Best free software and websites for learning languages?
January 12, 2012 7:48 PM   Subscribe

What are the best free websites and software for adults to use when trying to learn foreign languages?

I am especially intrigued by the free lessons available from German public broadcasting, which are geared toward adults. They are sassy, suspenseful, and have fun story lines, according to a Slate article An Invisible Woman Taught Me German. Is there anything similar for Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, or Esperanto? I would love to brush up on my languages.
posted by mortaddams to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 101 users marked this as a favorite
LiveMocha is very popular and there's Mango as well.

A lot of Japanese self-studiers study their vocabulary and characters using Anki, which is a spaced repetition software (in English, flashcard program). The program's also used to study all kinds of subjects, the least of which is foreign language vocabulary.

While it offers no instruction on the language itself, AJATT describes the creator's method to self-studying Japanese and has been adopted by a lot of self-studiers for both Japanese and other languages.
posted by Senza Volto at 8:01 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, since you mentioned Esperanto, Lernu is full of incredible resources. Lots of courses, very engaging, in a variety of different styles.

For the less ...esoteric languages (but still plenty of less common ones), the DLI has GLOSS - reading and listening exercises for a ton of different languages, organized by subject matter and difficulty. Great for when you've exhausted the beginner's course options and want to improve your vocabulary and reading skills.

And to help with vocabulary retention, I use Anki flashcards - build your own deck of words to practice, or search for a pre-made deck (there are many).
posted by Gordafarin at 8:01 PM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Annenberg Media has several video series

Radio France International has audio programs
posted by XMLicious at 8:17 PM on January 12, 2012

If you're learning any of the five or six languages that it covers, I can't recommend highly enough WordReference as a dictionary. It's more comprehensive than pretty much any English-Foreignese dictionary I've seen online or in print, and it has many more recent coinages, slang words, idioms, and niche technical terms than other sources. It also has a full verb conjugator (at least for French and Spanish-- its other languages, I don't know). Finally, on the (impressively rare) occasion that it doesn't have your word, every search also pulls up any thread on its robust forum asking about the term. Totally indispensable, in my opinion. It's only online but if they offered it as a download I'd pay a pretty penny.
posted by threeants at 8:23 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Completely free, by the way, in case that last sentence threw you off.
posted by threeants at 8:24 PM on January 12, 2012

Destinos, available at the Annenberg site XMLicious linked to, is absolutely great, in a silly telenovela way.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:44 PM on January 12, 2012

Seconding the French in Action and Destinos at the Annenberg site. is the gold standard in online Korean, even if the site is horribly dated.
posted by holterbarbour at 9:50 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I absolutely LOVED working through BBC's Mi Vida Loca (for Spanish). It's an interactive mystery TV series. Funny, immersive, great acting, actually kind of suspenseful towards the end and the 'exercises' are so well integrated with the story that you barely notice you're learning. I think they have something similar (another interactive TV series) for Italian but I haven't tried it yet.
posted by lovedbymarylane at 10:03 PM on January 12, 2012

I like Laura K. Lawless' French Language Lessons on It works best for me in the form of an email delivery weekly and containing various articles. Probably best for reading, culture and grammar.
posted by rongorongo at 11:38 PM on January 12, 2012

Seconding - the explanations really helped me a lot when I was studying French (as an adult, in a class with college students), and the auto-quizzes were an awesome way to make sure I understood things. Really, really a great resource.
posted by amtho at 11:53 PM on January 12, 2012

Just wanted to put in a word for Mnemosyne, another type of spaced repetition software (free and open source) that I find easier to use than Anki.
posted by pete_22 at 3:39 AM on January 13, 2012

I've found Radio Lingua Network has a lot of good free content. I particularly enjoyed Coffee Break French.
posted by curious_yellow at 3:40 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also enjoyed Coffee Break French and Coffee Break Spanish, mentioned above. For Mandarin I love the free Qing Wen podcast from Chinesepod. (The rest of the podcasts are paid, but you can sign up for a free trial, which I did, and I downloaded as many of the Newbie and Beginner lessons as I could.) The Serge Melnyk podcasts are also free, but I've found them hard to follow without the transcripts, which I did end up purchasing.

Aside from LiveMocha I've also had a good experience with Lang-8, which is great for practicing your writing skills.
posted by pimli at 4:12 AM on January 13, 2012

The material that the State Department uses to train Foreign Service Officers. It's all public domain. Pretty damn nifty.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:38 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Check with your local public library - they may have an online subscription to Mango that you can access through their website for free. I've been using it to study German myself, and found it pretty helpful.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 6:07 AM on January 13, 2012

Ditto Mi Vida Loca. It's fun.
posted by juv3nal at 10:42 AM on January 13, 2012

China state television's English-language station CCTV9 has a ton of video lessons to help you learn Mandarin Chinese.
posted by joshwa at 5:44 AM on January 18, 2012

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