Language education on the Internet

The Internet has emerged as a powerful medium to teach and learn foreign languages. Websites that provide language education on the Internet may be broadly classified under 3 categories:

    Language exchange websites
    Language portals
    Virtual online schools
    Support websites

Language exchange websites
Language exchange facilitates language learning by placing users with complementary language skills in contact with each other. For instance, User A is a native Spanish speaker and wants to learn English; User B is a native English speaker and wants to learn Spanish. Language exchange websites essentially treat knowledge of a language as a commodity, and provide a market like environment for the commodity to be exchanged. Users typically contact each other via text chat, voice-over-IP, or email.

Language exchanges have also been viewed as a helpful tool to aid language learning at language schools. Language exchanges tend to benefit oral proficiency, fluency, colloquial vocabulary acquisition, and vernacular usage, rather than formal grammar or writing skills.

Portals that provide language content
There are a number of Internet portals that offer language content, some in interactive form. Content typically includes phrases with translation in multiple languages, text to speech engines (TTS), learning activities such as quizzes or puzzles based on language concepts. While some of this content is free, a large fraction of the content on offer is available for a fee, especially where the content is tailored to the needs of language tests such as TOEFL, for the United States.

In general, language education on the Internet provides a good supplement to real world language schooling. However, the commercial nature of the Internet, including pop-up and occasionally irrelevant text or banner ads might be seen as a distraction from a good learning experience.

Virtual world-based language schools
These are schools operating online in MMOs and virtual worlds. Unlike other language education on the Internet, virtual world schools are usually designed as an alternative to physical schools. In 2005, the virtual world Second Life started to be used for foreign language tuition, sometimes with entire businesses being developed.

Foreign language English has gained an online presence, with several schools operating entirely online. In addition, Spain’s language and cultural institute Instituto Cervantes has an "island" on Second Life. A list of educational projects (including some language schools) in Second Life can be found on the second life Educational wiki, or the SimTeach site.