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Choosing an Online Language Class: Seven Things to Look For

Jun 24, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

Interested in learning a language online?  There are many online learning programs that will teach you any language, from Cantonese to Canadian French.  But no matter what language you want to learn, it’s important to choose the right school.  Not every online language class is created equally.  Here are a few criteria you should use to choose yours.

Interaction with students and peers

Learning a language isn’t something you can do well in a vacuum. Many online language classes include tutors who speak the language, and who moderate discussion boards where students can interact and get helpful tips.  In addition, look for a class that provides contact and feedback from an instructor.  This will definitely make a difference in your learning.

A listening component

It’s impossible to learn a language purely from written text.  You’ll need to hear it spoken so you can pick up the intonation and accent that’s appropriate to speakers of the language.  A good online language class will include a recorded speaking component, available in Mp3, Midi, CD-ROM, or another format you can use.  If you sign up for a language class that includes only a written component, you won’t learn the language.

See Also: Online Spanish Courses

Opportunity to practice

In-class lessons are important, but you’ll need to practice the language outside of class for it to stick.  Is there a message board where you can practice with peers? Will live tutors speak with you on the phone in the language?  Does the school help you connect with students who want to practice speaking the language, either in person or over the phone?  Look for a program that emphasizes live practice—and helps students and tutors connect.

Qualified teachers with real experience

Just who’s teaching the class?  Teachers don’t necessarily have to be native speakers to be able to teach a language, but they should have some experience.  Look for a school that hires teachers with experience teaching the language to others, either in person or online.

A schedule that works for you

There are several different ways you can learn a language online.  Self-paced courses allow you to work at your own pace, without deadlines or required times to log in.  Other courses may be more structured, requiring you to sign on at a specific time to discuss class topics with others, connect with your teacher, or watch a lesson online.   Some courses may not require you to log on at specific times, but they may require you to stick to a schedule when you hand in papers and assignments.  Make sure the schedule you choose fits into your life and gives you the flexibility or structure you need to succeed.

A cost that fits your budget

The more interaction you have with students and peers, the more the class will cost.  Look for a class that provides a decent amount of hours of study time for the money you’re paying.  Some classes are short and sweet, while others may last for a hundred hours or more.  The longer the class is, the more costly it will be as well—but you’ll also get more material for your money.

The right focus for your purpose

There are many different types of foreign language courses—from workplace Italian to Spanish for health care workers.  The class you choose should have a focus that matches your goals, and course materials that match your level of study.  Do some investigation beforehand, especially with general classes that teach “beginning French” or “online intermediate German.”  Make sure generic language classes will teach you the vocabulary you need to use the language for your purposes; if it won’t, choose a class that’s more specific.

Online language classes can enrich your education and help you learn another language—all on your own schedule and in your own home.  Online language courses can make your resume stronger, improve your job skills, and help you better understand foreign cultures and people.  Take your time in choosing a language program.  Make sure it works for you in cost, schedule, and focus; and be sure its course material is thorough and it provides the support you need to learn.  Choose the right language program, and you’ll learn more quickly and more efficiently.

Online Language Courses from Distance-Education.org: English, Spanish, English As A Second Language, Dutch, French, German, Italian 

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