3 Great Free Sites for Homeschool Language Learning
How do you teach foreign languages in a homeschool setting? That’s one of the questions I see pop up in the major homeschool forums quite often. One fantastic thing about living in the digital age is that there are plenty of free tools out there to learn just about any language on earth. Here are three of my favorites:
1. Mango Languages
This one is my new favorite site, so I’m mentioning it first. Many libraries now offer free access to Mango with a library card. My kids and I just started with Mango two weeks ago, learning Korean and Spanish. I like that Mango focuses on grammar, offers a microphone tool to compare your speech to what’s being said, and highlights the words you’re learning in the foreign text so you get to speak, hear, and read the new language all at once.
Each unit in the course (depending on which ones you take) focus on conversations. It starts right out with the full conversation you’ll learn, and then goes through, word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase, until you’re able to speak it all. We had been using a few other sites like Duolingo, Memrise, and Salsa Spanish to learn Spanish, but after only two weeks of Mango lessons, we were finally able to have a short, friendly conversation with one of our Spanish-speaking neighbors. Thanks, Mango!
If you want to find out if your library has Mango, either ask a librarian, or get on the website. Usually, these programs are under a link labelled “databases” or “resources” or “eLibrary.”
Duolingo adds the fun of points and badges to your language learning, tracking how often you log in and what you’ve learned. You can also add friends and compete against them if you’re so inclined. You can learn either through the website or through an app you can install on smartphones or tablets. Duolingo uses your phone’s microphone to test your pronunciation, and also requires written answers to some questions.
The website also offers an Immersion tool that lets you translate websites in real time with other users. You can grade the translations of other users, as well as add your own translations. It’s good practice for reading and writing.
The only drawback I’ve found to Duolingo is that it doesn’t prepare you for conversations. One of my friends did a large amount of German on Duolingo before taking a trip to Germany, and unfortunately, it didn’t prepare him to be able to speak to anyone. Mostly, you learn phrases like “The milk is white” or similar things that aren’t easy to add to a conversation. I also spent several months trying to brush up on the German I’d learned in high school and college, but still couldn’t speak to a local German friend about anything worth talking about.
I will continue to use Duolingo as a vocabulary builder, but not my main language program.
Another great vocabulary builder is Memrise. This is a site built around crowd-sourced mnemonic devices: members add their own tricks to remembering words, sounds, or phrases. This site has you planting a virtual garden of words, which you will water and care for until they are stored in your long-term memory. I like that it reminds you to check in and continue learning.
There are many user-added courses that you can search through to find exactly the set of words you want to learn and remember, or you can build your own set. In fact, this is not just a language learning site. There are courses on math, science, geography, and just about any other subject you can think of.
If you’re learning a language with a different alphabet, this is an excellent site for it. I can read several Chinese characters and most of the Korean alphabet, thanks to courses on Memrise. Of course, this is one you need to use every day for it to be properly effective. They have some great articles on the science behind their method on their About page.
Bonus: Salsa Spanish
This is an adorably weird video series that I mention whenever someone asks about Spanish for little ones. You can watch for free via the Georgia Public Broadcasting website.
Salsa Spanish is kind of like a Sesame Street in Spanish. They use familiar stories like Goldilocks and Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Little Red Riding Hood to teach things like colors, counting, and foods. The entire show is in Spanish, so your kids will start to pick up on words very quickly. This is also great to get them hearing the language if you don’t have anyone nearby to talk with. I feel as though Salsa gave my kids a head start so that when they were old enough for Mango, they were able to get it right away and their pronunciation is good (at least according to my Spanish-speaking neighbors).
Salsa Spanish won’t prepare you to have a conversation with anyone, beyond saying hello and goodbye. However, it’s a good vocabulary builder for words about colors, numbers, sizes, foods, and body parts.
Do you have favorite, free resources for language learning? Please share them in the comments!