Best way to learn languages in interactive way?
July 10, 2014 8:27 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to learn languages (particularly French and German) through software or online which a) does NOT rely on long lectures, b) teaches sufficient grammar and vocabulary to read moderately complex books, and c) is interactive (if possible with a clear measure of progress) and d) self-paced?
posted by shivohum to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Rosetta Stone seems like it would hit most if not all of those.
posted by curious nu at 8:28 PM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Duolingo is really fun.
posted by erst at 8:30 PM on July 10, 2014 [15 favorites]

Deutsche Welle offers a variety of German learning options, but I found their Deutsch Interaktiv course to be perfect. It will only take you through level B1, so that may not be enough for moderately complex books, but the exercises are well-arranged (and there are progress bars showing how much you have completed in each lesson/module/level, along with tests at the end of each module) and somewhat interactive -- you get automatic feedback on your answers, but you aren't talking to real people.
posted by jeudi at 8:41 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Duolingo is fun and free. It helped me a lot with spanish. But to be honest, the way to learn a new language is to practice, practice, practice. You need to speak with people who already speak it.
posted by empath at 8:57 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm using Memrise and enjoying it, but yeah, you do need someone to practice with otherwise it's kind of like playing chess with the flowerpot.
posted by peterdarbyshire at 9:20 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If according to this "sufficient grammar and vocabulary to read moderately complex books" reading is your primary goal, then kind of bootstrapping your way up to a minimal level of reading requires getting a sufficient vocabulary to begin using graded readers. Quizlet works great for that. Then get into simplified books and just do as much extensive reading as possible. You'll make gains quickly and then be able to build towards more complex texts.
posted by Gotanda at 10:36 PM on July 10, 2014

The Goethe Institut does a distance learning course that it pretty good. Once you get up to B1/2 level you can download German language books to your kindle and use the kindle foreign language dictionaries to help you through - I've found that really helpful for expanding my vocabulary. German language news websites are also good.

(Same applies to French obviously)
posted by tinkletown at 12:48 AM on July 11, 2014

Lifehacker covered some good tools.
posted by pyro979 at 6:55 AM on July 11, 2014

If you want a Rosetta Stone course, don't buy Rosetta Stone -- use Duolingo, which is better and also not ridiculously overpriced.

Rosetta Stone makes claims about how good their software is that really don't stand up to scrutiny, also. So their marketing is another black mark against them, in my view.

(I have used both for French, by the way.)

I would suggest Duolingo for interactive self-practice and as a way to structure your learning. But there is no one magic bullet, so in addition:

You need to supplement with a method to learn vocabulary, because no course teaches you enough vocabulary. Just memorizing the 1000 or so most common French words will put you a long way towards being able to actually use the concepts you're learning.

You need to interact with French speakers in French. Find a French club, a French penpal, a French forum.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:24 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've heard good things about Mango Languages, though it focuses on spoken language rather than written. Interactive, has apps for smart devices, lessons can be downloaded for use away from internet. And if a library near you has a subscription, you can use it free.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:13 AM on July 11, 2014

the fsi courses are good and extensive. (French.) Old fashioned drills. Foreign languages are like music; you want to learn the melodies by listening and repeating.

However one cannot learn a foreign language through interactive tapes or computer games. One can learn one with a private tutor, and French and German tutors are to be found on, amongst other places.

Duolingo is fun, but gives a very false sense of accomplishment. Rosetta Stone is next to worthless, informed sources suggest.

There are French for reading books that can give you a leg up. Like this one.
posted by bertran at 11:14 PM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say duolingo gives a false sense of accomplishment, at all, if you're talking about reading the language at least. It took me from knowing enough spanish to order food and ask for directions that I picked up while in Central America, up to the point where I can read newspaper articles and really simple fiction without having to look up very much. I still can't understand a word people are saying, though.
posted by empath at 3:40 AM on July 12, 2014

I also don't think that Duolingo gives a false sense of accomplishmen as long as you're realistic about what it can do. It's not going to teach you to have a conversation in French or be able to follow a French movie, because you never practice that skill. At the most, you practice comprehending single phrases pronounced by a single (computer) speaker.

I also learned how to read a lot through Duolingo. It worked very well for understanding the basics of how to structure a sentence, so that when I did have a chance to practice with a speaker, I knew where to put all the parts. But, it doesn't teach you nearly enough vocabulary, and you will find that people don't speak in single , carefully constructed phrases that you can replay in turtle (slow) mode.

You really have to get practice with speakers if you want to speak.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:35 PM on July 12, 2014

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