You can find many good resources online that won’t cost you anything to help you learn anything from a few words to passable conversational skills in a foreign language. By putting some time aside on a long flight, during layovers, and in the hotel you can educate yourself on useful skills like ordering a meal.
Best of all none of these online websites, courses, and translators cost you anything and some even offer the benefit of chatting with other students trying to learn the same language as yourself.
One of the most comprehensive free language resources on the Internet, Live Mocha offers lessons in over 29 languages. Liva Mocha offers about 160 hours of language immersion lessons (similar to Rosetta Stone) and isn’t only for English speakers. You can set your home language to any of the 29 offered. In addition to language courses, Live Mocha has an active community of language students and teachers as well as recordings of live conversation.
Live Mocha‘s basic services are free with registration (approximately the first 40 hours of instruction). The premium service runs $12.95 per month and adds the benefit of personal tutors and traditional grammar and phrase books.
A full listing of different free language resources including blogs, name pronunciation lessons, and slang dictionaries. Word2Word itself doesn’t have any language courses or translation services, it just directs you to sites that do. Word2Word is a simple and effective interface, although now a pretty one. You’ll have to fish around a bit to find a good resource for the particular language you are looking for but there are plenty of good options.
Word2Word is absolutely free as are almost all of the sites it guides you to and doesn’t require any registration.
This simple translator holds over 26 million words and pulls data from over 2,000 online dictionaries making it an excellent place to translate less common words. For most languages LangtoLang also translates conjugated verbs and provides a visual keyboard to type in non-Latin characters.
One of the best features of LangtoLang is the auto-complete which makes it easier to write or find words if your international spelling isn’t so great. Bloggers and website owners can also integrate the LangtoLang search engine into most sites.
Open Culture Free Language Lessons
The website written by Dan Colman is an excellent resource for free cultural and educational media online which includes this list of free language audio lessons. Colman has links to the iTunes audio files as well as the corresponding websites for 37 languages. A useful set of files you can load on your iPod touch and listen to without an wi-fi connection.
Some More Free Resources
- iTranslate – One of the best iPhone apps for travelers, this free application not only translates words and sentences, but stores your previous searches for quick reference.
- Mango Languages – It’s not free but you’ll get a single trial lesson that’s usually enough to learn these 4 word combos you shouldn’t neglect to translate before your next trip.
- Forvo – Listen to how specific words are pronounced. Many words are available but with free registration you’ll get access to all of them.
- Busuu – Aside from the mini language courses, Busuu’s strength is to put you in touch with native speakers of the language you’re trying to learn. It’s a good exchange and you’ll be able to help out others in the community as well.
- Google Translate – Useful to translate documents and entire websites, albeit with some errors. Another way to use Google hacking for your next trip.
- NotesInSpanish – A great (Spanish-only) online resource with audio lessons, worksheets, and videos recommended by Heather.
If You Decide To Pay
In addition to Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur (both of which I’ve found highly effective if practiced often and consistently) here are some of the other best ways to learn a new language. Of course there are probably lessons being given somewhere nearby (give a call to the appropriate embassy to find out) for most languages.
Take The Few Minutes
There is so much free time you have when you’re in transit and traveling. It’s a great time to bum a wi-fi signal and spend a few minutes here and there learning a few phrases and basic words before going to a new country with a new language. The local language is tied to the local culture and you can get a better sense of both by using some of these free language resources on the way.
[photo by: workshifting]
Ah, this post couldn’t have come at a better time! I’m trying to find some other resources to balance my Rosetta Stone Spanish-learning experience, and I think a few of these will do the trick.
De nada! Glad the timing was right. The audio podcasts and language forums I found added to my experience with Rosetta Stone.
Great list of resources all for FREE! Thanks for putting this together! I love any of the podcast ‘lessons’ you can download, I listen to them while waiting in the airport, or taking local buses or transportation!
Thanks Sherry. I’m a big fan of free and rarely post anything that isn’t. These resources are great too, very effective – the cost doesn’t reflect the service in this list 🙂
I’ve had a lot of my students who want to learn American English to go to newfiction.com . These audio books have audio and text so you can follow along. Does anyone know a similar platform for Spanish? Spanish audio books.
Hi Tom, here’s one mentioned in the post. Check this site and let me know if it has what you’re looking for:
Great list of free resources. One other suggestion before you travel is that libraries often have language courses for free (such as the Rosetta Stone ones) on video or DVD that you cna take in the comfort of your own home before heading out.
Excellent suggestion Mark. I often forget to mention libraries which have wonderful resources for free.
Great article. Thanks
Just to share, I have a free Chinese learning website – Learn a Chinese Character a Day.
Check it out at http://www.learnchineseeveryday.com/
Hi Min Min, thanks for including your link 🙂
Really nice list of resources, Anil!
Great list and I love that it’s FREE. 🙂 I think it’s important to learn some basic before traveling. It’s a fun thing to do with kids as well. 🙂
I love free too!!
I’m tinkering with Cantonese right now so perfect timing on the links!
Awesome. It’s a language I’d like to tackle one day. Probably one of the more challenging for English speakers.
Thank you for the post. I want to learn Spanish and now I know where I can start.
You’re welcome and good luck. The site Heather pointed out is a good place to start.
Great list, thanks! We really must shape up and try to make time to learn some more languages! *kicking myself*
Hello!! I hav ebeen downloading podcasts and trying to listen to them on my sparetime but what I really need is to speak (Spanish that is)! Are there any ways you can link up with other people who maybe want to learn English as well so we can have a dual conversation? I’ve always wanted to do that! I think I could become much more comfortable with the language if I speak as much as I can! I find myself trying to think in Spanish haha.
Check out http://busuu.com which is also free and a good place to exchange language lessons. LiveMocha mentioned above also does a bit of this. I’ve also heard about SharedTalk (http://www.sharedtalk.com/) which looks free but I haven’t tried myself.
Let me know if you end up using any of these and what you think of them.
This is a great post, Anil. Thanks for re-tweeting it recently. I was working on a piece about language software last week when I came across this in your Twitter feed, and it was useful to have this roundup to look to for sites I might have missed. Since I’m learning Dutch, which a lot of sites don’t offer, this was a great resource.
If you want to see how the test-drive turned out, the post is here:
Anytime 🙂 You’ve got a few sites tested I didn’t mention here so it was nice to read your thoughts on them. How’s the Dutch going?
Veel langsaam! (very slowly) 🙂
Hi Anil, probably too late too the party on this comprehensive post but it would be fantastic if you would take a look at newly launched http://lingomatch.com to see if it is Anil-worthy. I openly confess I am horribly biased! 🙂
Looks really cool, something like Alessandra (in the comments above) was looking for. Just got to browse around and will dive deeper over the weekend. So it’s language lesson swapping, all for free? The word ‘ad’ threw me off a bit.
Yes language exchange. Most likely conversation rather than lessons but definitely a you help me and I’ll help you scenario. Thanks for checking it out!
Hi Andrew, not sure if you’re still subscribed to the comments here but if you are, mind sending me an email? Wanted to ask you something:
Another thing that can really work are setting up language exchanges. This can be done by searching and setting up times over Skype, for instance. Skype seems to have plenty of Chinese and Spanish speakers that want to practice English, and then you get the chance to practice with them as well. I’m sure there are plenty of other language users on there, that’s just what I’ve personally noticed a lot of :o)
Just search by country, send a friendly message, and see if they bite on the idea. It shouldn’t take too much work to find someone willing to set up a weekly time. Also, there are plenty of international sites you could go on to find someone to Skype with.
I haven’t tried Skype but wrote about these services that do something similar and you’ll likely have less work finding a partner:
Very good summary of language learning resources, Anil. May I add one? Blogs focused on language learning is also very useful. Mine is one: justlearnchinese.com.
Thanks for sharing Grace, it looks like you’ve collected quite a resource there.
I used to love Rosetta Stone but now I am using some of the ounces you mentioned above which I really like. I learned French by using Rosetta Stone and decided to use livemocha and I am loving it even thought it’s. Little bit slow.