Learn a language in lockdown and beyond

Speaking a foreign language opens doors, whether it’s to a café in a rural Spanish village or to a role as the go-to liaison at a global megacorporation. There’s no denying that languages make you more employable and demonstrate your capacity for learning and many students who have had more time on their hands thanks to the coronavirus have become enthusiastic linguists. Thankfully, resources for learning from home are abundant.

Below, we give you some suggestions for learning languages, but there are a few things that are key to know about language learning before you jump in:

  • There is no substitute for conversation – the fastest, most effective way to learn a language is to converse with native speakers.
  • Regularity – making language practice a part of your daily routine is essential. This can adapt to your lifestyle, but whether it is five minutes a day or five hours a week, it needs to be a continuous learning process.
  • Find what you enjoy about learning a language – some people will find joy in the minutiae of grammar, others from learning every curse word without context (though don’t use them!). Start with something you enjoy and the rest will follow.
  • Have a reason for learning – if you’re learning for work, try to get the basics and work up to business terminology; if you’re learning for a holiday, start with the phrases you’ll need.

Available apps to download

As with everything from eating to sleeping to managing an international hedge fund, there are apps for language learning. Some of the below require a subscription or have optional paid tiers, which generally range from about £5–£10 per month depending on the course and length of subscription.

Duolingo is a common app for beginners to language learning. It’s free and boasts a large selection of languages. If you tire of Italian and Japanese, you could also try your hand at Klingon or High Valyrian. Progress is charted by a gamified interface of colourful badges.

Memrise is an app that functions as a series of flashcards for repetition and memorisation. It has a good selection of some of the more widely spoken languages and allows you to choose your level before you begin.

Busuu claims to use machine learning AI for its language courses, but by far one of the biggest stand out points for the app is that it offers reviews of your languages skills (written and spoken) from native speakers, sourced from their users.

Rosetta Stone still has a reputation for comprehensive language packages. Subscription plans are available online and, yes, they do also have a mobile app.


Language podcasts can serve as a great companion to language learning. These are usually free, but do be aware that some recommend companion reading material and some come in video format. Good starting points depend on the language, but the ‘Coffee Break’ language series has a good number to choose from, while ‘Slow Chinese’ has proved popular with expats in the country.


The BBC has its own dedicated language-learning resources that can be found online at www.bbc.co.uk/languages.

The Open University

The Open University has its own selection of free courses, which can be found at its Open Learn website.

Online forums

There are websites that offer to connect teachers and students for language exchanges. Sometimes these will be lessons in your chosen language, other times they will be a mutual exchange – requiring you to teach English in return. Mylanguageexchange is one such site, but as always when meeting strangers on the internet, be careful how you go about it and protect your more sensitive banking/personal details as necessary.

Your university

Many universities offer resources for students that wish to learn languages at a basic level, or provide night classes for adult learners. It may be worth reaching out to see if you can access the material even if you have no intention of undertaking a degree course or extra module. With the increase in remote teaching in 2020, it is entirely possible that you could book into a class on a video call from home as well.

Source information

  TARGETjobs is a jobs and advice site for students and graduates.