personally, I wanted to build on my vocabulary of everyday things; new words I came across included ‘une clé à molette’ and ‘le nez d’un hors-bord’. This is something you don’t tend to cover post A-level but nonetheless proves vital for communicating in real life. One particular exercise which helped facilitate this goal involved ordering random words to form coherent sentences to accompany pictures. In the end, it was not so much about learning the meaning of individual words I may never have to use, but about using my intuition to decipher the meaning of the whole assemblage of words which described a concept. This is a far more versatile skill.
I did find, however, that the level of French the exercises were geared towards did not remain consistent, even within the same chapter. For instance, one exercise involved listening to relatively simple sentences which described a scenario then matching them up with their corresponding images, such as ‘un écureuil sur ses pattes arrières’. I didn’t feel like my brain was put to the test here. But, then again, it did require listening to an authentic French accent and, because I was alone, I found myself mimicking what was being said. And there’s always room for improvement when it comes to pronunciation and intonation.
Although a my-language.com course is guaranteed to build up your confidence in lots of different areas, it shouldn’t, in my opinion, be considered an alternative to conversing with native speakers. Language is like a living thing; it has to constantly adapt to new situations in order to fulfil its purpose. It can’t be exclusively transmitted through technology – through artificial means – without some nuances being lost.
To illustrate the above, it was only the other day, after talking to my two Spanish friends, that I discovered the versatility of the Spanish idiom ‘¿qué tal?’ It sounds silly but I always just assumed it meant ‘how are you?’ but it turns out of course that you can say ‘¿qué tal la vida?’ or ‘¿qué tal la clima?’. I doubt that any automated teaching would convey such a colloquial, yet highly functional, turn of phrase.
En somme, I would definitely recommend my-language.com as something to further your language learning alongside real life practice. The website actually recommends this approach itself on its brilliant little blog.
A my-language.com course is undoubtedly great value for money if you make use of all its benefits: the wide range of languages, levels, and activities on offer; the ‘help’ tools; the ability to keep track of how you’re doing; the customised approach which allows you to address personal weaknesses; and the activities which are like games in that the onus isn’t – to your conscious knowledge – on studying.
So be realistic, consider how much you’d use it. If you could spend, say 10-15 on it every day for a few weeks imagine how much difference that could make. The fact that you can save what you’ve done and come back to it was, for me, a winning feature because it means you can get into an enjoyable routine of little and often.
You could even buy a subscription to my-language.com for someone else as a thoughtful, alternative present. Particularly if you know that they’re going somewhere abroad so they will be able to put their new skills to good use.
Thanks to our great friends at kanzilingua.com for this review!