10 Essential Tips for Learning a Language Online

Want to learn French, Japanese or something else? You can do it online — and here's how.

Learning a language online concept

There are many benefits to learning a second language – not least an increase in career advancement opportunities.

But what happens when you’re juggling work and life, and you don’t have the time to fit language lessons into your busy schedule?

Well, you take your language-learning journey online!

The great thing about learning a language online is the flexibility it offers you. Not only do you get to fit your learning around your own schedule, but you get to learn at your own pace and a much lower cost!

And if you’re ready to start learning a new language online, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some useful tips that will speed up the process!

1. Find a Good Online Tutor

Learning a language online can be quite a daunting experience, but if you can find a good language tutor who will guide you through the process, then you’ll be off to a great start.

Whether you’re using an online learning platform or evaluating potential independent tutors, it’s essential that you find a tutor that is right for you and your individual needs.

First things first, you should figure out their relationship with the language you want to learn. Are they a native speaker? If they’re not, how proficient are they and what qualifications do they have?

Once you’ve got that figured out, learn as much as you can about their teaching style, rates and anything else that is important to you. Also, don’t forget to check out online reviews of other students’ experiences with the particular tutor.

2. Find a Pen Pal

To boost your language skills, you need to seize every opportunity you get to use the language. You can do this by finding an online pen pal who speaks the language fluently through a plethora of specialist websites and mobile apps.

Having frequent conversations with native speakers won’t only help you keep up your practice, but it will also allow you to get comfortable using the language in real-life scenarios.

While you might struggle at first and make some mistakes, you’ll have the chance to learn about the cultural aspects of the language and gain a better understanding of common colloquialisms and local slang.

3. Use Authentic Resources

Like having a pen pal, authentic resources can help you get a better grasp of the language in real contexts. There’s a lot to consider including accents, colloquial speech and nuances that can only be learned by being exposed to them. Again, this will help you become more proficient in the language and get a better grasp of various social and cultural implications of the language.

You can easily do this by listening to radio shows or podcasts, watching videos on YouTube or reading local newspapers. This way, you’ll be able to improve your language acquisition through authentic contexts and scenarios.

4. Maximise Your Time

Whenever you can, take advantage of any spare time you have to practise the language. For example, during your commute to and from work, you could play language games or use a language-learning app – unless, of course, you’ll be driving; then you can listen to an audiobook, for example.

Likewise, you can watch some YouTube videos while you’re making breakfast or dinner, or you can listen to music in the language you’re learning while cleaning the house.

It’s important that your language learning isn’t restricted to your weekly sessions with your online tutor; it needs to be constant and variable for you to become familiar with it faster. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll eventually pick up from these minor language interjections!

5. Set Goals for Yourself

By setting goals for yourself from the onset, you’ll be able to stay motivated as you’re learning the language. This will also add more purpose to the process, and it will allow you to keep track of your progress.

Start by setting small and achievable goals based on your proficiency level, such as reciting the entire alphabet in that language or holding a five-minute conversation with a native speaker. Every time you hit a milestone, revisit your goals and update them with newer ones.

It’s also essential that you work towards longer-term goals that will keep your eyes on the prize. For example, if you’ve always wanted to read books by Gabriel García Márquez in Spanish, set a specific timeframe for yourself to reach that level of proficiency. Likewise, if you’re going to travel to the country and be able to communicate with locals in that language without issues, set a date for when you’ll be taking that long-awaited trip. Your goals must be both achievable and ambitious.

6. Learn about Topics that Interest You

Even if you’ve set yourself particular goals, the hardest part of learning a language is staying motivated and focused.

To avoid stagnant periods and to dodge lapses of motivation, you need to keep yourself interested through the content. Simply put, you should use your interests as a way to expand your vocabulary in that language.

Think about subjects that interest you; perhaps they concern your profession, hobbies or your favourite movies, celebrities or sports. This will add another helpful layer to the learning process that will keep your determination.

7. Develop Balanced Skills

Language skills consist of four elements: speaking, listening, reading and writing. Often, learners will advance in some of these areas while remaining stagnant in others, leading to an imbalanced ability to communicate in that language. For example, when learning a language online, you might focus most of your energy in speaking and listening than in reading and writing, or vice versa.

Of course, your emphasis on these skills will vary depending on your personal goals. If, for example, you only want to learn conversational Japanese, then your focus will undoubtedly be on the ability to speak and understand the spoken language. But if you’re going to be fluent, you must distribute your attention to these skills equally.

8. Use Various Online Tools and Resources

Learning a language online means that you have dibs in some excellent online resources. There’s an endless number of tools available at your fingertips, and if you want to sharpen your skills, you should utilise them to the maximum.

These include the previously mentioned pen pals and language apps. Another useful tool is a mobile dictionary app that you can keep on your phone. This will help you keep up with any unknown words and allow you to expand your vocabulary a lot faster.

There’s a non-exhaustive list of resources for language learning, so be sure to have a browse and use whatever can help improve your skills!

9. Start a Vocabulary Notebook

One of the best practices to follow when learning a new language is to keep a vocabulary notebook. Learning online will expose you to a lot of new words, phrases and expressions, and while some might stick, others will need some further practice.

A vocabulary notebook will help you keep track of the new diction you’ll come across, and it will add some structure to your learning experience, too. It will also be particularly useful when you’re using authentic resources, as you can scribble down unknown vocabulary and then look it up on your dictionary app.  

10. Practise, Practise, Practise

While this might seem like a no-brainer, it is also the most crucial element of learning a new language. There are no real shortcuts you can take; the key is to practise often – and very often, at that. Repetition helps you acquire and retain all the new information that you come across.

Plus, through constant practice, you can avoid fossilisation, which is a fancy way of saying that you’ll avoid making a habit of using language rules, pronunciation or grammar incorrectly. Try reciting what you’ve learned in your head, practising out loud and going over grammatic rules until they’re second nature to you. The more frequently you practise, the sooner you’ll be fluent in the language!

Have you ever learned a language online? Do you have any useful tips to share? Let us know in the comments section below!