Learning the language of your destination 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 advance 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 through 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. Live Lingua Project
Live Lingua is the world’s first provider of immersive online language lessons. Founder Ray Blakney has also compiled a thorough collection of free language learning resources from the US Peace Corps and Defense Language Institute, which he dubbed the Live Lingua Project.
Users can choose from over 130 languages and peruse study guides, audio files, and even complete textbooks — all totally free. If wishing to go deeper, sign up for their lessons with native speakers.
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 on 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 Stitcher.
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. BBC Languages
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.
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 Yucatec Maya language study materials, or this great book called Introduction to Zulu
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.
The information available in this article was updated on January 31st, 2018.