When it comes to learning a language, people always have plenty of suggestions on the best ways to do it. Forums and blogs are full of posts and articles on what people should use to learn another language “the fastest”, “the easiest”, “the cheapest”, “the [fill in your own -est word here]”. I’ve written my own articles on the best ways, and even put out a book on it.
There is a bit of a disagreement, it seems, between all these different advices about whether people can actually learn a language online or from a website. I make the distinction between online and a website because some people practise with others using chat programs that aren’t directly associated with a website, or they might get free ebooks and materials online for use, while using a website usually entails using courses, interactive drills, or writing and recording systems to get feedback from others.
I’ve noticed that often when someone, either on a forum, chat, or in a Facebook group, asks for a good site to use to learn something like Hungarian, there is usually a few people that need to tell everyone that they don’t believe you can learn a language from a website. They give different answers for this belief, like learning a language is personal and nothing to do with a computer, or that none of the websites are “good enough”.
Now that second answer is obviously subjective and vague. Finding a “good” anything is most often an issue of opinion, since not everything works the same for all people when it comes to learning. Indeed, that is usually why someone is asking about a “good” place to begin with; they want people’s suggestions.
But if that these people are saying is true, that it isn’t possible to learn a new language by using a website, then why are there so many language learning websites out there, and with so many different methods and approaches? Livemocha offers courses in several languages and has several million users. Memrise has numerous vocabulary drill units to teach foreign words, as well as many other topics, and it is heavily praised by many language learners. Lang-8 is set up to have people write in their target language and get feedback from other members on how well they did. If you are reading this, I bet you can name at least a dozen websites that you know of with language materials and resources, both static and dynamic.
It’s hard to gauge really if people can learn from a website or not because it isn’t just a question of how many use them, but how many actually have learned from them. As an example, I found a blog post once that did some polls about language learning resources – software, audio courses, websites, etc., both specific and generic. It asked first how many used the stuff and felt they were learning from them. The second poll was how many had actually learned another language using these ways.
The results of the poll were interesting, since it was addressing a before and after situation not just a single question, which can be taken either way. What I remember distinctly (and I really wish I could find this post again) was that while an overwhelming number of people rated the software package Rosetta Stone as good for learning, it was very low for the number of people that had actually learned from it.
So I would like to ask you. Do you think you can learn a language from a website, whether it’s giving you materials, courses, or full interactive systems and forums, or are these essentially useless and the only way to really learn is through books, audio courses, classes, immersion, or some other way?