Compulingual: Online Language Programs That Actually Work

By Dee Mason

In the past, DVD programs were the primary foreign language study option for people who were not able to spend the time or funds on a language program at a school or institute. Recently, however, with the popularity of podcasts, the technological advances in handheld devices, and the improvement of graphics and audio interfaces, online foreign language programs have begun to emerge as a more affordable and convenient counterpart to the DVD/Workbook-based home education model of the past. There are multiple online language programs, and more pop up everyday. They are not all created equal, however. There are a few that are well worth examining simply because they teach language with an eye to multiple learning styles. Whether you excel at auditory, visual, or experiential learning, the five online programs below will most likely prove useful.

Before You Know It

Before You Know It, or "BYKI", for short, is an online language program created by Transparent Language. The language program works through the use of flashcards, auditory cues, and spelling exercises. The language models are broken down into manageable 10-20 word units surrounding a particular category, and review of previous vocabulary and phrases is built into the program. There is a comprehensive free trial version available on the BYKI site and the software is offered in 72 languages.

Korean Class 101

Korean Class 101 is an online program developed by Innovative Language primarily for teachers and business people working in South Korea. Comprised of a combination of written exercises, pronunciation drills, flash cards, grammar games, and tests, the lessons offered in the 14 languages of the Class 101 and Pod 101 series, are notable for their brevity. The material is broken down into very manageable units that can be completed and internalized in 10-15 minutes. It is an ideal choice for those people trying to learn a language while traveling, or with severely limited time for study.


Babbel is relatively new to the online language scene, but its combination of reading, writing, speaking, grammar, and sentence structure exercises has resulted in quick popularity. Available in eleven languages, Babbel also has a useful iPhone App and hosts a forum for language exchange. The language exchange feature has proven especially popular, as the site seems to attract young executives who often query each other regarding business language tips in a variety of languages.


Yabla is a New York-based company that created a multi-media interface for viewing videos. Available in 5 languages currently, the "Yabla Player", is a video window that plays content ranging from music videos, to television dramas, to documentaries in a variety of languages. Within the "Yabla Player", is a scrolling subtitle bar with a transcript of the program in its native language, and, if chosen, a transcript of the program in the learner's native language. If a word in the program's native language is heard of which the learner is unfamiliar, they can click on the word in the scrolling bar and a sidebar will appear with the word's pronunciation, definition, conjugations, and common usage. If the dialogue in the program is too fast for the learner, a tab allows the learner to slow the audio down without changing the pitch. Any words that a learner clicks on, are saved to a separate file, and the definitions can be drilled via online flashcard.

Foreign Service Institute

Due to a large-scale effort, the entire Foreign Service Institute Language Program is now available online. This is the language course used by US Diplomats. While some of the vocabulary may be out of date, the lessons themselves are still very useful and quite comprehensive. Digitized by hand via volunteers the website currently offers courses in 57 languages with accompanying audio files.

About the writer

Dee Mason is a freelance travel writer, so naturally linguistics and culture comes with the territory. She currently writes on behalf of a ski site which details the ski deals Sweden has to offer.


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