How to Improve your Language Skills Using the Internet
The Internet is one of the most expansive, perfect sources for language learners; it can help you get started or improve in any area of language acquisition from listening and speaking to reading and writing. Depending on what part you plan to target, there are plenty of sites and tools to help you achieve your goals and place you where you want to be (whether that may be fluency in Chinese, China itself, or both!)
Watch videos: Video sites (like YouTube) have grown exponentially over the past few years. If you watch videos in your native language, chances are you could do some searching to find videos in your targeted language. Videos can range from interviews from movie stars speaking Spanish, the news from Japan, movie trailers in French, or a daily video blog about a foreign exchange student speaking in Portuguese. This will help you get used to how the language is supposed to sound, as well as help you with acquiring an authentic accent, even if you don’t understand what they’re saying. Bonus points if the video has actions or pictures to match what they’re saying.
Listen to songs: Also somewhat tied to watching videos, many people turn to video sites to listen to music. Music doesn’t only have to be a source of therapy and a good beat, but it can serve learning a language in more ways than one might originally think. Like the previous point, listening to songs can help you with achieving a better accent—but open a new tab and do a search on the lyrics while listening to a good song, and you might find (depending on the song) a treasure trove full of new vocabulary. The best part is, you’re hearing someone use that vocabulary in context, so you know how to use it when you want to whip it out of your pocket (or iPod).
Write to a pen pal: Nearly anyone with a computer and Internet (or Wi-Fi) will be automatically connected to anyone or anywhere they want to be. That being said, a pen pal site is an invaluable source that will never fail to exercise your language muscle. Sites like InterPals Penpals lets you filter age, gender, and country based on what you’re looking for and whom you want to talk to. Some people may or may not respond, but once you’ve found someone to chat with, the possibilities of learning are endless. With exchanging messages back and forth, you could learn slang, a first-person perspective of their culture, make a new friend, and most importantly, practice your targeted language by writing and reading what your pen pal has to say in your targeted language (this includes (hopefully) proper grammar to set an example). The only downside is that this point does come with a cautionary warning—this is the Internet, so safety first.
Online Language Programs: This might be more for someone who is looking to learn a new language, but this can also apply to someone who is looking to brush up on a language. The Internet is filled with sites like Livemocha that let you pick your language, and teach you words and/or phrases. It may not be the most effective method if you’re looking to learn grammar from scratch (as it teaches you phrases and vocabulary), but if you’re looking to learn Portuguese and already know Spanish, this would be a great tool.
Change your Facebook Settings: This may be a little scary at first, but if you have a Facebook and utilize it frequently, chances are you know where and what to click without looking. It’ll help you learn new words here and there if you don’t already know them, and it’ll help you get used to seeing your targeted language on a daily basis. Since you’re likely to already know what’s where, the jump won’t be too deep.
Video Chatting: One of the greatest inventions that have come with the velocity of the growing Internet is video chatting; you can talk to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, regardless of where you sit on the globe’s latitude and longitude grid. Skype, Oovoo, and other video chatting services are mainly free, so if you’re looking most toward improving your listening and speaking skills (mainly human interaction skills), video chatting with a family member, friend, or even a pen pal who speaks your targeted language can help you improve tremendously.