Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

Language Learning Articles, Software, Websites (Link Collection from Twitter)

By   April 3, 2010

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. 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

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.

Review of Some Language Learning Communities: Busuu, Livemocha, LingQ, and Hello-Hello

By   March 28, 2010

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.

Review of Some Language Learning Communities: Busuu, Livemocha, LingQ, and Hello-Hello

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, and, while 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,, 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. 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?

Update: Review of Language Learning Websites II: Mango Languages, LangMaster, LinguaTV, and Yabla

An Example of 21st Century Vocabulary

By   March 8, 2010

How many textbooks do you think include vocabulary words like this?

If you don’t speak either German or French, the vocabulary word is “homosexual couple” and the sample sentence says “The homosexual couple is going to adopt a child.” If only that were true in more than 2% of the world…

The next word is common-law couple. None of this married or single as the only options.

You rock,! Equality for all!

Online Language Learning Communities

By   February 22, 2010

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!

I Love Multilingual Lists of Vocabulary and Verbs

By   February 18, 2010

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:

Romance Languages Vocabulary

Romance Languages Verbs

Germanic Languages Vocabulary

Germanic Languages Verbs


Multilingual Lists of Vocabulary and Verbs


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. 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

Learning Two Languages Together: Where are the Resources?

By   February 6, 2010

Remembering new vocabulary involves a lot of connections between what you already know and what you want to know. This is why I don’t agree with “target language only” classes. Sometimes you need your native language to help you  learn a second language, and sometimes a second language can help you learn a third language even better.  For example, learning German in French is actually easier for me instead of learning German in English even though German and English are more closely related.  Whenever I try to think in another language and want to say something, French is what comes out first because it’s my second language. So now I think in French first for a few seconds before I can switch to German. It’s just simply easier for me to go from French to German than from English to German.

Whether you are learning two languages together and are at the same level in each, or whether you know one language rather well and are using it to learn the other, having the grammar and vocabulary compared side by side is a useful resource. This is why I decided to start writing comparative tutorials. So far only French & German and French & Italian are available, but I would like to do French & Spanish and Spanish & Italian someday. I don’t know of any language learning books that do this apart from the English Grammar for Learners of…. series, but that is always English + one other language, and I am trying to find resources for learning two languages simultaneously that is geared towards English speakers. But perhaps the market for learning two languages is not very large since most people seem to think learning one language is hard enough. But what about the multilingual enthusiasts like me? Or graduate students who must learn two languages in order to finish their PhD? Surely there are resources for students in a Romance Languages PhD program? Or are those books only available in graduate libraries?

I know there are plenty of multilingual phrasebooks for travelers, but I’m looking for introductory books that teach basic grammar and vocabulary of two languages (any combination, really) side by side. It seems to me that a book on learning Spanish and French together would exist since those are the most commonly learned languages in the US, but I cannot find this book. Does anyone know if something like this actually exists?

Luckily, I have some other multilingual comparative books, and I’m keeping a list here if you’d like to buy them too.

Self-Study is better than Classroom Learning

By   January 17, 2010

Even though I want to be a French teacher, I do not want to teach in a traditional classroom. Why? Because students learn best when they are not in the classroom. I feel that the classroom has a very limited role in language learning, and that teachers are mostly responsible for designing quality lessons and materials, providing support and feedback, and motivating students to become independent, autonomous learners. All of that can be done online.  When it comes to foreign languages, there is only so much a teacher can do – each and every learner has to put enough effort into remembering the new vocabulary and grammar concepts. The teacher cannot magically make that happen.

In 2008, the NYTimes reported on a study that found “Online Education Beats the Classroom” and once again a new study confirms that self-study (either alone or in conjunction with some classroom time) is much better than classroom time alone. Most universities in the US have introductory language courses that meet 3-4 hours per week, and some require students to spend time in the language lab.  I want to teach French to North American university students, but I do not want to teach one of those classes.  I want to teach classes that are either entirely or mostly online.

The ideal language “classroom” would be online so that students can access the material from anywhere at anytime. Language labs are nearly obsolete thanks to computers and mp3 players. And for students who work during the day or who simply cannot make it to campus at certain times (and therefore cannot enroll in language classes or use the language lab), being able to access all the material online at home would be a huge help. Especially for insomniacs like me who prefer to study at midnight!

I do think hybrid classes work best though because not all students are extremely motivated and they need that extra push to get the work done. Perhaps meeting once a week for an hour as a class, or even just having weekly meetings with the teacher, would motivate certain students. To me, the classroom should be reserved for teaching students HOW to study languages and HOW memory works and HOW to manage time in order for the students to become autonomous learners. In the classroom, we should learn how to learn, but the bulk of learning actual content takes place outside of the classroom.

I’ve heard complaints that online learning is not social enough, especially for language learning. I don’t agree with that either because there are plenty of language learning social networking sites. Even simply using Facebook or Twitter is enough to keep in contact with speakers of other languages, and IM and Skype are useful for writing and speaking to each other synchronously. We have all of the tools already – we just need to exploit them better. Another problem I have with this line of thinking is that everyone who learns languages wants to be social and speak to people in that language. That’s not entirely true either. Plenty of graduate students have to learn 2 foreign languages – but they are only required to have a reading knowledge of the language. Some people only care about understanding music and films and not so much about having a conversation. We all learn languages for different reasons.

Another reason why I prefer online classes is so that students can spend most of their time listening to the language (authentic, native language!) because it is the most important part of learning a language. Usually classroom time is reserved for explaining grammar in the native language or repeating vocabulary words that aren’t used all that often or reading dialogs with other non-native speakers, none of which is useful for everyday language. We don’t always use proper grammar. We don’t speak one word at a time. And we certainly don’t learn to speak another language by interacting with other learners at the same level. In fact, attempting to speak a foreign language with someone who speaks your native language is sometimes detrimental to your acquisition because you repeat the accent and mistakes that they make.

Listening to native speakers in natural settings is best, and the easiest way to do that is through online classes.  Teachers can produce or select the materials and base exercises on the grammar and vocabulary used. Most textbooks used in the traditional classroom do it the other way – explain grammar and provide vocabulary lists and then write fake dialogs or scenes to go with them. But that is not authentic language. I don’t want to down-play the importance of non-native speakers or teachers either, because there are plenty who have gained near-native status. And non-native teachers can actually provide more support and understanding for students who speak the same native language. I feel like I can teach French well to English-speakers because I know what it’s like to learn French – I’ve already gone through the process and I know what mistakes are likely to be made and why.

The Gradual Progression

By   January 15, 2010

Being able to understand 99% of what people say in French is a huge accomplishment, I feel. I remember constantly struggling to understand movies or songs in French when I was in college and then trying to understand actual conversations when I first arrived in France. Today I have no problems understanding any of those things. I like being able to watch Amélie again and understand it perfectly, when I know I couldn’t do that before. Today it seems so easy. And that’s why I get so frustrated while studying German or Italian. I cannot understand 99% of what people say and it makes me feel like a failure. But I haven’t been exposed to those languages nearly as long as I have been to French.

I’ve been in France for over 3 years now and I need to keep in mind the enormous amount of information that my brain absorbed. I do remember struggling to speak even a year after my arrival. By the following summer, things were better, but still not good. Finally during my 3rd summer, I felt more and more confident and had real, normal, long, in-depth conversations with French people!  I had been learning how to communicate the entire time, but I never noticed when I picked up new vocabulary or when I was able to speak more coherently without stumbling because there is a gradual progression to learning a language. One day you just realize that you can understand, and that you can respond to questions, and that you can function like a human being in a genuine conversation instead of just saying yes or no or I don’t know.

If I had come to France to study French, I’m sure that my acquisition would have been quicker. But I came here to teach English, and even now I feel that teaching English prevents me from perfecting my French. That’s a huge concern for me since I would like to teach French someday. Of course, I was also preoccupied with studying a little German and Italian, so I can’t say my focus has been all on French. Nevertheless, the simple fact of being immersed in French everyday – even when I didn’t want to be or didn’t notice it – has helped immensely. Now I’m trying to replicate that with German, which obviously can’t be done the exact same way as I do not live in a German-speaking country, but I’m really trying to listen to German as much as possible. And maybe one day I’ll notice that I can understand every word in Good Bye, Lenin! and all of this hard work to acquire yet another language will feel as if it had been so easy all along.