Learning Languages Online: The Fun Way

Methods to learn languages efficiently in today's online world by Mustafa Serdar Karakaya.

Learning Languages Online: The Fun Way


Learning a language is certainly a skill on its own. While some people learn them so fast (my high school English teacher knew 17 different languages), some others have trouble learning a single one. I think one of the key points that we all can agree on is the fact that it gets much easier  to learn the language you want when you are surrounded by it, preferably in a country where it is spoken as a mother tongue. That is one of the most important reasons why I preferred to continue my studies in Russia. It is just a thousand times easier to learn the language this way.

The lessons I took “on the street” are often more valuable and way more memorable than just taking Russian classes in the university or in a language course. But what if you cannot do that? What if you cannot travel and study in the particular country you are interested in? Or what if a pandemic that came out of nowhere forces you out of that country so that you are left on your own devices to learn the language? Yes, that was the case with me last semester. But I soldiered on, mostly thanks to my classmates who were even more enthusiastic about learning Russian than myself. The following is a list of tips and tricks that we came up with throughout the last few months. They most certainly made us make some solid progress in learning Russian, which also translated to better grades in the course, and who does not like better grades and a better understanding of a new language?

Use your phone wisely

We all have a phone, but do we really use it in the most pragmatic way possible? Sure, going through friends’ holiday photos in Instagram and reading up on some discussions in Reddit is fun and all, but those small devices offer us a huge number of dedicated apps that make it easy, and often enjoyable to learn, or at least, practice a new language. I am not really a huge “phone person” but there are certain apps that can even attract my attention away from the computer, on which I do most of my work. I have to admit that I could never really get into the “usual suspects” when it comes to learning a new language via apps. These are apps like Duolingo, Busuu, and Memrise. Most of them can be used free of charge in varying capacities, but I feel like you kind of have to pay something to all of them to make them really worth your while. And I just never felt like paying up for an app, because like I mentioned before, I do not enjoy spending too much time staring into my phone’s small screen. However, there is one program that I use which flies under the radar, and it is called “Clozemaster.” I was not forced to pay anything so far, and I did not really feel the need for it. Sure, a Pro account will get you some more options, but the program as it stands free can help you practice quite a lot of languages while focusing on improving your vocabulary mostly. Definitely give it a go if you have not done so, with its retro style, short rounds, and quite helpful mechanisms, I am sure that it will do wonders for your vocabulary whilst making sure that you refresh your knowhow of grammar as well.

And do not forget about the computer

I may not be into phones, but I do love spending a lot of time on my computer. Studying history and literature meant that I would be stuck reading thousands of pages every semester and writing up to a hundred essays, articles etc. I would have to cut down an entire forest to print all those documents, thus I mastered the art of not straining my eyes as I spent hours reading and writing articles on my computer. This also meant that it became a very viable tool to learn some languages with. When it comes to that, I can recommend two great websites. Open Culture and Learn a Language are both excellent sources, featuring free materials on a plethora of different languages. They are filled to the brim with PDFs, textbooks, summaries, grammar break downs, videos, and audio files for all your linguistic needs. Do give them a go, I am sure you will find something useful for the language you want to learn as well.

YouTube is your friend

As someone who is subscribed to over 60 channels in YouTube, I can easily say that there is so much useful stuff in there if you know how to stick to the “good side” of YouTube. Other than following an abundance of travel vloggers and a good number of food enthusiasts, I am subscribed to accounts such as “StarMediaEN” which is a must see if you want to practice your Russian while catching up on some Russian shows, therefore learning something about Russian culture at the same time. It is full of TV series, movies, and documentaries, all in Russian but mostly with English subtitles which is perfect to practice listening, vocabulary, and obviously some everyday speech which is quite common in TV series. I am certain that such channels exist for most languages out there, so just do a little bit of digging in YouTube and start practicing the language you want in an enjoyable way.

VK and WhatsApp are not bad as well

This pandemic was hard on us, especially because it reduced our interaction with others to a bare minimum. A way to mitigate that was to use social media like VK, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and WhatsApp to stay in touch with your friends. Whilst doing so, try to find a language partner for yourself amongst your friend list, or maybe meet someone new over the internet for the purpose of practicing a new language together. What we did with some of my classmates in the last semester was to send each other voice messages in Russian so that we could practice it. It was mostly full of mistakes, at least on my part, but every little bit helped. Our professor asked us to send some summaries of our homework to her over the WhatsApp using voice messages, so that was probably the birthplace of our idea. In any case, voice messages or writing in another language will quickly help you grasp certain aspects of it faster than many other methods. After all, the whole point of learning a language in its home country was to be able to speak it freely, and this is somewhat similar to that experience, at least to a certain degree.

Books are here for you too

If you are a more classical learner, good old books could be the way to go for you. And no, I am not talking about textbooks. Perhaps it is just me, but I cannot really concentrate on learning something out of a textbook, I usually end up getting bored in a short time. What I did with Russian was to download some books that were geared towards kids. I read them on my Kindle, which lets you look up words you do not know by simply pressing on them for a few seconds. The same can be used on any Mac by using the lookup action after installing a Russian dictionary, and probably in any PC after installing some useful programs. Of course, you can practice any language in this way. Just find some books written in those languages, get their dictionary, and use your favourite electronic book reader to explore a new language, whilst reading a new book. If you are a traditionalist, buying some books and using a dictionary in one hand could be a way to go as well.

Use your favourite show to learn new languages

Honestly, this is a rather new “invention” I came up with when I was looking for new and more entertaining ways to learn Russian. What I do is that I re-watch some TV series I love (such as Community) but I watch them in Russian with English subtitles. A lot of services such as Netflix offers a lot of audio and subtitle options for you to pick from, so go ahead and experiment with those options. You may end up finding some of your favourite shows in the language you want to learn. Since you will already be familiar with the core subject, and most of the events, it will be easier to understand what is going on even without taking a peek into the subtitles. You will soon find out that you can pick up quite a lot of words in this way. Also, if you cannot find audio or subtitles in your desired language in Netflix, try using a VPN to change your location on the world. I found a lot of Russian shows, and more shows dubbed in Russian using this method by “travelling” to Eastern European servers.

Collaborate with friends on vocabulary lists

This is an idea that was given to me by a good friend of mine, Ivan. He is learning Turkish now, and I am trying to learn Russian. He suggested that we should create a list of words for one another every day. These lists would include random words that we chose, with their translations in English. So, at the end of the day, we had a list of 10-20 words in three different languages: English, Russian, and Turkish. This is an excellent practice if you want to bolster your vocabulary know-how. I hope to be more active in this “trade” of ours with Ivan, so that we can learn more and more words every day. Not only is it enjoyable to work with someone else, but also this added human factor pushes you to study harder and think about the language you want to learn every day, so I most certainly recommend this method to everyone who is serious about learning a new language.

Which methods do you use to learn a new language? These were mine, and I hope that they could be of some use to everyone who is interested in linguistics, or just want to learn some basics before travelling to a new country for leisure.

Text by
Mustafa Serdar Karakaya