Whare are the very best online resources for learning foreign languages?
May 10, 2010 10:08 AM   Subscribe

What are the very best free Web-based resources for learning foreign languages? Details inside.

I'm looking for exemplary, free, Web-based sites/tutorials/courses, etc. for learning foreign languages (specific languages, not "this is how you go about learning a foreign language" resources).

Sites which provide materials that cater to a variety of learning styles (e.g. by providing an audio or video component) would be welcome.

I enjoy a challenge, so feel free to suggest exemplary resources for learning "difficult" languages like Chinese.

I'm not picky, so any natural language* from Apache to Zulu is fair game. Dead languages are fine, too.

I've looked at dozens of Web pages/sites which are essentially word lists, phrase books, or "learn X in 10 easy lessons" sites, and that's definitely not what I'm interested in. I'm looking for resources which are thorough and pedagogically sound.

Details about me that may be helpful: I studied several languages in college (Spanish, French, Greek, and Chinese), and I've done some casual studying on my own with various Pimsleur, Teach Yourself, and Rosetta Stone products. Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone both produce fine (and expensive) products, but I'm looking for something accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, free, and which is perhaps a bit more rounded (Pimsleur is good for listening comprehension, but weak on writing and formal grammar, for example).

*no constructed languages like Esperanto or Volapuk, please.
posted by jingzuo to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Live Mocha is good. It also provides a social networking aspect where native speakers of the language you're studying can critique your writing and speaking skills.
posted by caveat at 10:13 AM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: The Foreign Service Institute Language Courses was recently featured on Lifehacker. The courses were developed by the US Government.
posted by speeb at 10:52 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

The US Foreign Service has put its language teaching programs online for free.
posted by mareli at 10:52 AM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: To be honest as someone who has studied languages for most of their academic career I've only really found the internet useful as a reference tool when learning.
Those that claim to offer a system seems to offer a whole system is usually really half-baked or wants money or both. The only thing I've seen that I thought might be workable was All Japanese All the Time which also has a fair amount of critics.

However when I was first starting to study Korean and Japanese I found that watching a lot of content (in this case it was movies and TV dramas) really helped me develop good pronunciation and grammar sense as I became more proficient in the language via traditional means. A good place to start for these is mysoju.com that covers Japanese, Korean, and Chinese language dramas. It doesn't feel like studying and I really think it helped.

Reference tools I have found to be particularly exemplary:
(Korean) The Naver dictionary - Has a huge variety of example sentences and knows whole phrases which is extremely useful when translating

(Japanese) rikai kun (chrome), chan (firefox) - a plugin that gives mouseover English translation for Japanese

Also, although this may be outside the scope of what you want, I've found that the best way to meet native speakers of the language you're attempting to learn and practice once your have gained some proficiency is through meetup.com. However for less common languages there may not be groups.

I'm curious to see what others come up with. Good luck learning!
posted by kinakomochi at 11:19 AM on May 10, 2010

Response by poster: The social aspects of Live Mocha look great.

I've seen the FSI materials before, but they've added (at least at speeb's link) a lot of material since the last time I was there.

The mouseover translation plugins look very helpful. And thank you for the advice.

Keep 'em coming, folks!
posted by jingzuo at 12:12 PM on May 10, 2010

Have you checked whether your local public library offers anything like this? New York Public, for example, has a wide variety of downloadable e-books and audiobooks (choose "Browse by Subject" from the sidebar, then "Foreign Language Study") that seem like they would be of interest.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:57 PM on May 10, 2010

Word2Word - do not be put off by the minimalist design - there are a lot of excellent resources there. For example, here is the link to free Spanish courses.

Study Spanish
posted by mlis at 9:19 PM on May 10, 2010

Not to recommend a particular resource, but I'll say that the forums at How To Learn Any Language seem to be a mecca for hardcore polyglots - lots of people talking shop and sharing tricks.

If you're not familiar with spaced repetition software, I'd recommend checking out supermemo. Older versions of the program can be downloaded for free.
posted by mammary16 at 2:56 AM on May 11, 2010

I use JapanesePod101.com, which is one of the best online resources for a novice learning Japanese that I've ever seen. The format is 10-20 minutes Pimsleur-esque audio lessons, produced 5 days per week. $60 gets you a year of access, plus access to all back issues.
posted by Vorteks at 9:33 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, I would have recommended AJATT as kinakomochi did, although it probably falls more into the "this is how you go about learning a foreign language" category which you said you don't want (although the site that AJATT sort of was derived from, antimoon, has a lot of great ideas worth investigating too).

Anyways, this was the closest thing for Japanese I could think of related to your question, but it's just text (but supplemented with a lot of listening/watching material as kinakomochi suggests could round this out...plus SRSing...a.k.a. follow AJATT/antimoon...): "Japanese Language Reading Tutorial System."
posted by dubitable at 9:34 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: For Chinese, you can check out the free videos at the University of Michigan Confucius Institute site here:

Click on the links, and you should be able to watch the whole series (eg: Approaching Chinese.

I haven't actually watched all these videos, but they seem like a good idea for independent learning.

For reference materials, there are the following dictionaries:
Lin Yu Tang's dictionary (Traditional characters only)
Iciba (爱词霸) takes terms as they're translated "in the wild" so to speak - so you get a lot more contemporary terms this way

I also spend most of my working day listening to Taiwanese radio - I like Kiss FM, which has a lot of pop hits from around Asia, but are mostly in Mandarin.

I'm at work, so I can't type more, but feel free to memail me with specific questions and I can probably point you to some more resources!
posted by Curiosity Delay at 8:30 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: I am personally not aware of good free complete resources on languages, but I find one site smart.fm quite useful when it comes to learning.

It is basically web based version of mentioned earlier superMemo with added social aspect. The website is Japanese so there is plenty of resources for learning Japanese, also some good resources on Chinese. It is worth checking especially the content that is created by smart.fm itself as some of the courses created by the users are not of the best quality. I went through SAT Beginner to work on my English vocabulary and found it pretty useful.

About other on-line resources that I used: when learning Spanish I would listen to podcasts from NotesInSpanish website. You can download all the podcasts for free (extra materials and transcripts are paid).

Also BBC Languages is worth checking. I did not have a chance to use it myself but BBC is well known for a quality content.
posted by rundom at 8:52 AM on May 12, 2010

Seconding library.

The Seattle Public Library offers Mango Languages online for free to patrons. They have Arabic (Levantine), Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Pashto, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Spanish (Latin America), Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese.
posted by puddleglum at 5:53 PM on May 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for the wonderful suggestions. I'm looking forward to delving into some of these resources in depth.

I'm familiar with Mango Languages and some other products which are often offered through libraries. Unfortunately, the public library system in my area is quite small, and doesn't have any of them.
posted by jingzuo at 11:03 AM on May 13, 2010

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