MOOC Reviews: Online Linguistics Courses (Coursera and VLC Marburg)

In this post I will write some overdue reviews of several online MOOCs on linguistics, the course “Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics” by Prof. Marc van Oostendorp of Leiden University on Coursera and the courses “Linguistics 101: Fundamentals” and “Linguistics 102: Speech Science” by Prof. Jürgen Handke on the Virtual Linguistics Campus of the Universität Marburg.

Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics – Coursera


The course offered exactly what the title promised, an introduction to linguistics. The level was fairly basic, at the high school to early college level, so none of the topics were covered in depth. However, the two video projects that were part of the assignments were fun and instructive, and Prof. van Oostendorp’s enthusiasm was so contagious that I signed up for some more serious linguistics MOOCs (see below).

Course format

The course was delivered in videos which were a mix of lectures by Prof. van Oostendorp, dialogues with his teaching assistants, and interviews with various linguistics experts. There were fairly easy multiple choice quizzes as well as two fun video projects to complete. There were quite active discussions on the Coursera discussion forums. The course runs over 6 weeks, Coursera estimates an average of 4-6 hrs/week, which is about accurate, factoring in the two more involved assignments.

Rating          ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ 

Overall, the course was a bit too elementary for a professional translator with some linguistics knowledge, but I liked the fun assignments and, as already said above, the lecturer’s enthusiasm for the topic is contagious. Thus I would highly recommend this course to beginning translators and beginning college students. Advanced language professionals, even those with no formal linguistics background, might find the content a bit too basic.

Linguistics 101: Fundamentals, Linguistics 102: Speech Science – VLC


The two courses were held concurrently, so I signed up for both. The content of the courses necessarily overlap a bit, since the “Fundamentals” also include some speech science. The content of the course is as advanced as one would expect at a professional/university level. The videos are expertly made, and the tests, which are not always multiple choice, not as easy as most of the MOOC quizzes I have taken. Overall, I learned quite a bit, and can recommend the VLC including the more advanced courses to any language professional without a formal linguistics background.

Course format

The courses are hosted on the Virtual Linguistics Campus of the University of Marburg. Both courses run over 2 months, with a pace of about 2 modules per week, although the pace can be chosen individually, so about 15 modules in total. Every module contains a “worksheet” with a test that needs to be completed before the end of the course. The content is delivered via video lectures, hosted on YouTube, and accompanying PDF slides. I estimate the total volume to about 10 hrs/week for one of the courses, to really absorb the content.

The form of content delivery on the front-end is one of my main points of criticism, because navigating at least 3 pop-up windows to get to the course content was quite cumbersome, compared to the ease of use of the Coursera or edX platforms. Many students had technical difficulties, and I also had to try several browsers and adjust the settings to make the pop-up windows work without a browser crash. Another point of criticism is the fact that the discussion forum was hosted on Facebook, which in my opinion, for content of this nature, is the wrong forum. Facebook also does not allow proper academic discussions that a more “traditional” discussion platform would offer, simply due to the length and linking restrictions on Facebook.

Rating          ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ 

Overall, I would absolutely recommend these courses and the more advanced ones to anybody who wants to learn about linguistics. The content is truly excellent, Prof. Handke’s delivery is truly excellent, and the worksheets really test one’s knowledge, unlike most MOOC quizzes I have taken. The only reason these courses only get a rating of 4 out of 5 is because of the aforementioned unnecessarily complicated interface, including the technical drawback of having to navigate 3 separate pop-ups to finally get to the content.

The above linguistics courses and a few others are now made available for self-paced study on the VLC platform.

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