Free and/or Public Domain Materials for Listening to & Reading Languages Simultaneously

Previously I explained how reading subtitles while watching TV shows or movies helps enormously with foreign language comprehension. I wanted to expand on the Listening & Reading method – because it is what I use foremost when studying languages – and list some freely available resources where you can find text and audio in several languages.

When I first started learning languages in the mid 90’s, audio was an expensive component of language resources and even when cassettes or CDs were provided, the recordings were limited to an hour or so of common phrases and simple dialog. It was never enough to progress beyond the beginning stage. Luckily the internet and the ease with which materials can be accessed and downloaded changed all that – especially concerning materials in the public domain.

Below are websites with free and/or public domain audio files and transcripts to download for your personal use. There’s never any reason to spend hundreds of dollars on language courses!

  • When learning a new language, I like to start with Book2 because they offer 100 phrases & sound files in over 40 languages. You can choose any combination of languages instead of just using English as the first language. It’s handy for comparing two languages or using one language to help you learn another at the beginning A1/A2 level.
  • LangMedia offers many videos of common conversations and situations that you’re likely to encounter, filmed in the country where the language is spoken. A lot of cultural notes and even realia are also provided. About 30 languages are available.
  • If you already have a certain text in a foreign language, but you want to hear how it is pronounced, request a recording at Rhinospike. Native speakers will record an mp3 that you can listen to online or download – and usually more than one person will do the recording so you can learn from a variety of accents.
  • There are a lot of language podcasts these days, but many do not offer the transcripts for free. The type of speech available can be put into two categories: rehearsed and spontaneous. Sites like Spanish NewsBites, Radio Arlecchino, and Slow German provide recordings of native speakers reading a text with no mistakes because it has been rehearsed, while sites like France Bienvenue and my French Listening Resources provide spontaneous speech with false starts and fillers. I prefer the latter because it’s more representative of what you hear in normal everyday conversations, but spontaneous resources are much harder to find.

FSI Italian FAST course

  • Foreign Service Institute courses can be a bit boring because the vocabulary is aimed at diplomats serving abroad, but nevertheless, they do contain common phrases and useful conversations for everyday use – not to mention hours and hours of audio and materials for languages that have very little resources available. The books can be downloaded in PDF format, but I am still attempting to create HTML and perhaps eventually DOC or EPUB versions for some of the courses. (I just uploaded six more units of Italian FAST this weekend.)
  • For a more literary approach, Librivox and many other e-book sites, such as Logos, offer many classic books and children’s books in several languages, with recordings done by volunteers. I tend not to use these books as much as other materials because literature is very different from everyday speech, but they are helpful for pronunciation and vocabulary nonetheless.
  • News sites, such as Euronews which is available in nine languages, sometimes do not offer exact transcripts of what is said in each video. This is the same problem with subtitles for a lot of programs or films. The sentences are similar enough so the meaning is generally the same, but it can be really distracting for beginning learners. At an intermediate level, you can start comparing what is said to what is written and learn two ways to say the same thing.
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  • Zhu

    Thank you for all these ideas and resources – I keep on recommending your blog to my former students!

  • Thanks for that, Jennie, that was really useful. You said “free/public domain” and I was like “first thing she’s going to mention is FSI…at least I hope so”–I agree that they are VERY boring and dry, but you just can’t find an entire language-learning program THAT comprehensive for free anywhere else, it really is a diamond in the rough that a lot of people pass up because it requires a bit of effort to learn and adapt to compared to many modern courses that spoonfeed you the information.

    Oh! and your book2 link is broken, you need to uncapitalize that “index” in “INDEX.HTM” in the last part of the URL (it still kinda works if you click on it, it gives you a link to go to…click on it, you’ll see what i mean).

    Another really good site similar to Rhinospike that has a LOT of words in many different languages on it pronounced by native speakers so that you can hear what it’s supposed to sound like is:


  • Amelia

    I definitely think that the traditional method of learning by repeating drilling exercises is well behind.

    Today learning needs to be a fun experience. In our case, as teachers of English, we have a lot of interesting material to work with: songs and films.

    Students learn English as a foreign language without even realizing it.

    I would also like to get your comments on this blog:

    Best regards,


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