Category Archives: Learning French

First Semester Language

We all laugh at these songs that make fun of beginning language classes and the somewhat useless words and phrases we learn. How many times in French have I ever said “Où est la bibliothèque ?” Um, probably never. But these videos also show the poor attempt at language teaching and/or the poor attempt at language learning that is so prevalent in English-speaking schools. Even though I’m laughing on the outside, I’m crying on the inside because I know there are so many students who finish years of study and retain nothing but these stock phrases.

Foo doo fa fa by the Flight of the Conchords

(Click here: Embedding disabled for this video)

First Semester of Spanish Love Song by RunawayBox

Second Semester of Spanish Love Song (with Erik Estrada!)

Anybody know of songs like these for other languages?

Foreign Service Institute French Basic Course

If you haven’t already checked out (and/or downloaded) the free Foreign Service Institute language courses at fsi-language-courses.com, you need to go there right now. The FSI courses were designed by the Department of State, mostly in the 1960’s, to teach languages to employees being sent overseas. They’re actually quite comprehensive, if a bit boring with all the repetition and drilling. They are also audio intensive, which is necessary for learning comprehension and pronunciation.

And the best part about the FSI courses is that they are in the public domain. There are no copyright protections, which is how the FSI site above can exist. And this is also how publishing companies can sell the FSI courses at a profit (literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars!!) to unsuspecting customers who don’t know they can download the courses for free or even borrow them from libraries and make copies of the books and cassettes. I’m talking about you, Audioforum, Multilingual Books, Barron’s and Platiquemos…

The FSI site only includes materials that volunteers have donated after spending many hours scanning the books and converting the cassettes to mp3s. Unfortunately, if a language course is not included on the site and it cannot be found in a library, the only option is to buy it from a company (who slapped their own ridiculous “copyright” on it) that charges way too much because the originals from the Department of State are obviously out of print. And this makes me very angry.

Anyway, the course books are available in PDF format, so I decided to start converting the PDFs to HTML. So far, I’ve only finished Unit 1 of the French Basic Course because I don’t have a good PDF to HTML converter. It takes forever to convert to text and then proofread everything with the OCR software that I have.

FSI French Basic Course HTML Version

Language learning should always be free!

Learning languages for free with the internet: Public Domain Materials

Tip of the day: Use the internet to take advantage of the public domain.

Foreign Service Institute Language Courses: Designed and written by the US government but with no copyright protection. You can download the texts (PDF format) and audio files (mp3s) for free. Not all languages are available for download as the site depends on user contributions and it takes a long time to scan the books and digitize the audio cassettes. Best for beginners because there is a lot of repetition and drills.

The following languages are available: Amharic, Arabic (Levantine & Saudi), Bulgarian (text only), Cambodian, Cantonese, Chinese, Chinyanja (link currently broken), Finnish (audio only), French, German, Greek, Hausa (text only, but see below), Hindi (text only), Hebrew, Hungarian, Igbo, Italian (text only), Kituba (text only), Korean, Lao, Luganda (text only), Moré, Portuguese, Romanian (text only), Russian (text only), Spanish, Sinhala (text only), Swahili, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Twi, Vietnamese, and Yoruba (text only).

If you plan on downloading several files, try the DownThemAll add-on with Firefox. Instead of right clicking and downloading each file individually, you can download them all (hence the name) in one click. Plus it makes downloading much, much faster.

Also check the Forum to see if more materials are available (such as .torrents), but have not been uploaded to the site yet. For example, Serbo-Croatian, Igbo and Hausa PDFs and mp3s can be downloaded as torrents.

Free Public Domain Materials for Language Learning
Project Gutenberg: Electronic version of books whose copyright have expired in the US (essentially all books published before 1923 and some published before 1964). Many classic books in several languages are available.

Children’s Library: Famous children’s stories in many languages (again, with expired copyrights), some with audio so you can listen while you read.

Thanks to the public domain, sometimes you don’t need to spend any money on language resources. If you do choose to buy language books, beware of certain publishers who copy the FSI courses and publish them for profit. For example, Barron’s Mastering Hebrew is the FSI course, which you can download for free!

P.S. The Defense Language Institute also produced language materials and they are available as micro-fiched PDF documents through the ERIC database. Unfortunately, there is no audio available and they’re a bit more cumbersome to download (you must do them one by one). The following languages can be found by searching for Defense Language Institute + the language + Full Text only: Albanian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Czech, French, German, Haitian Creole, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean (advanced), Malay (intermediate advanced), Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Thai.

P.S.S Although ielanguages.com is not technically in the public domain, all of the language learning resources are free.