Students pursuing online bachelor's degrees have many advantages over students of more traditional universities, namely completing coursework at their own pace and the convenience of attending "class" within their own homes.
One area that online programs tend to suffer in, however, is language acquisition. Traditional universities have structured language classes that place a strong emphasis on conversation and the language as it is spoken in general.
Online universities, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of regular face-to-face meetings to solidify a student's pronunciation or other aural and oral skills. Though there is no shortage of online language programs, the focus is almost always on the written language, such that students often have an understanding of how a language is written or read, but has significantly lower spoken competency.
Is it possible to learn to speak a language online, or outside of a classroom? Excluding very costly programs like Rosetta Stone - which fails to completely teach spoken skills as well - students might feel like they will never truly acquire second language skills online.
But the truth is that there are ways to learn a language online, and many of the resources are free!
Language experts universally agree that there is no substitute to having conversation when learning a language. Not only do you learn colloquialisms, you also develop a more natural accent and become more comfortable and fluent in both speaking and listening.
For online students who don't necessarily have access to native speakers of the language they are trying to learn, there are several websites that host communities of language learners helping each other by connecting via online chats to have conversations and develop fluency.
A few language exchange sites are:
These sites strive to connect native speakers of different languages to help them both practice speaking another language, and some of them have live tutoring sessions with teachers (though these are often not free). The internet has taken down traditional barriers between countries and now learners can access entire communities willing to help in their language learning skills.
YouTube has hundreds, perhaps thousands of language tutorial videos uploaded by native speakers and posted for the benefit of anyone seeking to learn a new language. Similarly, you can purchase audio language lessons from iTunes and pick up skills that way.
YouTube and iTunes lessons aren't the ideal way to learn languages as they are one-sided, and lack the organic, natural conversation that you can get from language learning sites, but they are a great way to listen to examples of language and develop your aural skills. Plus - at least in the case of YouTube videos - you can access them for free, and play them on mobile devices, so you can take your learning with you.
OpenCourseWare is MIT's name for free educational materials that anyone can access, students of the university or not. While you won't find much audio or video in materials such as these, you will be able to find coursework assigned by real professors of language classes, often with links to resources that will be of great value. The University of Texas at Austin has a similar program, though their site, Francais interactif, is interactive
Not every city or locale will have a language club, but some cities, especially large metropolitan cities, often have groups for people who want to meet and practice their language skills, such as the Polyglot Café in Houston, Texas. Groups like these will be invaluable to those online students looking for some real interaction with people in an informal setting that allows them to practice their speech in a setting that isn't intimidating.