Learning a second language can have a wealth of benefits. From improved employment opportunities to the simple pleasure of being able to communicate with people from around the globe, speaking another language can broaden your horizons. So when you’re ready to learn a new language, how should you go about it?

Online vs. Offline Language Lessons

For many, finding the opportunity to communicate and practice with native speakers can be an uphill battle. Traditionally, the answer has been classroom-based group programs, typically held face-to-face in an academy or university. Alternatives, such as finding a private tutor or attending an immersion program overseas, can prove costly. And what about finding free language exchange partners nearby? They are likely to be inexperienced at teaching or unreliable in the long run.
Fortunately, the proliferation of internet based technologies has spawned a new generation of online language learning opportunities. As well as numerous websites providing access to high quality interactive materials and audio or video courses (such as Yabla, Duolingo, or BBC Learning English), there are a host of online platforms aiming to match language learners with qualified and enthusiastic native speaking teachers around the world (check out italki, Verbling and Cambly). So, why take your language learning online?

Why Study a Language Online?

  • New technologies: Online language classes are often held using freely available video chat services such as Skype or Google Hangouts or custom platforms. These communicative technologies have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and can be accessed on most computers and mobile devices. The interfaces are intuitive and the connections tend to be stable in countries with developed broadband internet services. Using video chat may make you forget that you’re not in the same room as your teacher!
  • Convenience and flexibility: Do you have a hectic schedule? Are you unable to attend a class at the same time every week? Juggling work with social obligations, kids and family life can be tough and leave limited time to attend rigid in-class language programs. Studying online can allow your to slot in a quick lesson on your smartphone when you have a few minutes to spare.
  • 24-hour services: Are you an early bird or a night owl? Forget about regular school opening hours. When you study online, you will be able to find a teacher somewhere in the world who is prepared to teach to your schedule.
  • Access to native speakers: Want to improve your listening skills and knowledge of colloquial expressions? Speaking to native speaking teachers across the globe allows you to attune your ear to multiple accents and pick up on regional variations.
  • Price: Online lessons can be extremely competitive when compared to local language schools (depending on your location). If you choose a teacher in an area where the cost of living is much lower, you are likely to find a bargain!

Fluency in Online Learning

As an online English teacher, I’ve been asked many times whether students can truly become fluent in the language while studying online, and in my experience, the answer is yes!
I believe the keys to learning a language are motivation, persistence and interaction. Students must work continuously on developing the four skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) as well as their grammatical knowledge. Provided that that the method of online study allows for students to communicate frequently and build language skills in a meaningful way, there is no reason why they cannot become proficient in the desired tongue. The internet provides a host of fascinating authentic materials that can be used to make lessons entertaining and useful for students, keeping them motivated to learn more.

In addition, a world of qualified language teachers can be easily accessed in online marketplaces such as italki. The flexibility and affordability of online teaching leave students with few excuses not to practice their language skills with a native speaker. Having the guidance of an experienced teacher can improve accuracy in language output and help build learner confidence. While some students may miss the face-to-face contact and interaction with other students in the traditional language classroom, for many, the pros of online study far outweigh the cons.

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