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Perhaps the most useful skill you can carry is knowledge of the local language.

It can open up a startling range of opportunities, ease the strain of logistics and planning, and allow you to develop a deeper connection with the place and, more importantly, the people you are visiting.

With a little advanced planning, and an introduction to the basics, it can be surprisingly easy to pick up a language on the road.

A good phrasebook, and the dedication to use it, are the first steps to mastering a new tongue. Beyond that, an organized set of study materials can make all the difference between stumbling though a few disjointed commonalities and articulately expressing your ideas and opinions.

While most travelers understand this, who wants to buy and carry around a pile of language books? Fortunately, there are a number of excellent internet sites devoted to language study, most of them providing their services for free.

1. BBC Languages

Who wants to buy and carry around a pile of language books? Fortunately there are many free language sites.

The BBC offers comprehensive online courses in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Greek, with slightly briefer introductions to several other languages.

This incredible, totally free, service is the best option for starting a new language from the beginning as the curricula are well designed, very complete, and easy to follow; all important features of a self-study program.

2. MIT OpenCourseWare

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made a great effort to supply all of its course materials online for the free use of MIT students and the global internet community.

The Languages and Literatures department features courses in languages such as Chinese, Japanese, French, German and Spanish in addition to many interesting literature and culture topics.

While the usefulness of the materials provided varies depending on the course, they all include a detailed study plan to aid the self-learner in structuring a home course.

3. Internet Polyglot

The Internet Polyglot provides study materials for twenty-one languages. The unit-based materials available are ideal for a student already familiar with the basics of the language and interested in practicing specific areas and applications.

4. The Open University LeaningSpace

Similar to the Internet Polyglot, the LearingSpace provides unit-based study materials with a primary emphasis in French and Spanish.

5. Language Learning Podcasts

In the last few years, there has been an explosion of podcasts devoted to learning a language. These resources provide important sound cues and practical pronunciation guides, and are an invaluable tool for a self-study program.

To find podcasts, iTunes users can navigate to the “education” category of the iTunes Music Store. Other listeners can browse popular podcast databases like Odeo or The Podcast Directory.

A highlight of some of the more popular language podcasts includes Learn Greek, The French Podcast, ChinesePod, A Taste of Russian, and the Cherokee Language Podcast.

6. Madinah Arabic Language Course

For those interested in learning Arabic, the Madinah Course is the best online course available for free. Focusing on both spoken and written Arabic, this course takes the student from the first introductions through the advanced beginner level.

7. Livemocha

Livemocha is a social networking community focused on learning foreign languages. It provides free online courses in German, Mandarin Chinese, French, Spanish, and Hindi with plans to expand to other languages in the future.

In addition to the online courses, available from introductory to intermediate levels, Livemocha provides an active community of language learners and native speakers willing to work with you and give help when needed.

This community based approach makes Livemocha one of the most useful tools for the self-study of language.

8. Something Completely Different

Travelers interested in learning a more obscure, or even endangered language, should begin their research at the Ethnologue, an online database of all of the world’s 6,912 known living languages.

For more specific study, check out the Sanskrit Self Study program, an introductory course for learning Tibetan, Yucatec Maya language study materials, the great book Introduction to Zulu, or the Comparative Bantu Languages Dictionary.

Learning a new language requires time and dedication and can be a challenge no matter how good the tools available.

Still, these online resources are accessible anywhere you can find an internet connection and will make all the difference when trying to tame that new tongue, at home or abroad.

What are some your favourite online resources for learning a new language? Please share in the comments!

Language Learning

 

About The Author

David DeFranza

David DeFranza has studied in China, worked in Japan, and wandered all over Asia, Europe, and North America.

  • Julie

    Thanks for these resources!

  • http://www.italki.com Kevin

    Hi David,

    Just wanted to mention another language learning social network — italki.com.
    italki has many a community resources including a social question and answers function, the ability to share free files on language learning, and of course, the ability to find language partners to practice speaking with. Like these other resources, it is free.

    Good luck on learning a language!

  • http://spanishpod.com Steve

    If you are focused on learning Spanish, I can recommend SpanishPod.com. It is run by the same team as ChinesePod.com (which you mention above), and combines social networking and community with a syllabus of podcast lessons.

  • http://www.internetpolyglot.com Internet Polyglot

    Hi David!

    Thanks a lot for good words about Internet Polyglot! We are a young site but we do everything to make language learning experience fun and efficient.

  • http://www.kango.com Kango Suz

    What a timely and wonderful resource list! I’m constantly amazed at BNT’s ability to read my mind of exactly what I need when I need it! Thanks so much for the resources, I will make sure to check them out.

  • Bergie

    Excellent resource for self study of several languages. http://www.babel.com

  • Aubrey

    I’m using LingQ (www.lingq.com) and I’ve been really happy with it. It’s still in development but I’ve found it to be a wonderful resource.

  • David DeFranza

    Thanks for all the good words and additional suggestions. I hope these tools can help everyone develop their language skills.

  • antrozdak

    I’ve been using this site for a long time.
    http://www.ielanguages.com/
    I think this site should be in this list too.

  • http://www.thailandvideos.net Mathias

    Last year I spent 3 months backpacking around Thailand. I learned some Thai trough this website -> http://www.learningthai.com/ It was a big help.

  • http://www.cathlawson.com/blog CatherineL

    Thanks. I really want to learn a new language and this resource will help me find what I’m looking for. I’ve reviewed it on StumbleUpon.

  • http://www.thecompassculture.com Lusine Stepanian

    Wow, these are very useful sites, since I can never learn enough languages.
    I also use http://www.askoxford.com to brush up on a language before traveling. They offer free listening and comprehension activities which include recorded dialogues followed by multiple choice exercises.

  • Bethany

    I love “Before You Know It” – it’s a really fun computerized flashcard system which tests you on pronunciation, spelling, and recall. http://www.byki.com/default.html

  • http://www.moleskinsoft.com David Jacques-Louis

    For sanskrit visit http://nagari.southindia.ru :)

  • Daf

    You can now learn languages in Second Life. For example, Languagelab.com
    Information at: http://www.languagelab.com/index/

  • http://helloindifferentlanguages.tumblr.com janderson013

    Great resources. Thanks for the article. Thanks also for all the additional resources in the comments. Keep them coming.

  • Bastian

    One site that’s been useful for me has been http://www.tolearnenglish.com. It has a very large resource of user-created lessons and quizzes in English, French, Spanish and German. In addition, you can connect with people from all around the world who are looking for penpals who speak their target language, so you can help each other learn by having conversations.

  • http://yellowbridge Elizabeth Chamberlin

    Try http://www.yellowbridge.com- for free or pay $16.00 every 6 months. Great site for Mandarin, most features are free.

  • S Vine

    http://sheilav.edublogs.org/

    Here is a blog with an exercise once a day.

  • http://www.windowseat.travelocity.com Jenn

    When you’re on the road, all you really need to know how to say is “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Thank You.” I’ve managed to master these phrases in several languages, so I’d like to consider myself multilingual. :)

    In all seriousness, great list. I’ve been studying Spanish and there are several resources here that I have not come across. I have found that I’ve gotten a real feel for the language through music. Even though I can’t understand lyrics word for word, it has helped me develop an ear for it.

  • John M. Edwards

    Hey David:

    Thanks for the tips.

    One of my favorite foreign “conversation brusheruppers” is The Berlitz Guide. You can even learn frigging opera with their tasty tomes. It beats what those sparkling-white-teethed women from the Midwest do, raising their voice to an exceedingly loud and astronomically dangerous decibel level:

    “I said, we LIKE your country!”

    We monolinguists are absolutely immune from the finer shades of the carrion-wind-ridden alphabet stew of other people’s foreign-destination vacation lands, with mile-long Condé Nast beaches right outside their cabin door, and little or no computer access.

    Once again, what in the hay is “blue tooth” in computer lingo. To me, it’s the color of my teeth, as I drain bouteilles of plonk and guide my craft through cyberspace, like a Garden Gnome reading “War and Peace” in the language of Per Lagerkvist.

    I would say we all want to learn another language–the language of love! I scan every hostel and cafe notice board for femme fatales and mata haris offering “private language instruction.” Are you game?

    I hope this makes it under the limbo bar of the censors: “curse word”!!!

  • http://www.inspireddiversions.com Michelle

    I have to say that Livemocha is fantastic, particularly because it lets you chat with and be tutored by native speakers of the language you’re learning.

  • http://www.zirana.com Sepehr

    I found a local place that provides free language classes. It’s awsome http://www.zirana.com/saratoga/component/option,com_mtree/task,rate/link_id,696/Itemid,99999999/

  • Christine

    Does anyone know a good site for learning Norwegian?

  • Stuart Goddard
  • Naseer

    Mango Languages have pretty good courses https://www.mangolanguages.com/

  • http://www.deutschhappen.com Kirsten

    Hi everybody,
    first of all, good list, David. Very usefull.
    And I just wanted to tell you about my free online course to learn German.
    The site is http://www.deutschhappen.com There you will find interactive online exercises in different levels. I post around two new exercises each week.

    Hope to see you soon!
    Bye,
    Kirsten

  • http://www.gradesgrowtutors.com Manish from Grades Grow Tutors

    This is a very pretty list. Bookmarked and would include in our coming articles.

  • http://www.byki.com Lorien

    I’d like to point people at http://www.byki.com. The software is a free download, and it’s like flashcards, with audio and self-testing modes. Definitely there is a “premium” version with more bells and whistles, but we offer quite a lot with the free one, and it’s in over 60 different languages.

    We’re also working on new fun ways to make language vocabulary easier to learn and FUN to learn! One of these is the word of the day stuff we’re doing, which you can embed on your iGoogle, and some social sites like Myspace. That can be found here:

    http://www.transparent.com/wotd/index.htm

    Admittedly, while it’s a bit off-topic, I have a personal bias towards the leetspeak word of the day. ;)

    I’m a big believer that learning works best when it’s fun.

  • http://groupwritingprojects.com/ Jacob from Group Writing Projects
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  • Nestor

    For many people who english is their second language, I think this side is awesome http://www.eslpod.com

  • Keith

    If you’re interested a cheap, effective, and awesome way to get some tutor help along the way (as well as full blown tutoring opportunities) check out: http://edufire.com/

  • Ian

    http://www.zhongwen.com/ – for learning Chinese. Great etymological character dictionary, and links to other resources.

  • http://www.leapoutsidethebox.com Dan Caterino

    I didn’t even know these resources were available. We are going to Italy at the end of summer. This will be very helpful for me since I work odd hours. Thanks- Dan Caterino.

  • http://www.williammize.com William Mize

    I’ll throw FSI (Foreign Service Institute) Language programs into the mix.

    http://www.fsi-language-courses.com/

    Might be a lot more in depth than folks want to go, but they are delicious!

  • Mike Schenck

    Great list but its not complete without mentioning my friend Paul’s website Lingro.com

    It takes any webpage and makes all the words click-able. When you click a word the translation pops up. Its totally free and based on open-source, and open-content dictionaries. It also has some games., Check it out!

    Lingro.com

    Full Disclosure, I was Paul’s roommate when he and his partners were building the site, so I am totally biased. But I think it really is a great free tool for learning a language.

  • http://macgecko.blogspot.com/ Greg

    If your looking to learn Russian then you may also want to check out:
    http://listen2russian.com/
    http://masterrussian.com/

  • http://www.neurolanguage.com Rob Mitchell

    Hello All,

    We are about to launch a new product offering with BusinessWeek. We are currently looking for Alpha/Beta testers. This new product will bring something completely fresh and exilerating to the wonderful world of Business English language learning.

    As a sneak peek we are building a global product offering that features content published by BusinessWeek available on a community portal. The portal allows users to browse content and track usage history. An interactive player allows for full-emersion in the BusinessWeek content with interactive voice coaching which analyzes your speech quality with additional comprehension questions.

    Throw in a leader board, loyalty points and full-interactive charts and you’ve got something not seen yet online for English language learnings.

    To participate in the upcoming alpha and beta tests simply send me an email and quote “BW BASL Participant” in the subject line.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Rob Mitchell
    Product Manager
    neuroLanguage Corporation

  • http://www.englishcafe.com Jim Stroud

    EnglishCafe is the premier English learning community for global professionals. Please do check us out? http://www.EnglishCafe.com

  • attila

    hello,
    first of all, i’d like to thank for the post, it is very useful especially for students like me who want to learn a second language and whose native lanuguage is not English. (ı am Turkish).
    but i could not find a site for learning south east european languages, any one knows a good site that teaches south east european languages.
    i also want to add that the site babel.com is a time-waste, nothing more

  • John Jjomes

    Wow, I used Rosetta Stone software to Learn German and it was quite effective.

    JT
    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  • http://www.edufire.com Jon Bischke

    Make sure to check out http://www.edufire.com as well. We recently posted an article very similar to this one:

    http://blog.edufire.com/2008/06/20/traveling-this-summer-12-cool-websites-to-learn-the-language-mostly-for-free/

  • http://www.revoluminary.com Peter

    Another great site for learning a foreign language is Revoluminary.com. They’ve got live online tutoring through a video classroom, and instructors in over 14 languages. It’s really great, like ebay for tutors.

  • ken

    How is it JapanesePod101.com isn’t even mentioned?

    Nothing against Cherokee, but Japanese is probably more popular among language learners today.

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  • http://www.themompreneurnextdoor.com Sandra

    Great list but that was before Edufire.com! It’s a great community and brings language tutors and learners together for customized language learning – and it’s fun!

  • phauna

    Lang-8 let’s you write a diary and be corrected by natives. It’s free.

    http://lang-8.com/?l=en

  • Caden

    YouTube has a lot of good amateur tutorials.

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  • http://Travel-Writers-Exchange.com Rebecca

    This is a great list…I definitely would like to learn French, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages. I would be interested in learning how to speak Cherokee. To learn Spanish, check out http://www.expertvillage.com/video-series/747_spa

  • http://www.pilotman.com Kristian

    I use babelfish transaltor so I do not need to learn any foreign languages.. :) Just kidding.
    My tip is to travel to a country where the language is spoken, go to a pub, order a beer and try to communicate with the locals. Try it, it really works so much better than studiyng the language but of course it requires time and money.

  • http://www.abroadlanguages.com/blog/ Robert Padgett

    Hi, nice list. I have a blog dedicated to learning languages and I developed a list myself without knowing about this post. In my article I mention BBC languages and the podcasts which I think are excelent.
    For vocabulary though I like vocabulix and also there are some other tools that can help you improve your pronounciation in english. I you would like to read my article here is the link: http://bit.ly/136kcw

  • http://dichthuatviet.blogspot.com/2009/05/cong-cu-dich-thuat-truc-tuyen.html dichthuatviet

    Thanks for your article. It’s so helpful.

  • Bella

    i’m a member of Livemocha and the course is great. as well as practising reading/comprehension, you can also chat live with other language learners.

    i’m trying to find a site where i can learn less “well used” languages……Tswana, for example. All the usual sites offer the standard world languages.

  • http://onlinelearningarena.com Kris de Leon

    Great article, and I think I’ll check out one of the sites. Glad I stumbled upon this, since I’m thinking of taking up Spanish and want to find some useful resources online.

  • David

    Good collection. I just did my own list of language-learning-site, check it out if you like:
    http://www.netvibes.com/travellinks#good_to_know

    David

  • http://www.fluentfuture.com Anabelle

    A good resource for learning a foreign language is Fluent Future: http://www.fluentfuture.com/home. It is a language exchange tool, where you can meet native speakers of the language you are seeking to learn or pay for rated teachers with individual lessons.

    You can learn languages of wide use like English, French, Spanish, but also some “exotic” languages like Japanese, Korean, Russion, Hindi or Tamil, because speakers of these languages subscribed on this website.

    Enjoy it!

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/alainaob Alaina

    I wasn’t even aware one could learn a language online for free! Thanks for the post… I’m starting to learn French tomorrow! =)

  • http://easylsp.com Brian

    Awesome, I’m going to make sure all the translators at EasyLSP get this link!

  • Henry V. Janoski

    This is a very helpful site for learning foreign llanguages.

    For those of you who wish to learn the international language Esperanto online, go to http://www.esperanto.org/angle/kiel.html

    Esperanto is so easy to learn that it has “propaedeutic” value in helping one to then go on to learn other languages, After one has acquired proficiency in Esperanto in a very short time, this builds up confidence to go on to learn other languages.

    A document by an English-speaking Swedish medical doctor, which can be found at http://www.2-2.se/en/index.html , gives an excellent presentation in favor of Esperanto as the international world language.

    Esperanto was designed to be a common “second” language and not to replace any existing languages. People should learn as many languages as possible to help them understand other peooples and their cultures. But this is easier if one learns Esperanto first.

  • http://www.russian-plus.com Vyacheslav

    Hi there

    My name is Vyacheslav

    I’m a Russian tutor

    I found this article very interesting and useful for many people who want learn languages!

    I have a website of my own

    Russian-plus.com

    I make Russian lessons and update it often

    Could you consider adding it to this article so more people could learn about it ?
    thank you

    best regards
    Vyacheslav

  • http://www.russian-plus.com Vyacheslav

    Hello
    My name is Vyacheslav
    I’m a Russian tutor
    I have a website of my own
    Russian-plus.com
    I make Russian lessons and update it often

    Could you add it to your russian language links if you like it?
    thank you

  • Mara

    It’s not really free anymore but it is very, very inexpensive considering what similar language learning software charges… Babbel

  • Stanley

    Nice site , i just checked it out, excellent lessons!

  • http://classlang.org Paul (Classical Languages)

    I would also like to add a great site run by a guy who specializes in taking official foreign language exams: http://www.fluentin3months.com/

    He’s good and unconventional in his approach!

  • http://www.learnalanguage.com Jake Beus

    Just want to recommend http://www.learnalanguage.com as another resource in addition to these 8 resources. it’s free as well.

  • http://kidschinesepodcast.com/ Aihua

    Try Kids Chinese Podcast, and learn a foreign language like a kid!
    Join Chinese leaning journey by starting with practical dialogs, and becoming a fluent Chinese speaker and Chinese master!

  • http://www.learnalanguage.com Jake Beus

    There is a new website with free vocabulary lessons called learnalanguage.com. It’s a great supplement to a lot of these websites.

  • http://www.everydaylanguagelearner.com Aaron G Myers

     A few more to add are:
    Lang-8
    Rhinospike
    Busuu
    and my own, The Everyday Language Learner’s Ten Week Journey

    Great beginning list for beginning learners.
    Thanks,
    Aaron

  • Salena

    One that’s worked great for me was Alif Arabic (www.alifarabic.com). It was a lot faster than university classes, since the instruction was 1 on 1 and at my own pace.

  • http://mylingo.org Kelly

    Dont forget about MyLingo.org !!!

  • Mikedavidson

    My favorite language learning resource is http://www.englishleap.com/ . It offers really nice and helpful resources for learning English online. I love this website as it concentrates more on speaking English and offers free English speaking practice.

  • http://www.hutong-school.com/ hutong school

    I have tried livemocha.com and should say that it’s quite good for the beginning, especially it helps to remember lots of vocabulary quickly.

  • Quincy Johnson

    Learning languages for free.

  • Hein Vd Merwe

    Great sites! I’ve been using LiveMocha for more that a year now and I’ve made great progress. I also like the videos on BBC. Want to learn Afrikaans? check out http://www.heinsuniverse.com Mandarin? go to http://www.123speakchinese.com.

  • Raul Bento Queiroga

    Queres aprender uma língua nova mas não tens “tempo”, experimenta estas plataformas online gratuitas :-). Nos comentários do artigo há mais algumas referenciadas.

  • Bekja Shkodrani

    I learned Albania language online via: http://www.learnalbanianlanguage.com.

  • Brandon Hulcher

    Busuu works kind of like Live Mocha. They are starting to make you pay for things now however.

  • http://GreenGlobalTravel.com/ Green Global Travel

    This is an amazing resource! Thank you! I know a number of people who are interested in pursuing another language for travel or work and who have been deterred by the cost of the courses available or time commitments of in-class coursework so will be sure to pass this information on to them!

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