A collection of language learning articles, software and websites that I’ve tweeted/retweeted/discovered on Twitter over the past few months for those who don’t use that site:
Popling. Hack your Brain.
Learning, Without Studying. A website + desktop app for people who want to learn, but lack motivation.
Learn languages with your vocabulary trainer.
Rhinospike: Foreign Language Audio on Demand
Online language learning community tool that lets users around the globe connect and exchange foreign language audio files.
Up Your Bottom
Hilarious real-life stories of foreign language gone wrong.
Netvox.fr French Online
Parler français, gratuitement et facilement / Speak French with native speakers for free through Skype
Language of the Month
Interactive videos of children from Newbury Park Primary School teaching common words and phrases in their native languages.
Top Ten Internet Languages (Internet World Stats)
Statistics on the ten most used languages on the Internet.
Read the latest in Linguistics
Wiley-Blackwell is pleased to offer FREE online access to selected journal issues and book chapters.
Books Should Be Free
Your source for free audio books. Download one in mp3, iPod and iTunes format today.
World Loanword Database
It provides vocabularies (mini-dictionaries of about 1000-2000 entries) of 41 languages from around the world, with comprehensive information about the loanword status of each word. It allows users to find loanwords, source words and donor languages in each of the 41 languages, but also makes it easy to compare loanwords across languages.
Science Daily: Language Acquisition
Latest research news on learning languages, the human brain and memory.
Outsourcing Language Learning
Almost a decade ago, Drake University stirred up controversy by eliminating its foreign language departments and thereby the jobs of faculty in French, German and Italian, even those with tenure. Traditional lecture and language lab instruction was replaced with the Drake University Language Acquisition Program (DULAP): small discussion groups led by on-campus native speakers, a weekly session with a scholar of the language, a one-semester course on language acquisition and the use of several Web-based learning technologies.
First Bilingual Educational Toy Brand, Ingenio (TM), Hits the U.S. Market
Alpharetta, Ga.-based Smart Play, LLC has launched Ingenio(TM), the first entirely bilingual brand of educational toys and games in the United States.
What English sounds like to Foreigners
An Italian singer wrote this song with gibberish to sound like English. If you’ve ever wondered what other people think Americans sound like, this is it.
About World Languages
The Technology Development Group (TDG) is proud to present a one-stop information website dedicated to the world’s most important and populous languages.
Language is a Human Right
Free language learning helpware for people in need. El Book is a free primer for Spanish speakers on the bare essentials of English. It was designed for people with no certain address, little access to advanced technology, and not a lot of formal education.
Europe Commissioner for Human Rights: Bilingualism should be encouraged for all
Language rights have become an issue of contention within several European countries. Their denial undermines human rights and causes inter-communal tensions, said Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (via Morsmal.org)
Accent on Montreal
A 5 part series on Anglophone Montrealers’ distinct way with words.
BFQS: Les expressions verbales figées de Belgique – France – Québec – Suisse
Il n’existe pas à ce jour de recueil de données fournissant un panorama comparatif complet des expressions propres aux quatre pays francophones occidentaux (Belgique, France, Québec et Suisse) établi selon des critères syntaxiques et distributionnels rigoureux. Le projet vise l’étude systématique des expressions figées dans ces quatre domaines de la francophonie (BFQS). L’objectif est de constituer un dictionnaire papier et électronique des expressions appartenant au « français commun », à chacune des variétés et/ou aux sous-ensembles de ces quatre variétés.
Lately I’ve been using several language learning communities online to see what they offer and how expensive their pay materials are. Personally, I was most interested in finding sites that offered free audio flashcards for learning vocabulary (preferably with pictures) and less so in finding a teacher or language exchange partner. I just wanted to learn some vocabulary (and how to pronounce the words) online since my main focus on learning languages in the beginning stages is to simply understand what people are saying, and to be able to say a few phrases to get around while traveling. I don’t worry so much about forming grammatically correct sentences or having long conversations just yet.
A few of the sites I came across were solely for finding teachers, some did not offer any or much free material, and a few were almost exactly what I was looking for. Another aspect of modern language learning that I was hoping to find on these sites was portability – if they offered downloads of audio and text so I did not have to sit at a computer with an internet connection in order to study. For those of us who work all day long at a computer, the thought of only using a computer to study languages isn’t exactly enticing. For these reasons, and the fact that I was focusing on German and Italian, my top three choices are Busuu.com, Livemocha.com and Lingq.com, while Hello-Hello.com gets an honorable mention (but mostly because they don’t currently offer German.)
Busuu and Livemocha are quite similar in that they offer free audio flashcards, but Busuu is slightly better because they have more vocabulary. Plus they now have keyboard shortcuts so that you don’t need to keep clicking with the mouse in order to go through the flashcards. Almost all of the flashcards have a sample sentence to go along with the vocabulary word (though pronunciation is only for premium members) and the same is true of the dialog section for each vocabulary topic.
There are 4 levels for each language, A1 to B2, and some categories focus on grammar (simple past tense, adverbs, modal verbs, etc.) but they are only available to premium members. Currently, there are only a few languages available: French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. You can change the site language instead of using English however, so that you can learn/review two foreign languages. (I use the site in French to learn German.)
You can mark flashcards that are you not sure of to review later, but it is a multiple choice quiz of 10 randomly chosen words instead of the actual flashcards. Other multiple choice quizzes in each category are also free. For premium members, you can submit writing and speaking samples to be corrected by native speakers and also create personalized revision exercises. There is also a chat function called busuutalk that lets you talk to friends on the site while you’re learning, or you can simply send them messages.
As for portability, you can download a PDF and MP3 of each lesson if you are a premium member. For the free version, you can download only a select few files, but when you first sign up, you have 7 days as a semi-premium member so you can discover more of the premium advantages.
Premium prices: 1 month is 12.99€, 3 months is 29.97€ and 6 months is 47.94€ for access to all languages
Livemocha offers a lot of the same advantages as Busuu, as well as more languages (currently 35!). It is the largest language learning community online, so it is probably the best if you are studying a less common language. A major difference concerning the flashcards is that the translation is not automatically shown. However, there are tips from other users in the right sidebar that often show the translation instead of simply providing tips, whether you want to see it or not. I’ve noticed that even with a language specified, it will show tips in any number of languages, which is nice if you are a multilingual lover but perhaps a bit distracting if not. One problem I had with the German flashcards is that the article was not given, so there was no way of learning whether the noun was masculine, feminine or neuter. Luckily many users have submitted this information in the tips, but it would be extremely useful to have in the flashcards themselves.
Same as above, there are some quizzes available (matching, listening, create sentences, etc.) as well as writing and speaking submissions to be corrected, but they will only be reviewed by a “qualified tutor” if you pay. For the free version, anyone can review/correct your work. If you want to mark a flashcard to review later, you have to wait until the end of the flashcard deck and then check them off. Sets with more than 8 cards will automatically be added to the publicly available Flashcard Sets so that other members can use them.
Concerning portability, you can download PDF, MP3 and MP4 video files for each lesson if you pay. For non-paying members, you can download the first unit from each level. Livemocha also sells Travel Crash Courses in Spanish, French, Mandarin, German or Italian for $9.95 (for a 90 day subscription), but there are no free materials to review first.
Premium Prices: this depends on the language, but for German it is $9.95 per month (or $19.95 with qualified tutor); or one-time payment of $49.95 for 6 months (or $99.95 with qualified tutor). Unfortunately, you cannot just pay one monthly fee and have access to any language you want, but you can change the site language to learn German in French, for example.
LingQ is different from Busuu and Livemocha because it is based on texts rather than flashcards. You begin with sentences or dialogs completely in the target language and listen to the MP3. Mouse over a word you don’t know and the translation will appear. Click on it and you can add it to a flashcard set that you can review online and that will be e-mailed to you. Even for non-paying members, you have access to several texts and MP3s in Russian, Italian, Swedish, Chinese, Portuguese, French, German, English, Spanish, and Japanese.
The main idea is just to listen and read along to the language and learn from constantly being exposed to it. The focus is not on being perfectly correct, as non-native speakers can record and upload texts too. However, you can submit your writing to be corrected if you are a paying member and have conversations with native speakers through Skype. The variety of lessons available is large for most languages since anyone can import materials.
Free accounts can create up to 300 LingQs (flashcards) and import 5 lessons, while paying accounts are unlimited. Subscribers get points that they can use towards the writing corrections, conversations and courses that teachers sell. Even Free members can print the texts and download the MP3s, though I would like to have a download PDF and listen online function too instead of always having to play the MP3 in another program.
Premium Prices: $10 per month for Basic; $39 per month for Plus; $79 per month for Premium. You can also make a one-time payment for a 6 month subscription starting at $60 for Basic.
Hello-Hello currently offers only three languages – Spanish, French and Brazilian Portuguese – but German, Italian, and Mandarin are supposed to be added in a few months. Hello-hello is based on dialogs so it is more similar to LingQ than Busuu or Livemocha. There are 3 levels of 10 lessons each. Each lesson begins with simply listening to a dialog (without the text provided yet), but since the site uses the Quicktime plugin instead of an MP3 flashplayer, it doesn’t work in Firefox (at least not on any of the 5 computers I tried it on).
The second part is listening again to the dialog, but this time reading along with the transcript of the target language. Third, you can read the dialog in the target language with the translation into your native language. Then you can listen to the dialog line by line and repeat each sentence and finally you listen to the dialog line by line and type the sentence that you hear.
In the Build your Vocabulary section, you can mouse over underlined words to see synonyms or other useful vocabulary related to the theme (with pronunciation) and you have the option to add words to a flashcard set. Then you can do multiple choice quizzes to review the vocabulary. Other practice sections include recording the given dialog, writing your own dialog and recording your own dialog, all to be corrected by community members. As with other communities, there is of course a friends area where you can chat or send messages.
Right now Hello-Hello is in beta so it is completely free to use. I don’t know when they will be changing over to a pay system, but then levels 2 & 3 will only be available to premium members, so you might want to take advantage of it now!
I don’t know if it’s possible for one website to be perfect for learning languages. I’m pretty happy with a combination of the four sites I reviewed, but there are of course other great sites that are useful. For example, if you want native speakers to correct your writing for free, then Lang-8 is best. If you want native speakers to record a text for you for free, then the site Rhinospike (that Street-Smart Language Learning provided a nice review of) will be helpful. If you want to watch subtitled videos in your target language, then try FluentU or Yabla. If you are just looking for language teachers or exchange partners, there are plenty of sites available: Myngle, italki, My Language Exchange, etc.
Other sites that I looked into, but that didn’t have enough free content to really get a feel for the site and how it works include Mango Languages, Bab.la, and Babbel. Mango offers one sample course of the first lesson, which is just basic greetings, so I can’t really say how in-depth the other lessons get or how useful it really is. Bab.la doesn’t offer audio to free members for their flashcards, which is what I was specifically looking for, but other parts of their site can be helpful, such as the dictionary, quizzes, forum and survival guides that you can download for free. With Babbel, you can only choose one sample lesson for each language and then you’re stuck with it, so again, it’s difficult to see what the other lessons are like and if they’re worthwhile.
In the end, I think I will try Busuu’s premium content for a month and see if I like it. How about you? Do you use any online language learning communities? What’s your favorite and for what reasons?
This post was originally published in March 2010 so some functionalities of these language learning websites may have changed.
I’ve finally uploaded another French Listening mp3 and this one is a little different from the others. First of all, it is much harder to understand because I was basically eavesdropping on random conversations. It starts out with Mamie working on a crossword puzzle, then Parrain talking about winning the lottery and retiring, then Patricia asks Douné if he wants his hair cut, Parrain mentions the end of the world in 2012 according to the Mayan calendar, and then Obama shows up suddenly and the subject gets changed again to staying with a friend. Did you get that in English?? Now try it in French:
This is yet another reason why French is hard to understand. When Anglophones are sitting around a table talking, usually only one person talks at a time while everyone else listens. The opposite happens with Francophones. Several people talk at the same time so it makes it even harder for foreigners to follow along. (This isn’t a dig at Francophones, just an observation – and further support for the need to learn culture and language simultaneously.)
The previous 20 mp3s that I’ve uploaded have been representative of spontaneous, unrehearsed speech which I find much more helpful than carefully scripted and pronounced dialogs. The major difference with this mp3 is that no one knew I was recording them at the time, and so they didn’t have the chance to change their way of speaking like so many people do when they realize their words can be saved forever. The goal is to make the listener aware of all of the false starts, fillers in speech, and especially slang vocabulary that are so hard to learn from books or even movies (movies are scripted and rehearsed, after all).
I’m trying to bring the real French language to those who want to avoid the catch-22 of language learning: you want to learn the real language before you go abroad so you won’t be totally lost and confused; however, the only way to learn the real language is to go abroad and be constantly exposed to it. I know there is no substitute for living in the country where the language is spoken and interacting with native speakers, but it’s not always an option for certain people. So thank goodness for the internet!
New video on informal French:
Don’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel!
The real reason why French is hard to understand for English-speakers is the numerous liaisons (that I mentioned recently) and lack of junctures between words. English tends to pause more often between words and exhibit open juncture, while French pauses between phrases and links sounds between certain word boundaries so that determining individual words is rather difficult unless one already knows French phonology. In addition, English is a stress-timed language that gives prominence to stressed syllables and reduces the unstressed syllables, whereas French is a syllable-timed language that gives equal prominence to all syllables, with the so-called “stressed” syllable always being the last.
Nevertheless, I would like to add another reason why French is hard to understand: the transformation of English words in the French language. I have nothing against borrowing since it’s a natural part of language evolution and change, but English-speakers are at a slight disadvantage when trying to learn vocabulary in French. We basically have to learn a new Frenchified version of the English words, along with the pronunciation based on French phonetics.
First of all, the borrowed words are often changed slightly so that they are not exactly the same as the original English word. Fortunately, they are quite easy to understand in writing and are usually easier to change from French to English than English to French because many times French drops the end of the phrase. However, the pronunciation of these words can be radically different and so understanding “English” words spoken in French can be a challenge. This is also true of names and titles – it took me a good 5 minutes to understand Sons of Anarchy when I first heard it pronounced in French. Usually it is the stress on the last syllable in French – which rarely happens in English – that makes the word so unrecognizable for English-speakers. Finally, since most of these words are recent borrowings and considered too informal, they are often missing from textbooks and grammar books. So once again the only way to learn them is to listen to native speech in everyday situations that has not been produced specifically to teach the language (and therefore stripped of all cultural and informal vocabulary.)
If you teach English to French students or pay attention to the mistakes that French people make when speaking in English, you may notice that they simply use the French form of the English word and assume it is exactly the same as in English. Every single one of my students thinks camping is the correct way to say campground or that bowling is the sport and the location where one bowls. So on the other hand, French students learning English are also at a disadvantage because they need to re-learn the English vocabulary they thought they already knew.
Here are some examples where the French “English” is shorter than the real English:
trench coat: un trench
parking lot: un parking
campground: un camping
bowling alley: un bowling
fast food restaurant: un fast-food
drive-thru: un drive
bodysuit/onesie: un body
e-mail: un mail
volleyball: le volley
basketball: le basket
Other French “English” words are usually easy enough to figure out even if they are rather different from the original:
sneakers: des baskets
cereal: des cornflakes
rollerblades: des rollers
lip-synching: le play-back
facelift: un lifting
celebrities: des people/pipol
schedule: un planning
bartender: un barman
tennis player: un tennisman
Though some of them are a little harder to figure out:
dry cleaner’s: un pressing
blowdry: un brushing
walk-in closet: un dressing
political rally: un meeting
makeover: un relooking
channel surfing: le zapping
hit song: un tube
music video: un clip
style: un look
lounge chair: un relax
And others have a much more complicated etymology:
tuxedo: un smoking
station wagon: un break
One tip for learning this type of vocabulary is to check out celebrity magazines online (like Closer or Public) or some TV/radio stations (like MTV or NRJ) for videos or audio. They use a lot of English words because they are geared toward young people and they want to seem cool.
Pronunciation of the above words, as well as many more “English” words used in French, can be found at French Tutorial VII.
Some of these not-really-English words are used in other languages as well, not just French. Lifting is also used in Italian and Spanish to mean facelift, though in German it means to take the ski lift uphill. Wikipedia has a page on pseudo-Anglicisms if you want to learn more of them.
I just learned about this book today and I really wish I could go to a bookstore or library and look at it. Amazon’s Look Inside feature only includes the introduction and none of the actual content but Routledge’s site offers a few sample pages to download and lets you view 30 pages total.
I love frequency lists and all things based on corpus linguistics. I’m really interested in knowing how much informal and spoken vocabulary is included in this book. The corpus was based on 23 million entries, half spoken and half written – but even some spoken language is rather formal (EU parliamentary debates, for example) when compared to everyday language that you can hear in schools or stores.
Libraries in France aren’t all that great, and the bookstores around here have tiny English sections (usually just novels) so I have to rely on the internet for my linguistic and language books. I really do miss being able to wander through Borders or Barnes & Noble and skim through all of the books. Sure, there are plenty of language books written in French, but they are mostly méthodes de Français Langue Etrangère and that’s not exactly what I’m looking for. If someone knows of a frequency list book like Routledge’s but available in French bookstores, let me know.
These frequency dictionaries are also currently available in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Mandarin and Contemporary American English. Arabic and Czech are forthcoming in 2010, but no Italian yet.
I’ve decided I’m going to try out the free features of the online language learning communities, and report back with my findings (as well as prices for the pay features). But the first challenge is just finding all of the language communities. These are the ones that I plan on reviewing. Can anyone add others to the list? I know I must be missing some!
For those who also love multilingual vocabulary lists or verb conjugations, I’ve updated the Romance and Germanic lists so they fit better on the screen. The Romance languages include French, Italian, Spanish and some Portuguese for the vocabulary part and only French, Italian and Spanish for the verbs. Germanic includes German, Dutch, Swedish, and some Danish and Afrikaans for the vocabulary sections, and German, Dutch and Swedish for the verb conjugations. Here are the index pages with links to each individual page:
Other multilingual sites:
Book2 is my favorite as it provides 100 audio lessons on basic phrases and vocabulary for A1 & A2 level in 40 languages. You choose which two languages to learn or compare, so it is not only English-based.
The MediaGlyphs Project Vocabulary List Generator allows you to select 2-3 languages and a theme for vocabulary to display the lists. It is updated by volunteers and some languages have much more content than others, but many languages are available.
Linguee.fr allows you to search for a term or phrase in bilingual texts (French – English, English – French, English – German, English – Spanish or English – Portuguese) that have been translated by professionals. Many of them are official European Union texts. It is essentially an easier way to search the internet for a specific word, and it turns the texts into a comparative corpus. Linguistics nerd will love it!
Poliglottus offers basic vocabulary of 1,300 words in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian and basic verb forms in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Sardinian – though only two languages can be compared at once and the lists are not labeled (no themes for vocabulary and no tenses for verbs).
Romanica Intercom is a site for comparing and learning the grammar of the main Romance languages (Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and French), though it is a bit hard to navigate and the interface is only available in Catalan or Spanish.
Gilles’ Langues site in French, English, Italian, Spanish and German is very helpful too. He includes some memory games to play as well as PDF and EPUB versions of his vocabulary lists PLUS lots of mp3s of the words.
Internet Polyglot offers lots of language combinations to study lists of vocabulary, many with pronunciation and games.
BePolyglot was a pay language portal about the 5 main Romance languages. Below is an example of one of their free pages. [Unfortunately this website no longer exists, but you can view the free pages using the Internet Archive.]
Multilingual, but more work for you: Theses sites offer plenty of languages, but they are not compared side-by-side like with the sites above. You have to do a little more work to see both languages in action (two browser windows open if you have a widescreen monitor or using one language that you are advanced enough in to learn a second, for example).
LanguageGuide is a pictorial audio vocabulary site. All of the languages use the same format and pictures.
Euronews has video clips of the news in several languages (with transcripts, though not word for word sometimes). Euranet and Presseurop are similar sites, though Euranet has fewer transcripts and Presseurop doesn’t seem to have any audio. Radio Praga is another site for articles with audio.
LingQ uses the same beginner stories in each language offered (the lessons Who is She?, Greetings, Eating Out, etc.) so you could download the mp3s and text for each language you wanted to compare and make your own side-by-side comparison.
Deutsche Welle’s podcasts are available in 30 languages, so you could use your strongest language to help you learn German.
Lastly, if you’re interested in the 23 EU languages, the official site has a recording of the same text in every language so you can see and hear the differences (or similarities) among them.
Updated September 2012
I’ve just uploaded the latest mp3 to the French Listening Resources podcast, so it will be available for download soon through iTunes or immediately through the site. I’m going to try to update every weekend and also provide the transcript right away (in text format and as a new page so you can listen and read at the same time). Currently most of the mp3s have transcripts available, but I’m still working on a few of them. And eventually I will add the translation into English and some notes on the vocabulary. Any thoughts on what would be helpful for getting the most out of these listening resources? Interactive exercises? Explanations of vocabulary choice or grammar usage? Any requests on topics?