If your target language is widely spoken, it is likely that you will not have any problems finding learning resources on the Internet. Still, learning this language may often be challenging and even demotivating.
Why? What is missing? How might we be able to fill this gap? To answer these questions, we should first try to understand the broad landscape of resources that are currently available.
Let’s begin by distinguishing these services and materials between two categories: authentic resources and language-based resources.
Materials that have a primary purpose other than helping people learn languages or providing any language assistance.
An English learner may watch Citizen Kane or read The New York Times to build up reading and listening skills. However, neither the film nor the newspaper was produced with the primary purpose of instructing language learners.
The realm of authentic resources for language learners is essentially endless. It ranges from all sorts of user-generated content (posts on a blog, Twitter page, or Facebook profile, comments, …) to corporate generated content (newspapers, media channels, company websites, …).
Materials created with the primary purpose of helping people learn languages or providing any language assistance.
A workbook called “Learn English Now! - Beginner” might include several texts in English, but they would all be tailored to suit the expertise level of the learner. Vocabulary lists, explanations, assessment questions, and discussion prompts might follow these texts.
Language-based resources for language learners are extremely abundant on the Internet. To illustrate that, Table 1 offers a rough division of these resources, services, and products into functional categories.
|Classic dictionaries||Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, Dictionary.com|
|Crowdsourced dictionaries||WordReference, Urban Dictionary|
|Translators||Google Translate, Babylon|
|Forums & Social Media||WordReference, Linguaholic|
|Blogs||FluentU, Espresso English|
|Video Channels||Rachel’s English, English For You|
|Alternative methods||Mimic Method, Fluent in 3 months|
|Synchronous teaching||iTalki, Verbling, Colingo|
|Asynchronous courses||Rosetta-Stone, Duolingo, Livemocha|
|Language Exchange||HelloTalk, My Language Exchange|
|Pronunciation Databases||Forvo, howjsay.com, inogolo|
Table 1 - Language-based services divided into functional categories
Due to many overlaps, such categories may look slightly arbitrary. For example, some blogs may also have YouTube channels, just like some products may offer more than one service.
It is important to state that this list is not exhaustive. Besides the few examples within parenthesis, it is likely that many other products could be added to almost all categories.
… so what?
After analyzing such an overwhelming availability of language-related resources, we should ask: how is all this information being used? When does one begin to actually learn a language?
These questions are usually taken for granted and, as a result, language learners may face challenges and/or dilemmas without any assistance. By informing people why they’re doing a certain thing they will be empowered to make decisions on what and how to use the services.
Choosing among resources
Image 2 illustrates the challenge of choosing one path among a sea of resources. As information gets more prominent and distributed, it becomes harder for individuals to make a informed decision.
Using the chosen resources
Most of the listed services and resources are filled with information on languages, but do not offer clear instructions on how to build up language skills from that information.
Even the majority of language courses do not deliberately explain how to use the content they provide (see: Landscape Audit).
As a consequence, learners become responsible for structuring their own training or practice time, based on the language learning strategies they know and on the beliefs they hold.
This section has indicated that language learners who are relying on online resources need to constantly make decisions on how to structure and spend their practice time to learn languages.
Even though the amount and diversity of language learning resources on the Internet is vast, users are usually left alone to make these important decisions without any formal assistance.
Therefore, this section highlights a need for providing users with information to make informed decisions on how to use the available resources to learn languages in a more efficient way.