Having at least a basic proficiency in some foreign languages is essential to traveling well and understanding the places you visit or live in. Though traditionally taught in a classroom setting, the modern traveler has some very interesting new resources for solo study of a foreign language, including two new web sites demonstrating some very innovative teaching methods.
I’ve been working on brushing up on my French and starting to learn German, with an eye towards future travels.
These sites have me hooked:
LiveMocha has grammatically based, tiered lessons in Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, and Spanish. I’m up to “Week 7″ on German 101, after starting 3 days ago. I’m very impressed with the way this site starts you out with a couple words and builds in the grammar. It may seem a little slow, especially since it doesn’t start out with tourist basics. Instead, it begins to build the actual ability to use and speak the language from the very start, much more like a traditional class.
Babbel Is based much more around learning with a flashcard system. They’ve got a lot of words and phrases, all arranged topically. I’m mainly using it to review French and pick up more words, which it is great for. If you only need basic vocabulary and phrases for airport, hotel, taxi, and restaurant, this site may fit your needs better. It’s not likely to teach you much about why certain things work and others don’t, though – LiveMocha will give you a better foundation for becoming conversational… eventually.
Both systems have listening, reading, and using from memory games to help you absorb new material. This is VERY important – language that you use, especially repetitively, is language that you will remember.
Basically, for starting to learn a new language, I’d recommend using LiveMocha. For reviewing one you’ve already studied and speak fairly well, Babbel has a great system. Both of them induce serious obsessive-compulsive behavior in me – some part of my brain thrives on chewing up new words and language ideas. I swear it makes me feel like my brain is wiggling.
LiveMocha also has chat and IM sessions for people to practice the language they’re using, and ways of networking with other people who are studying the same language as you and with native speakers of the other languages. I’ve had a rather long chat in French with a Moroccan and a rather short one with a Chinese guy speaking extremely broken English. Good fun, anyway. And typing, I have the time to think, read what I’ve written, and sort out my French from my Russian!