Duolingo has long been one of my favourite language learning tools. Its clever features gamify the learning process, goading students into returning time and again. Learners are given a fixed number of lives per level; make three mistakes and you’re booted back to the beginning. Your progress is plotted against your daily targets with colour coding making it very clear when you’ve missed. There is a leaderboard so you can play with a group of friends and vie for the top spot, not to mention the fact that finished levels need to be ‘powered up’ regularly or they begin to fade. If you have the slightest streak of competitiveness, this will work like a charm.
Diigo and Translate
Now, find a relevant foreign-language article that sounds like it might be interesting and start reading. When you don’t understand a word or phrase, simply highlight it. You can now press the Translate button to find out what the word means and then use the Diigo Annotate button to add an annotation with the meaning. You can use different colours for different things (I use green for familiar words used in new contexts and yellow for new words). Diigo will save all annotations in your library. In this way, you can annotate an entire article in stages, refer back to it later and learn new words in context – far easier than learning them in isolation!
I searched high and low for a decent flashcard and vocabulary app before finally finding Quizlet. This app lets you build or import your own vocabulary, test your knowledge against flashcards and play various games to refresh your memory. It’s easy to dip in and out of it, meaning you can practise for 60 seconds in the grocery queue or 60 minutes on your morning commute.
Airplane magazines are a surprisingly excellent resource when it comes to learning a new language. Very often, they will juxtapose articles written in two different languages. This means that you can attempt to read the Spanish version and if/when you get stuck, you can simply glance at the English version instead of having to look up words in the dictionary. Of course, wording will differ from language to language but if used discerningly, this can be a very easy way to practise comprehension.
Luckily for me as a Spanish learner, there are tons of excellent Spanish films out there: Pan’s Labyrinth, The Skin I Live In, The Secret In Their Eyes and Julia’s Eyes among them. Watching films in the language you’re learning (with subtitles if preferred) is one of the easiest ways to practise comprehension. If you’re stuck for suggestions, simply have a look at IMDB’s lists of top French, German, Italian films, or do a Google search for ‘IMDb: Highest Rated X-Language Feature Films’ where ‘X’ is replaced by your language of choice.