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How to Learn Albanian — Resources to Get You Speaking Shqip

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It’s home of the double-headed eagle and the legendary Skanderbeg, where iso-polyphonic singing can still be heard if you’re lucky. Albania is a country that isn’t on everyone’s radar, but maybe it should be. It’s a country with friendly people, incredible landscapes, and an impressively distinct language.

About the Albanian Language

There aren’t many languages that occupy their very own branch of the Indo-European language tree. The Encyclopedia Britannica mentions that its origins may be linked to ancient Dacian or Illyrian, though this is a topic that quickly becomes heated in various corners of the internet.

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As it’s spoken today, there are two main dialect groups of Modern Albanian: Tosk and Gheg. They’re roughly separated by the Shumbkin river, with the northern half of the country predominantly speaking Gheg, and the south speaking Tosk. Since the two are largely mutually intelligible, I don’t think beginning learners shouldn’t concern themselves too heavily on which they are learning.

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It might seem intimidating, learning a language in such apparent isolation from other languages, but don’t be afraid. A keen ear will notice plenty of similarities with other languages. For instance, most English speakers could probably infer the meanings of the following ten words:

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Albanian

English

numër

number

tre

three

origjinal

original

objekt

object

familje

family

alkool

alcohol

parti

party

tabelë

table

problem

problem

moment

moment

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Not so bad, right? It might not have as much in common with English as Spanish, French or German, but it uses the Latin alphabet and has some significant similarities.

My Albanian Language Journey

At the time of writing, I’ve been in Albania for just over eight months. I’ve lived in two vastly different cities, eaten my body weight in ajvar, experienced Besa culture up close, and learned a bit of the language.

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I began looking for Albanian language resources before arriving in the country and was quickly confronted with a problem — there’s a serious lack of convenient, reliable options compared to what’s available for learning more popular languages.

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The problems I most frequently came across were resources lacking in detailed instruction and those with unreliable information.

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But fear not, there’s good news. A bit of digging turned up some solid options for various types of practice, and I’ve been able to use them to get comfortable with some of the basics of Albanian.

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Brian in Kruje

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Me, sun in the eyes, posing awkwardly with a newly-purchased qilim near the castle of Krujë.

How to Learn Albanian

I can’t claim that I’ve reached any kind of conversational level with Albanian — despite being a language nerd and having lived here for a significant amount of time, I admittedly never made learning the language a priority. If I had, maybe I would have gotten some lines in this commercial I was in.

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What I have learned is how to direct a taxi, navigate introductions, negotiate prices, and graciously accept homemade raki. I’ve done this largely with the help of a few different resources (which I’ll share) and by asking bilingual Albanians about their mother tongue, which you can do even if you don’t know any Albanians (I’ll share this tip as well!).

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From my point of view, making it a priority is probably the single most important part of language acquisition. If you’ve really set your mind to learning Albanian, there’s nothing that can stop you. And the resources mentioned in this post will certainly help you on your way.

Why Learn Albanian?

If you’ve got motivation squared away and are sure you want to learn the language, why? There are plenty of good reasons: to connect with speakers of Albanian, to learn more about Albanian culture, to work in Albania, to date in Albania, to understand Kosovar hip-hop… the list goes on.

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Whatever your answer to this question, allowing it to guide your study plan is a good move. If you want to work for an Albanian company, for example, industry-specific words will be important. If your goal is to learn enough to make your vacation more enjoyable, you’ll probably want to focus on more basic phrases.

Your Albanian Study Plan

Coming up with the right study plan involves taking into consideration your motivation for learning the language and how you like to study. Some resources simply work better for some than others. Do you like flashy apps with animations and points to score? Or maybe you prefer a straightforward audio course that gets you speaking right away.

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The point is, there are quite a few resources out there for learning Albanian, and the right mix depends on your goals and learning style. Finding resources that engage you and make you feel excited about the progress you’re making is a beautiful thing, and this post should hopefully point you in the right direction.

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Albanian Beach

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Online Language Courses and Apps

There are tons of digital language-learning resources at the tips of any fingers with internet access. This is amazing, but it can also be overwhelming. In this section, I’ll touch on some of the better resources out there, those that I have experience with and some that I don’t.

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While in Albania, I met countless people who were using the 50 Languages app — it seemed to be the most popular option among people traveling within the country. It’s certainly got its merits: it’s free, uses native speaker audio, and offers a lot of practical language bits.

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I started out using the resource but quickly gave it up after finding some of the translations and pronunciation unreliable. I’m also not a fan of resources that only teach set phrases, which is all 50 Languages does.

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Another resource I tried early on was EduAlb. Like 50 Languages, it’s free and uses native speaker audio, but it also uses interactive activities to get you practicing the language.

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I found the material to be more reliable here than with 50 Languages, probably because it was designed specifically for Albanian, and I enjoyed using it. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a stripped-down version of Duolingo, which doesn’t currently have an Albanian course.

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The course does have its limitations though, and I didn’t find it engaging enough to continue using after a couple of weeks.

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My favorite app of a similar nature that I tried out was Ling. It’s a gamified language app with interactive exercises, quality audio, and a pretty solid interface. This app isn’t totally free like 50 Languages or EduAlb, but it is free to try out, and I think it is of significantly higher quality.

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I think it’s worth noting that I wouldn’t be as excited about Ling if I was learning a more popular language, but it stands out in the crowd of similar resources that teach Albanian.

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Church in Theth

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One of the resources I most enjoyed for Albanian was Pimsleur. I’m not usually super keen on resources with an aural/verbal focus, but I got a lot out of the free Pimsleur lesson. Pimsleur has been selling language-learning courses for quite a while, and their courses have the advantages of reliable quality and great structure.

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The platform uses audio lessons that require a high level of involvement — you’ll be speaking all the way through each audio lesson. While it isn’t exactly prescribed in the Pimsleur Method, I found it helpful to take notes on the language items I learned in the free lesson I completed. I would seriously consider purchasing a subscription to Pimsleur in order to further my Albanian skills.

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Another resource I used to improve my Albanian was Anki, a great flashcard app that you can use to memorize just about anything. Anki uses an SRS (spaced repetition system) to provide powerful, customizable flashcard practice. It’s also free everywhere except for the Apple App Store, where it costs $25.

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There are some pre-made decks for learning Albanian, but I had better luck adding my own vocabulary.

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If Anki doesn’t float your boat, Tinycards is an option worth looking at. It’s got a similar feel to Duolingo and has some good pre-made Albanian decks. You’ll only get practice with basic Albanian phrases and words, but it’s a fun and easy starting point.

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Another great resource for memorizing new words is Memrise. There’s no official Memrise course for Albanian, but there are plenty of user-created courses that are available for free. The activities on Memrise are fun to complete, and they use SRS to make your study time efficient. The fact that the materials for Albanian are all user-created, though, means there’s no quality guarantee, and you may or may not find audio to accompany the flashcards.

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If Memrise doesn’t suit your needs for some reason, check out Quizlet. It’s another flashcard app that’s free to use and has a handful of pre-made Albanian decks. Also, Loecsen has 17 different vocab lists with decent audio that you could use to get started, but you won’t get any comprehensive study there.

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Another course I tried out for Albanian is 17 Minute Languages. Unfortunately, I found the practice to be largely uninteresting, severely lacking in explanations, and to have some iffy translations.

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My least favorite resource for learning Albanian is Cudoo. It’s an “eLearning Platform” with courses in tons of less common languages and thousands teaching professional soft skills. The only positive thing I have to say about the resource is that it uses good audio recordings, but there are far better (and cheaper) ways to access good audio.

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Finally, My Languages is sometimes mentioned as a place to get language practice in less common languages like Albanian, but it’s known for being inaccurate. Stay away!

My Top Picks: Pimsleur, Ling, Memrise, Anki

Tutors and Language Exchange

Practicing productive skills is an essential part of language learning. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get quality writing and speaking practice with a digital language learning resource due to the fact that humans are generally required to provide feedback.

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In this section, we’ll look at some apps that connect language learners with each other and with tutors. They’re great for getting the real type of communication practice that will help you ultimately take your language skills into the real world.

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Tandem and HelloTalk are two apps that I’ve used myself and am frequently recommending to others. They both facilitate language exchange between language learners from all over the world and are largely free to use.

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I’ve used Tandem to connect with native speakers of Albanian living in Albania and Kosovo, and they were very keen to help me learn. Fluent speakers of English certainly have an advantage with this app — I had no problem finding tons of potential language partners in every language I checked out on both Tandem and HelloTalk.

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Both apps use built-in language tools to make it easier to communicate, but you’ll have to pay for unlimited translations. You can also make voice and video calls with these apps, which I think is pretty cool.

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Aside from authentic conversation practice and opportunities for feedback on pronunciation, a major benefit of using a language exchange app is the chance to ask random questions you have about the language. I often have questions that I can’t find a satisfactory answer to in an online dictionary or textbook. I find that it happens even more frequently with less common languages like Albanian.

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But what if you just have a quick question and don’t want to go through the trouble of finding a language exchange partner just to ask it? One resource I find myself using for quick answers from native speakers is HiNative. It certainly won’t teach you a language on its own, but it’s a free resource that fits nicely into any language learner’s tool belt.

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Essentially a Q&A app (or website), HiNative connects language learners looking for quick answers to language questions. Hop on and answer questions from other users to earn points, or ask away about the language you’re learning. The community is big enough that I was usually able to receive answers about Albanian in a day or less.

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As with language exchange, language tutors can make amazing resources for getting quality productive practice.

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One of our favorite tutor platforms is italki, and it hosts a handful of Albanian tutors with very reasonable hourly rates. This resource also has some handy community features, including the option to get feedback on your writing from other users for free.

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Learn Albanian is another online tutor directory that is exclusively for learners of Albanian. The platform offers a free trial lesson in which learners can have their level evaluated and come up with a plan of action with a tutor. I haven’t tried this one myself, but it seems like a good source of quality language tutors at reasonable prices.

My Top Picks: Tandem, HiNative, italki

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Albanian City of Himara

YouTube Channels

Visual learners on a budget, these are for you. There are a variety of useful videos on YouTube that teach Albanian in a number different ways and are all free to watch.

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While simply searching “learn Albanian” on YouTube will yield a bunch of usable results, there are a couple of channels that I think stand out in terms of quality and video volume.

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Learn Albanian Online has a bunch of videos covering specific aspects of the language. The channel also includes plenty of recordings of group classes, which I find can be good for motivation. There’s also an official Learn Albanian Online website, which includes links to lessons on italki and has some nifty free materials.

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Another YouTube channel with a lot of useful content is Learn Albanian with Viola. This is a channel I used (though sparingly) before coming to Albania, and one that’s semi-frequently recommended by expats in the country. Viola has a friendly, helpful teaching style and covers some useful information. She also offers lessons on Albanian for Italian speakers.

Podcasts

Another great source of free instructional materials, podcasts are definitely worth considering. They may appeal especially to aural learners, but they’re also one of the more convenient resources one can use.

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The only podcast I found that has a reasonable amount of material is Linguaboost, which offers instruction in a wide variety of languages. Learners have the option to purchase a course on their website which includes 30 audio lessons and 9 review lessons, all with accompanying PDF files, or they can listen to around 30 audio lessons for free on their favorite podcast streaming service.

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SBSAlbanian is a great Albanian-language podcast for anyone looking for some authentic listening practice, though it’s not a viable option for beginners.

Books and Grammar Reference

For learners that prefer a more traditional method, there are plenty of language textbooks you could use to help you in your studies. Many of them follow a well-defined structure and can be used to help you organize your study plan.

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If you’re looking for an especially thorough book to work through, you might consider Anila Mayhew’s Beginner's Albanian. The book isn’t cheap, and absolute beginners might find it daunting, but it’s packed full of valuable material and comes with two audio CDs.

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A more reasonably priced option is Discovering Albanian 1. The book is designed for learners at the beginner to intermediate levels and includes eighteen lessons based on real-life scenarios. You can also follow along with this free Memrise deck.

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For a different spin on a language book, check out Colloquial Albanian. It’s by the same author as Discovering Albanian 1 but was published more recently. All of the book’s audio is available online for free.

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For students of Albanian looking for a free grammar reference book, Standard Albanian is available in PDF form for free online. Another free grammar reference tool is Verbix, a handy online verb conjugator.

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Speaking of free online resources, the Live Lingua Project hosts 12 different free ebooks and accompanying audio from sources like the Peace Corps and the Defense Language Institute.

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In addition to books, a solid English<>Albanian dictionary is a great asset. This online dictionary has a reputation for being reliable, though it may be missing some modern terms.

Authentic Albanian Content

One of the most rewarding aspects of learning a new language, in my opinion, is gaining the ability to interact with media in that language. Whole worlds open up to language learners in the form of music, books, internet sites, news shows, etc.

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Spending time with Albanian content is great for learning the language as well. It’s a great chance to take advantage of the ability to observe how native speakers actually use the language and take notes on words you don’t understand. It’s also a great way to deepen your relationship with the language.

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One of my favorite ways to explore a new language is to see what’s happening online. Checking out an Albanian language Instagram account or the Albania subreddit is a good way to get some casual, entertaining language practice.

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If books are more your speed, perhaps you’d like to try your hand reading one by the famous Ismael Kadare.

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Of course, there’s also radio. Whether you’re curious about Albanian news, want some passive Albanian immersion, or just want to sing your heart out, this Albanian radio app will give you free access to a variety of Albanian radio stations.

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If TV is what you’re after, some Albanian channels are free to stream online.

Mountain Hillside

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There truly is a wealth of options for getting practice with the Albanian language. If you’ve set your mind to learning it, you’ll hopefully be able to use this post to find some great options that fit your learning style and goals.

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Keep in mind, though, that the best study plans are often those that take a varied approach. It’s doubtful that any one of the resources mentioned in this post will take you all the way to Albanian superstar on its own, but with a little persistence and the right mix of tools, the sky’s the limit.

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