More and more frequently in the United States, we see both English and Spanish directions in places we encounter every day. We see both languages (and sometimes more) on ATM machines, airport signs, store packaging, restroom signs, menus, and in product instruction manuals.
An Important Cultural Shift
This is but one sign of an important culture shift. According to the Pew Research Center,
Spanish is, by far, the most spoken non-English language in the U.S. The next most spoken non-English languages are Chinese (with 2.8 million speakers), Hindi, Urdu or other Indic languages (2.2 million), French or French Creole (2.1 million), and Tagalog (1.7 million).
Their research indicates that over 37 million in the U.S. spoke Spanish in the home in 2011, including about 3 million non-Hispanics, and that figure may reach 40 million by 2020.
As our culture becomes more linguistically diverse, how can we learn to better communicate with those around us – in our communities, in our places of work, in our commerce, and in our travel? What are the best online Spanish courses? And what are the best courses in other languages as well?
Please refer to the reviews to see what
languages are available in each method.
Which Language Learning Program Is Best?
Rosetta Stone (See Review of #1 Best Seller and 54% Discount!) comes to mind as one of the best known and most widely seen language learning systems on the market today. Available in 29 languages, Rosetta Stone employs lots of visual images and an immersion method using only your new language!
But is it the best? Personally, I don’t think so. But given the various aspects of language study – reading, listening, speaking, writing, spelling vocabulary, grammar, syntax – is any one course the best? Perhaps it would be better to ask about the strengths and weaknesses of each approach or which one is best for YOU.
A Variety of Formats
Consider the formats of the various courses and different learning styles of people, as well as convenience to fit into various schedules and lifestyles. For example, some would prefer to study from a book, others on their computer, still others using a smartphone which is both mobile and conveniently available in the odd moment. I’ve actually spent time working with all the programs reviewed below; so, let me save you some time and money. Ask yourself: “What format and learning style will work best for me and my lifestyle?” Then check out the reviews and try out the one(s) which sound best for you.
The following illustrate the variety of learning formats available:
- The Pimsleur Method Language Programs (See our Review) The Pimsleur Method is tried and true, offered in over 50 languages, and regarded by many as the best way to learn foreign languages fast! My wife is using it now and absolutely loves it. Pimsleur is available on either CDs or downloadable MP3s. It lends itself well for someone who would like to pop it into their car CD player or smartphone and learn during their daily commute, run, or walk.
- Rocket Language (See Review) is one of my favorite all round systems — for listening, speaking, reading, & writing. It is available for 13 languages and may be purchased in an online format or on CDs. It’s more computer or mobile-app based, making use of a variety of learning methodologies, including interactive audio, written lessons and transcripts, educational games, apps, quizzes, progress tracking, and more. In addition, Rocket Languages recently released their 2017 update, making an excellent product even better!
- DuoLingo (See Review) is a free smart phone app which asks you to translate a phrase or sentence from written English to written Spanish, from written or spoken Spanish to written English, or to transcribe spoken Spanish. You then receive immediate reinforcement or correction. If you respond well to games and rewards, this might be a good fit for you.
- Fluent in 3 Months (See Review), by Benny Lewis — “the Irish Polyglot” and author of the best-selling book Fluent in 3 Months,” offers a completely different approach. Instead of teaching you Spanish, or German, or any other language, it teaches you how to learn a new language, shows you where to find the resources you need, and walks you through the process of learning a new language step by step. With a 30 money back guarantee, you can’t go wrong with this one. (See also my Review of Conversation Countdown, Benny’s one week introductory course. And, if your language of choice is Spanish, French, German, or Italian, be sure to check out our review of Benny’s newest books entitled Language Hacking: A Conversation Course for Beginners.)
- Before You Know It, Memrise, and Anki (See Review) stand out for providing computerized flashcards, available in various formats for desktop or laptop computers, or as apps for tablets or smart phones. You can build your own cards or use one of many available decks of cards. All make use of spaced repetition and adapt to your success or mistakes. Flash cards are an excellent way to build vocabulary, as well as to recall verb conjugation patterns. BYKI is my personal favorite, and Memrise has a neat feature of suggesting mnemonic devices to remember new words.
Other Major Players
In addition to those named above, other language learning programs, courses, and tools to consider include:
- Italki (See my full Review) is one of my favorite tools for any language. Taking a giant leap beyond pen-pals, Italki puts you in touch with conversation partners, tutors, and/or teachers in a wide variety of countries and languages (using connections such as Skype or Voice over IP).
- Glossika (See our Review) is one of my personal favorites and my current “go to” program! Listening is at the heart of language acquisition, and most methods do not incorporate enough of it. Glossika focuses on listening. It takes a bit more self discipline than some methods, but if that’s not an issue for you, this method will pay great results. I regard Glossika as one of the premier tools available for language acquisition.
- [Language]Pod101 (See Review) — Check out the free version, then upgrade because it’s fast, fun, and just plain worth it! Offered in 34 languages from Afrikaans to Vietnamese.
- Learning Spanish Like Crazy (See Review) is a popular program which I have really enjoyed. It comes on CDs or downloadable MP3s and is available in Latin American Spanish or Italian. It differs from Pimsleur in focusing on more informal, common speech.
- Complete Spanish (Teach Yourself Languages) — A great deal at 45.7% off!!
- Earworms Musical Brain Trainer (See our full Review)
- Instant Immersion
- Living Language
- Transparent Language
- My Language Exchange
Initial & Ongoing Cost
There’s also the matter of cost. Of the countless Spanish courses, websites, and smartphone apps available, some are completely free, others have a significant initial cost, and still others are free for a trial period and then require an ongoing monthly subscription.
Full Reviews to Come
Please bookmark this page and return soon. Some of the links above lead to my full reviews, comparing their methods, strengths, weaknesses, and price points. Other reviews will be added in the days ahead.
Your comments, experiences, and questions are welcome below. I reply as soon as I can.