Category Archives: Language Learning

Advice and resources on language learning.


How to learn English on the Internet

BulldogThis is a quick post for all the people on my Facebook fanpage who request that I help them learn English.

Most regular visitors of this blog know how to make the distinction between coverage and analysis of all the exciting things that happen in online education, writing my articles in English and actually teaching English online. That said, I have had the chance to talk with quite a few companies that aim to help learners improve on their English.

So, for everybody who keeps asking, here are some companies I think are interesting to you. Of course this does not represent all of the great startups out there but it’s a start. All of them offer at least part of their content for free, but keep in mind that education in general and learning languages in particular is an investment in your own future and career.

However, free only gets you so far. I’d therefore recommend to also have a look at paid solutions of you’re serious about studying online.

Mobile applications

Mobile learning can be a great way to “stuff” some learning time into your busy schedule, may it be on the way to work or during lunch break.


The startup allows you to study and share online flashcards, study guides and quizzes. With more than 2,000,000 flashcards added every week, the community is pretty active and you’ll not come to a dead end any time soon. You can study on the web or also download StudyBlue’s mobile app.

I made a quick search for “English” and the system came up with 15.9K cards. This search is, of course, very broad and ranges from American history, the Bill of Rights to studying English. If you search for “English language” you’ll still get 990 cards – all for free. I think, that’s a great basis and you might even want to contribute yourself and start by creating your own flashcards.



With Voxy you’ll have the best experience if you’re mother tongue is either Spanish or Portuguese and you want to learn English. The startup offers an interesting mobile approach to language learning and focuses on the personal or individualized experience which essentially means that you only get learning materials that fit your interests.

Voxy uses real content, no textbooks and have recently integrated Skype tutoring and learning English through music.


Live lessons with teachers & tutors

Next on my list are some fellow Edupreneurs who offer their programs online using various outlets such as teaching platforms, Facebook or YouTube. I picked these two because the think outside the box which I like (needless to say..).

My ESL Friends

Created by George Machlan, My ESL Friends gets you in touch with some non traditional approaches to teaching English, off the beaten track. To get an idea, visit their Facebook fanpage at

Besides, George also uses a virtual classroom to offer his Edupunk lessons. You can find the schedule for his different live online classes on his blog.


Fluency MC / Collolearn

I let Fluency MC aka Jason Levine speak for himself: it’s all the 3Rs – relax, repeat, remember. If you’re looking once again for an innovative and fun approach to learn English for free, you should join his popular Facebook fanpage at and subscribe to his YouTube channel collolearn that’s he’s been growing over the past two years.


Language Learning Communities

Back to something more traditional. The following companies have been around for the past five or six years which makes them to established players in the world of online learning. As they’re still around today somewhat proves that there must be something to the way they let you learn languages on the net.


busuu is an online learning community on the internet which lets you learn English and other languages for free. You might even find a partner for language exchange in the community.

If you’re looking for something mobile or professional with a curriculum busuu offers various paid solutions that have found quite some success in the internet community.



To my knowledge one of the oldest language learning communities on the internet, at least the one I discovered early on. Since the days I tried it out in 2007 and 2008 a lot has changed, in the company’s structure, design-wise and about their offer.

I reckon, Livemocha offers the biggest variety of languages among the language learning communities that you can start learning for free. English is naturally the most popular by far. Similar to busuu Livemocha offers paid solution, e.g. if you want personal tutoring that comes with a pricetag.



Unlike the two big language learning communities mentioned above, Palabea adjusted their offer and differentiates from the others by focusing on topics that you love and cultural discovery. If you search for “English” you’ll find lots of users that also want to practise and offer their native language in exchange.

I guess, if you’re not necessarily looking for a professional tutor but have achieved some level already, this might be a good way to practise your English.



Voxopop was designed by my friend Dean Worth and is a voice-based e-learning tools that lets you explore or create talkgroups.

The talkgroups aim to improve students’ speaking skills. Teacher and students record quick voice messages to communicate or discuss a certain topic. Voxopop is used by people from around the world and entirely free to use.



As the name suggests, edutainment is a mix between education and entertainment. It’s getting more and more popular as you learn while you also have fun by watching movies, playing games and so on.

English Attack!

English Attack’s approach to help you learn English is entertainment based. You’ll learn through watching video, listening to music, play games and find new friends in the community. For instance, each day the startup releases a new video booster, free Photo Vocab or lets you play a free practice game.

There is lots available for free. However, if you want to have access to the entity of English Attack’s offer, you can activate your so called Booster Pass, their paid offer.


I hope, this gives you a number of tools at hand to learn or improve your English by studying online.
Depending on your preferences and personal taste you might prefer one method over another; I recommend you try my different suggestions out, explore further and get more recommendations from the people you will meet on the different services.

And that’s a wrap!

Picture via Wikimedia

Brainscape iPhone app teaches you Spanish using “Smart Flashcards” and Brain Science

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Andrew Cohen, founder and CEO of the smart flashcard platform Brainscape.

Last month, I was honored to be interviewed on Kirsten Winkler’s blog as part of her series about web and mobile “flashcard” applications. As the founder of Brainscape – a new type of flashcard engine – I naturally spoke of flashcards’ tremendous usefulness as a complement to a more interactive curriculum, including vocabulary, supplementary facts, etc.

Today, however, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight how Brainscape has used the latest in cognitive science techniques to actually teach a language from scratch. Our new app Brainscape Spanish applies a revolutionary new type of language-acquisition approach that we call Intelligent Cumulative Exposure (ICE).

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busuu in Numbers: 3 Years 2.5 Million & 7 Days

The language learning community busuu turned three today. Time really flies, so happy birthday to Bernhard, Adrian and the team at busuu!

As a side note to the event busuu shared that over 2.5 million people now have signed up to learn a language with the service. All in all, busuu seems to be on a role at the moment, getting some nice coverage in the press, for example yesterday on the Washington Post blog.

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EDUKWEST Ep. 60 with Koichi Ko of TextFugu

There is always a multitude of reasons why I enjoy talking with him [Koichi], not only that he appeared in one of the very first episodes (EDUKWEST #4) and gave me some credit sort of ex ante the interview concept had proven itself to be more than just a flash in the pan but also as our online careers (if you want to call it like that) began approximately the same time and if you have a closer look and compare you’ll find quite some parallels.


Besides knowing that he wants to disrupt (no, I don’t think that the term is overused when talking about some people at least) the Japanese textbook industry, I was also keen on hearing his reasons to quit live teaching. I’ve my own reasons for that but seeing him doing the same at again almost the same point was quite interesting.

Read more and watch the Interview on EDUKWEST →

Babbel and busuu expand their Offers, Livemocha nears 10 million Members

As there have been a couple of smaller updates and news around the three language learning communities recently, I thought I might as well combine them in one blog post to give you a quick overview on the current state of affairs.

So, here we go.
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The three Keys to successful Language Education

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Steve Kaufmann, a former Canadian diplomat, as well as founder and president of KP Wood Ltd, a company involved in the international trade of forest products. Steve is also the founder and CEO of an online language learning system. Steve speaks eleven languages, having recently learned Russian at LingQ. Steve maintains a blog on language learning, and wrote a book on language learning called The Linguist, personal guide to language learning.

Recently this blog published an article entitled :”How Online Language-Teaching Start-ups Lack Educational Expertise, and Why Language Learners and Teachers Should Worry”

Here is my response:

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52% of Online Language Learners Consider Classic Offline Learning as More Efficient

First of all I would like to thank Bernhard Niesner and Adrian Hilti of busuu as well as the team at IE Business School who took the time and made the effort to set up a survey and then shared its results with the public.

Data is still a scarce resource in education 2.0 and getting some from one of the most successful startups is really valuable. So, let’s take a closer look on the outcome.

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Is YongoPal the first Post-PC Language Learning Startup?

Yesterday YongoPal introduced a new landing page with a giant iPhone, showing some kind of a message stream similar to Twitter direct messages on the screen. The header reads

Penpals? Lame. YongoPals? Sweet.

If I count correctly this is the third iteration of the YongoPal platform in less than twelve months.

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What would the ideal Application for Learners and Teachers look like?

Prior to my presentation at the Virtual Round Table Conference I announced that I was planning a Q&A session afterwards. As I am a talkative person (you did not notice that?) I decided to answer questions from the audience already during the presentation which led to a near precision landing after 60 minutes.

Nevertheless, I would like to dedicate this blog post to a question asked by Arkady Zilberman, founder of Language Bridge, which he send me via email prior to the conference and asked, if I could elaborate on that. So, here we go.

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How Online Language-Teaching Start-ups Lack Educational Expertise, and Why Language Learners and Teachers Should Worry

Several Internet start-ups are claiming that they can teach people to speak one or more foreign languages, without those people ever entering a classroom. By paying the start-up’s requested fee, students can supposedly access a high-tech body of material that will teach them everything about their new languages they need to know. As a bonus, students can chat on line with other members of the site who are native speakers of the languages they are learning. People can therefore practice a new language from their living room, the airport, a café, or anywhere else they can find an Internet connection. The classroom and language lab, these start-ups argue, are becoming obsolete.

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What happens in your Brain when learning with Flashcards

I am currently collecting a couple of interviews with startups in the flashcard learning sector to answer the question, or at least trying to answer, if flashcards are just a feature or if you can actually build an entire company around it.

This is an excerpt of my KWestions interview with Greg Detre, co-founder and CEO of Memrise which are taking scientific approach to the subject.

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MindSnacks raised $1.2 Million for Mobile Language Learning Apps

Great news reached me today as MindSnacks, one of my favorite startups in education 2.0, announced its $1.2 million funding round.

Not surprisingly, one of the investors is Dave McClure’s 500 Startups fund which already put money in education startups like Udemy, YongoPal and InternMatch. He is building up a nice portfolio of education 2.0 startups.

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How to learn French or other Languages in 2011

Some days ago my friend Vikrama Dhiman asked me via Twitter

I want to learn French. How many classes do you think one can pick it up in – writing plus speaking. Business Level.

The answer is, of course, more complex than 140 characters, so I gave it a thought as I actually get this question or variations of it at least once a week. Well, what I came up with is the Kirsten Winkler guide to learning a new language from scratch in 2011.

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Busuu Partners with The Guardian and MacMillan

Competition is good, especially for the customers. Today, Busuu, now 1.5 million users strong, announced a new partnership with The Guardian and MacMillan, two well established brands and as British as five o’clock tea and scones (in the Savoy, of course).

To quote from another recent press release in that space, the partnership “catapults” Busuu in the intermediate level and above learning sector.

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Livemocha and goFLUENT announce Partnership for Corporate English

Another year, another partnership for Livemocha. The world’s leading language learning community, now over 8 million users, teams up with Europe’s leading provider of distance business English training goFLUENT.

So, finally we will see the integration of live lessons into a language learning community.

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Word Lens – On-the-fly Video Translations Unplugged

Word Lens is one of those products that leave me speechless for a while. Apparently I was not the only one as the short video demonstration of the application instantly became viral on YouTube, something I never saw before. Up to today more than 3.250.000 people watched the video.

The application instantly translates texts from Spanish into English or vice versa, using the camera function of the iPhone 4. Just watch the video below, it speaks for itself.

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My Pursuit of an Efficient and Effective Method of Learning a Foreign Language – Part 3

For those who did not have the chance to read Part Two here are the main points:

  • LBT contains two major components: new methodology (no grammar, no memorization and no translation) and self-study software.
  • Blended learning: a combination of self-study software and public online or offline classes will become the major mode of operation in the next decade.
  • 3-action activity – reading, listening and speaking simultaneously with the speaker – eliminates cross-translation and solves the main problem in learning a foreign language.
  • Learning with phrases is 4-5 times faster than studying individual words.
  • The inner ear grammar acquired on a subconscious level is more efficient than grammar consciously learned as a set of grammar rules.

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nabbber – Let’s learn foreign languages together

nabbber is probably best described as

the Twitter for language learners.

Like on Twitter you follow other people you are interested in and you share short messages. Whereas on Twitter those messages can be about everything, nabbber is build for the exchange of vocabulary.

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My Pursuit of an Efficient and Effective Method of Learning a Foreign Language. Part Two

For those who did not have the chance to read Part One here are the main points:

  • When adults learn a foreign language and speak it fluently, they form a new language speech center in the brain that is separated from the native language center.
  • We don’t think in our native language; we think in a code language of symbols, images and associations.
  • The majority of adults (approx. 95%) loses their linguistic talent after the age of 18 and thinks the loss is irreversible.
  • A small proportion of adults (less than 5%) somehow preserve the child’s ability to learn a new language without reverting to cross-translation to the mother tongue.
  • When adults learn a new word in a foreign language, they subconsciously associate it with a similar word in their native language and not with the image or situation. This subconscious activity is called cross-translation.
  • A method that does not explicitly address the problem of cross-translation cannot succeed.
  • The advice “learn like a child” is wishful thinking: adults need to employ particular tools or techniques to switch their brains to learn like a child.

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My Pursuit of an Efficient and Effective Method of Learning a Foreign Language

Although my background is in science and I have 11 patents to my name, my real passion has always been foreign languages. I had two jobs in Russia: I worked as a Head of a Research Laboratory developing new materials for the automobile industry and I worked as a simultaneous interpreter on international seminars and congresses held in the former Soviet Union.

The work as simultaneous interpreter was demanding but exciting: the golden rule was that you were not allowed to remain silent while the presenter was speaking. That proved rather tricky when the communication system failed and you could not hear what he was saying!!!

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