Free Resources for Learning Languages

Rich

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I thought that since many of us frequently travel abroad, it might be nice to have a thread about free language learning resources! My own experiences are somewhat limited, so hopefully others will chime in with more info.

Accessing (normally) Paid Programs/Websites for Free:
Of the paid language learning programs, the most well known (imho) are Rosetta Stone (RS) and Pimsleur. I've used both, and they can roughly be summed up as follows: RS 's strengths are vocabulary and grammar, while Pimsleur excels at teaching actual conversation. Personally, I prefer Pimsleur because I seem to make faster progress with respect to language skills I'd actually use on a trip. Both RS and Pimsleur usually cost several hundred dollars (the actual cost depends on how many "levels" you buy).

Pimsleur:
Surprisingly, almost everyone can use Pimsleur for free! The (not so secret) secret is that public libraries have the Pimsleur CDs in the audiobook section. In fact, I recently checked out German levels 1 to 3 from my local library. A quick scan of other library catalogs in several major US cities showed similar availability of many different languages including Italian, French, Arabic, Korean, Spanish, etc.

Rosetta Stone:
Unfortunately, accessing RS for free is much more difficult. A few libraries have Rosetta Stone software CDs available, but this seems to be very much the exception rather than the rule.
If you happen to be an active duty military member or Department of Defense civilian, you can access RS online for free through the Joint Language University. Be aware that the waiting list for a license slot is usually a few months long. (As an aside, JLU has lots of other good resources such as unrestricted access to Transparent Language.)
Anyone have other ideas for RS access?

Mango Languages:
It seems that many public libraries give their patrons free access to this online language program. I've not used it personally, but I have read a few good reviews. Just google "(your city name) library mango languages."


Always Free Programs/Websites:
I don't have much personal experience with any of these. I have heard lots of good things about Duolingo for reading and writing (but not as much for conversation).

Then there are the Foreign Service Institute Courses. These are courses that were developed by the US government for training diplomats and related personnel, and the courses are now in the public domain. It seems like most of them are not as polished as commercial courses and may require a bit more self-motivation on the part of the learner.
 

Rich

Rent this space
And my apologies if this is not the appropriate forum for the thread. Feel free to move, mods.
 

Matt

Administrator
Staff member
I used Pims and RS for Japanese- biggest difference then was portability- Pims was audio so I could walk around with headphones on my commute- RS pc based so it required a different time.

Both were ok but boring old text books prevailed there.

Watch out for free RS by torrent... They are packed with Trojans (erm so I heard)
 

Matt

Administrator
Staff member
And my apologies if this is not the appropriate forum for the thread. Feel free to move, mods.
We will find a place for it, no worries. Best to start a thread wherever seems 'close' and if we need to we will move it- perhaps travel tools and technology is better...
 

ElainePDX

Level 2 Member
Premium Supporter
I thought that since many of us frequently travel abroad, it might be nice to have a thread about free language learning resources! My own experiences are somewhat limited, so hopefully others will chime in with more info.

Accessing (normally) Paid Programs/Websites for Free:
Of the paid language learning programs, the most well known (imho) are Rosetta Stone (RS) and Pimsleur. I've used both, and they can roughly be summed up as follows: RS 's strengths are vocabulary and grammar, while Pimsleur excels at teaching actual conversation. Personally, I prefer Pimsleur because I seem to make faster progress with respect to language skills I'd actually use on a trip. Both RS and Pimsleur usually cost several hundred dollars (the actual cost depends on how many "levels" you buy).

Pimsleur:
Surprisingly, almost everyone can use Pimsleur for free! The (not so secret) secret is that public libraries have the Pimsleur CDs in the audiobook section. In fact, I recently checked out German levels 1 to 3 from my local library. A quick scan of other library catalogs in several major US cities showed similar availability of many different languages including Italian, French, Arabic, Korean, Spanish, etc.

Rosetta Stone:
Unfortunately, accessing RS for free is much more difficult. A few libraries have Rosetta Stone software CDs available, but this seems to be very much the exception rather than the rule.
If you happen to be an active duty military member or Department of Defense civilian, you can access RS online for free through the Joint Language University. Be aware that the waiting list for a license slot is usually a few months long. (As an aside, JLU has lots of other good resources such as unrestricted access to Transparent Language.)
Anyone have other ideas for RS access?

Mango Languages:
It seems that many public libraries give their patrons free access to this online language program. I've not used it personally, but I have read a few good reviews. Just google "(your city name) library mango languages."


Always Free Programs/Websites:
I don't have much personal experience with any of these. I have heard lots of good things about Duolingo for reading and writing (but not as much for conversation).

Then there are the Foreign Service Institute Courses. These are courses that were developed by the US government for training diplomats and related personnel, and the courses are now in the public domain. It seems like most of them are not as polished as commercial courses and may require a bit more self-motivation on the part of the learner.
Very helpful, thank you!
 

JB5150

Level 2 Member
I have been studying Italian off and on for a while now and started off with Rosetta Stone. While I think it's a great tool for beginners and really drills vocabulary words, I think the best thing for me has been to study with a real live tutor. I have a tutor who is based in England (completely bi-lingual English/Italian) and we get together once a week on Skype. He sends me homework during the week to keep things fresh. This has worked out much better for me than traditional group courses or online programs because it forces me to actually listen and communicate--the two skills you will really need when traveling. Try edufire.com to find tutors like this!
 

smittytabb

Moderator
Staff member
I hesitate to even chime in because there is not one answer to this question. As a linguist by training, and a second language educator by profession I know first hand how many different second language learning products are out there, and how many second language acquisition theories have been posited. There is no "one size fits all" solution. I have taught three different foreign languages in multiple settings (K-12, community college, university, adult education, private tutoring) and also have published a book chapter about open education resources for language learning. This is a very complex topic and new approaches and products appear all the time. I hesitate to recommend one to the exclusion of others because there are so many variables. I have a Twitter account devoted to language which you might consider checking out. I am @polyglotwit. The Twitter list section might be of particular interest but with a caveat that I haven't posted as much recently. This may inspire me to get in a more regular schedule of posting on that account. Or you can check out my language daily http://paper.li/polyglotwit
 
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FarconMurakami

Level 2 Member
Memrise & Anki are two rather popular SRS tools to help with memorization. I think both are free but the Anki iPhone app has a sizable cost. Most of the content on these is user created - so you must either spend the time to build your own lessons or leverage someone else's public list.

I also use iKnow for Japanese vocab drilling. It isn't free but does come with a set of "core" courses and the ability to build your own custom list as well. They also include example sentences so you can hear the word in context - however these do get redundant.
 

marisolp

New Member
I agree re: Duolingo. It's been awhile since I've used my German so it's been great source to brush up. Plus they've been great at updating and adding more features to the app since it launched. Offers a few languages but really allows you to interact and practice speaking, writing, recognition.

Mango Languages has scripted dialogues for scenarios (directions, family, shopping etc) that have been useful to me too. Drawback is you basically just memorize the phrases and repeat after the recording. However a major plus is they offer quite a handful of languages. Great cause you may not necessarily want to master a language but proficient enough to recognize things and get around. Proved a lifesaver for me trying to get a bus ticket in Bosnia
 

MarkD

Level 2 Member
I hesitate to even chime in because there is not one answer to this question. As a linguist by training, and a second language educator by profession I know first hand how many different second language learning products are out there, and how many second language acquisition theories have been posited. There is no "one size fits all" solution. I have taught three different foreign languages in multiple settings (K-12, community college, university, adult education, private tutoring) and also have published a book chapter about open education resources for language learning. This is a very complex topic and new approaches and products appear all the time. I hesitate to recommend one to the exclusion of others because there are so many variables. I have a Twitter account devoted to language which you might consider checking out. I am @polyglotwit. The Twitter list section might be of particular interest but with a caveat that I haven't posted as much recently. This may inspire me to get in a more regular schedule of posting on that account. Or you can check out my language daily http://paper.li/polyglotwit
This is a little off topic. Sorry to post publicly @smittytabb but I couldn't PM you...

My son is starting at UCLA in the fall majoring in Linguistics.:) My wife and I are obviously encouraging him to follow his dream - but for the life of us - we have no idea what kind of job prospects exist for a linguist! I don't think he knows yet what he wants to do since he's just getting started, but I'd be very curious to talk to you more about Linguistics and your field of work.
 

smittytabb

Moderator
Staff member
This is a little off topic. Sorry to post publicly @smittytabb but I couldn't PM you...

My son is starting at UCLA in the fall majoring in Linguistics.:) My wife and I are obviously encouraging him to follow his dream - but for the life of us - we have no idea what kind of job prospects exist for a linguist! I don't think he knows yet what he wants to do since he's just getting started, but I'd be very curious to talk to you more about Linguistics and your field of work.
Congrats to your son! Many linguists are academics, or teach languages. What got him interested in linguistics and what are his interests?
 

Jung Lee

New Member
I use my county library system. They have a fairly good selection of foreign language CD's by Pimsleur. Their teaching method is supposedly very similar to Rosetta Stone. I have tried Korean, Spanish, and Italian. I have been given many compliments on my Spanish, and have also impressed my wife with my Italian skills last summer.
 
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