Can You Learn A Language Remotely?

Is it actually possible to learn a language fluently using online tools? We take a look at what the research says. Written in partnership with WeWorkRemotely.

The intersection of education and technology means that people learn differently today than they did a couple of decades ago. For language studies, it means mobile apps, interactive software, online video lessons, and an explosion of choice in how and what to learn. For those who previously couldn't access foreign language training, the future looks bright.

But is achieving fluency actually possible without attending a class or moving to a new country? For remote workers who want to move abroad, can they make themselves more marketable by getting fluent in advance? After all, remote writing and blogging gigs are one of the most sought after opportunities out there.

We looked into the research and found that remote workers can make a great deal of headway in language studies - without ever leaving their phone or laptop. Here are some of the the benefits of learning a language online.

Your classroom doors are always open

Traditionally, language classes were only available to a rather elite crowd: those with time, money, and access to language instructors and classrooms.

That's not the case anymore. As a remote learner, your "classroom" is always open for business, any time and from any place. Whether you're standing in a checkout line or testing your knowledge on a crowded bus, taking micro-lessons is always an option for you.

Whether it's online or in person, some basic rules still apply. When it comes to language learning, one of the most fundamental rules is that "practice makes perfect." With your portable classroom, practice can happen whenever you want it to.

Photo Credit: Daniel Salcius / Unsplash

You remove the cost barrier

Before the internet, cost was a major barrier to language learning. But thanks to the explosion of free games, software, and apps in the space, cost is no longer a barrier to entry.

More people use DuoLingo to learn a language than are currently enrolled in the US public school system, according to Forbes. If that doesn't signal an egalitarian shift, what does?

Your lessons are more interactive than a traditional high school Spanish class

Sure, maybe the language class at your school had a learning lab, or some computer components, or the occasional video. But today's online learning is a full-scale, personalized, multimedia experience.

Play a video game and learn French. Craft a personalized language quiz through artificial intelligence algorithms. Take your favorite films and music videos and turn them into bespoke language lessons with a few clicks of a button. And that's only what's available today; the options for interactive, personalized learning grow every year.

Remote learning doesn't mean you never have a real conversation

The argument for traditional classroom learning over online learning stems from the fact that through conversation-based courses, you get the chance to apply your language skills to real life. It's all well and good to sit behind a computer screen and click on things, but what about when you're trying to negotiate a cab ride from the airport in a foreign country? How much will your computer help you then?

It turns out that there are a plethora of remote learning options that connect you to real people and force you to test your on-the-spot speaking and comprehension in the same way global travel would. Chatbots like Langaroo connect you to real-world tutors across a global network. HelloTalk lets you chat with native speakers across the world. And Fluent City connects you with personalized online tutoring, no matter your level or location.

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When you have fun, you remember it better

The options today, especially for remote learners, are just plain fun. You'll find plenty of support in online communities like WeWorkRemotely, Remotive, and Busuu.

Your learning can be gamified. You'll find no shortage of podcasts or audiobooks that draw you into storytelling and learning as you break down language barriers. Instead of struggling to stay awake in class after a long work day, incorporate some fun and adventure into your learning journey.

You're upping your chance at landing a remote job

More often than not, remote companies are looking to hire those with experience. It can take a while for those who are new to remote work to adjust to its nuances. If you don't have remote work experience, learning new skills - especially new languages - can up your resume game. You're displaying your ability to self-learn, while being remote, at that.

When learning a new language, you're also getting a peek into the culture surrounding that language. Not only are you expanding your horizons on the personal front, you're showcasing your openness and flexibility with various cultures on the career front. This is especially important for remote-first companies with distributed teams from all over the world who deal with the common challenge of communication breakdown. Win-win!

So, what does the research about learning remotely tell us?

In a study of the effectiveness of online learning, Shazi Jabeen and Ajay Thomas concluded that remote learners should aim to optimize their learning through personalized online tutoring programs. These combine the ease of being remote with the rigor of classroom learning.

An MIT study on online learning further concluded that students learn best through "interactive engagement pedagogy," where students interact frequently in small groups to grapple with concepts and questions.

What does that mean for online learners? It means that if given the choice between watching a YouTube video and checking into an online class at a set time, where you get peer-to-peer interaction and personalized teacher engagement, you should definitely choose the latter. Look for opportunities for - as the study calls it - "constructive engagement."

The bottom line: you can learn a language fluently online. But remote learning is a tool, and in order for it to work, you must wield it properly. That said, if you approach it correctly, there's nothing standing in the way of your foreign language fluency, even if you're pursuing it from your laptop.