Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

Multilingual Goodness of the Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest is going on this week in Oslo and even though I’m not watching it, I am using the unofficial website to learn languages through song lyrics. It is called the Diggiloo Thrush and it includes the lyrics and translations into English of almost all of the songs ever performed for the contest. This year there are 39 participating countries, but far fewer languages are represented since countries are not required to choose a song in their official language. Nevertheless, the collection of lyrics starts in 1956 so there is plenty of material available to help you learn languages.

The quality of the songs isn’t always great but Eurovision always motivates me to learn more about my European neighbors and their languages. There are even a few countries outside of Europe that participate, such as Israel, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The official site has a webcast if you want to watch live (or on-demand later), or you can find some songs on YouTube or Spotify (if you live in a country that has access to it).

Using Realia Resources in Language Teaching & Learning

Realia resources are everyday, authentic objects, such as photographs, menus, brochures, receipts, maps, movies, television shows, commercials, etc. that are used to teach and learn languages. Some researchers include any items that can be used to prompt conversations or role-play, such as telephones, but those are generally meant to be employed in the classroom with other learners. For self-study, the most helpful realia illustrates how the language is actually used in the country where it is spoken. Visiting the country to experience the language is obviously the best way to learn, but in the absence of the time and money necessary for travel, the internet can provide much of the realia needed.

Online ad showing informal French: Yapamieux = Il n’y a pas mieux

The lack of authentic language in language learning materials was most striking to me upon arriving in France and realizing that what I had learned in my classes was not how people actually spoke. I still recall the dialog in my textbook for buying train tickets, which consisted of a mere 4 lines and completely lacked any cultural clues as to what country it was referring to. Most textbooks default to France and teach a little about the rail system, the SNCF, but they neglect to include the specific names of trains. It is very important to know the difference between the TGV and TER, or what types of trains Lunéa, Téoz and Intercités are, or what the Carte 12-25 or Carte Escapades are used for. And as soon as you cross the border into Switzerland or Belgium, there is a new list of names and acronyms for the rail systems and trains to deal with: CFF, SNCB, ICT, ICN, etc.

Realia Resources for learning languagesProbably need to find out what composter means before getting on the train…

So why didn’t my textbook (or teacher) provide us with an actual train ticket and schedule, or at least a copy of one? Why did I never see a real menu from an actual restaurant while we were learning food vocabulary? I realized it may be a little difficult for North American teachers to have access to these types of realia, which is why I started scanning my old train tickets and receipts. Then I started taking pictures of menus and signs; anything with the written language that I thought would be useful for learners. Currently my realia collection includes French, German, Croatian and Danish, and I will be adding Dutch and Italian in the next few months. Every time I travel, I make sure to gather as much visual realia as possible, as well as website addresses of stores, restaurants, museums, and public transportation companies since many offer downloads of catalogs or menus or schedules.

Authentic Language Realia Resources

You don’t necessarily have to be in the country in order to experience and learn its language. The internet allows you to get very close without leaving your home. I certainly wish I would have been able to look at menus before arriving. I would have known that everyone says cookie instead of biscuit and ice tea instead of thé glacé (the latter being the only words my books ever taught me). And if Youtube had been around when I was in school, I could have watched plenty of videos and listened to spoken, informal French instead of relying on scripted dialogs from a textbook. This is yet another reason why I started the Informal French and Listening Resources pages. Getting as much exposure to the real language as possible is now a priority for me when first learning a language (I learned my lesson with French!) and so I find myself using the internet much more often than any of my books, unless I specifically want to focus on grammar.


The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages

The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages by Frederick Bodmer has always been my favorite book about learning languages. I first discovered it on F.X. Micheloud’s Learning Languages site about 9 or 10 years ago when I was still an undergrad and much more interested in learning languages on my own rather than taking boring classes at university. I wanted to learn useful vocabulary and focus more on understanding and speaking the language while my classes wanted me to analyze Zola or Sand with very limited knowledge of French. Or my classes were cancelled because not enough students signed up for German or because there were no teachers available for Italian. My language books (all 500 of them) and later the internet became the main resources I used in studying, but I always went back to The Loom of Language because it explained everything so well.

It is the only book that actually teaches languages instead of simply teaching how to learn languages. There are several books and resources available for that already. I was specifically looking for something that compared European languages and gave me the rules and words needed to learn the languages – not to learn about the languages. Originally written in the 1940’s, it is obviously outdated in some parts – the quote “1,800 million people on this globe speak approximately 1,500 different languages” is so very wrong today – but it’s still the best book for multilingual learners to get an overview of Latin and Germanic grammar and vocabulary.

The first part of the book starts with the history of human language and alphabets and leads into morphology and syntax of several languages, and ends with the classification of languages throughout the world. The second part focuses on learning vocabulary (from the given lists) taking advantage of similarities among languages and sound shifts that cause predictable changes from one language to another. What I always found most important, however, was the assertion that you should learn certain words first, such as personal pronouns, auxiliary verbs, demonstratives, prepositions, conjunctions, etc. (essentially function words) because they are the most common and least recognizable when they change cases.

Many nouns, adjectives and verbs should come after the function words because they are more likely to be recognized thanks to common affixes among similar languages and “international” words such as telephone or taxi, and also because these concrete words are highly dependent on the situation. Bodmer’s example of a Dane who learns the word rabbit in one of his first English lessons but who may never talk about rodents of any kind for 10 years really illustrates the need to learn the function and abstract words first, or at least to focus immediately on the words that you will need depending on why you are learning the language.

Bodmer also encourages learners to “get a bird’s-eye view of the grammatical peculiarities of a language before trying to memorize anything” and to not waste time on memorizing case endings of nouns or adjectives until a reading knowledge of the language is achieved. Most textbooks don’t agree with this as they introduce cases and declensions early on so that students are supposed to memorize the endings before they even learn many nouns or adjectives. Bodmer’s method is based on recognition and input of useful vocabulary first, and later intensive reading and writing to perfect the grammar, which seems to be the opposite of certain books.

He also states “If you learn only ten new words of the group which includes particles, pronouns, and pointer words every day for a fortnight, you will have at your disposal at least 25 per cent of the total number of words you use when you write a letter. When you have done this, it is important to have a small vocabulary of essential nouns, adjectives, and verbs ready for use.” All of this essential vocabulary he is referring to is included at the back of the book in several lists that compare English, French, Spanish, Portuguese & Italian and English, Swedish, Danish, Dutch & German. Sound familiar? These “basic vocabularies” were the inspiration for creating my own multilingual lists and lead to the Romance and Germanic Vocabulary & Verbs pages that I am still working on.

The third part of the book gives information on other languages in more detail, including non-Indo-European and constructed languages and leads into a discussion on language planning and a “true Interlingua” that would be “a passport to a wider international culture.” The last paragraph is still relevant today, though written during WWII.

“Of itself, no such change can bring the age-long calamity of war to an end; and it is a dangerous error to conceive that it can do so. We cannot hope to reach a remedy for the language obstacles to international co-operation on a democratic footing, while predatory finance capital, intrigues or armament manufacturers, and the vested interest of a rentier class in the misery of colonial peoples continue to stifle the impulse to a world-wide enterprise for the common wealth of mankind. No language reform can abolish war, while social agencies far more powerful than mere linguistic misunderstandings furnish fresh occasion for it. What intelligent language planning can do is to forge a new instrument for human collaboration on a planetary scale, when social institutions propitious to international strife no longer thwart the constructive task of planning health, leisure and plenty for all.”

Language, culture and politics always have been connected and probably always will be. The government of Belgium just collapsed (again!) because of tensions between French and Flemish speakers and the French-English tensions in Quebec has a long history as well. Hispanics in the US are discriminated against because they do not speak English well enough or not at all even though the US has no official language. Montenegro calls its language Montenegrin though it is actually another dialect of the now defunct Serbo-Croatian language that also includes Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian because the Balkan states must have their own “standardized” language in order to be eligible for EU membership.

Interestingly, WWII and the Balkan wars in the 90’s were what encouraged me to start learning languages in the first place. I wanted to read the original documents and journals and newspapers and try to understand why wars happen and where the hatred for other human beings comes from. There are still several armed conflicts happening all over the world, and the racist propaganda against immigrants in several countries, including both my home and adopted countries, is what keeps me learning languages – so that one day I can help those immigrants, and especially refugees, adjust to their new lives and fight against the discrimination. Perhaps I am a bleeding-heart liberal when it comes to the underprivileged (especially the poor who  are usually immigrants) but rampant inequality among groups of people is heart-breaking to me; and even though it sounds trite and clichéd, I still believe that learning foreign languages plays a large part in making the world a better place.

Update: Also check out Quotes from The Loom of Language on Classroom Learning and the Direct Method

Learning the Language AND Cultural Vocabulary Online

How do you learn proper nouns, place names, brands, acronyms or other culture-specific vocabulary if you aren’t immersed in the culture? Before I moved to France, I knew that Carrefour was one of the largest stores and so I used their online ads to learn vocabulary for everyday objects that I would need when I arrived. But then it got me thinking about other stores in France and how I would even go about finding out their names and what they sell. What if Carrefour didn’t have what I wanted? Where else could I go?

Most countries have their own version of the yellow pages, so I started with and typed in magasin de + whatever I was looking for to find the names of stores that would hopefully have websites. And by visiting their websites, I could learn more vocabulary instead of just the generic words that are found in books. There are more than sofas (canapés) and chairs (chaises) to sit on, and thanks to sites like Conforama or But I was able to learn several new words for types of furniture that I didn’t even know in English. Clic-clac, banquette, BZ, pouf, chauffeuse, poire?

Sitting on a poire doesn’t seem like a good idea… but when referring to furniture and not fruit, it’s actually a bean bag chair.

Once I moved to France and started receiving ads for local businesses (whether I wanted them or not), I could also learn the names of stores and new vocabulary that way. For restaurants and prepared dishes, it was slightly harder. Again, I could find local restaurants on but not many had websites or put their menus online and few sent out ads, unlike the major stores. So I just resorted to taking pictures of the menus and translating them all when I got home. (This is what inspired me to create the Realia page.)

However, finding this cultural vocabulary for household items or food was only half the battle. What about proper nouns, like places, peoples’ names, abbreviations, acronyms, metonyms, etc. and most importantly, how to pronounce them?  I had a hard time understanding my students’ names when I first started teaching English here because there were so many names that I had never heard before and half the time I didn’t even know if the name referred to a man or a woman. Listening to the news is a good way to hear names of countries or cities, but of course, it will only be those places that are constantly in the news. French absolutely loves to use acronyms and abbreviations in everyday speech but the string of letters didn’t mean much to me until someone said the full name.

Cultural vocabulary isn’t usually included in books because it is too location-dependent and it does change over time just like slang. People in Quebec talk about the Sears catalog, but here in France it’s LaRedoute or 3Suisses. If you travel by train in France, the national company is called the SNCF, while in Belgium it’s the SNCB and in Switzerland it’s the CFF. In Quebec, people buy books, DVDs and music from Archambault; but in France, people shop at FNAC.

So how do we learn to pronounce and recognize this extremely important cultural vocabulary? Listening to authentic language as much as possible and asking native speakers for their input is the obvious answer. But if you aren’t yet in the country and you don’t have access to native speakers whenever you want, you can use the internet:

  • Wikipedia has good articles on generalized brand names (propietary eponyms) in several languages so you can discover what people actually say beyond the well-known ones from English (Kleenex, Frisbee, Xerox , etc.)
  • Search each country’s Google page or Yellow pages to find names of certain stores selling clothes, shoes, sports gear, furniture, etc. I guarantee the vocabulary used on those sites will include many, many words than those found in textbooks. If the sites don’t include pictures, then use each country’s page to find out what exactly it is.
  • For pronunciation, you can try Forvo because they have categories such as brands, geography and internet.
  • Get a native speaker to record target words for you at Rhinospike.
  • Or you can try your luck with Acapela, computer-generated speech which is surprisingly accurate (at least for the French proper nouns I tried.)
  • If you know the IPA, LaRousse dictionaries includes a lot of metonyms and eponyms, such as Elysée and Sopalin and some do have audio included, like Matignon and Photomaton.

Pronunciation dictionaries exist in English, but I can’t seem to find any in French that include proper nouns and vocabulary from more than one country that uses the language. Insiders’ French is a good dictionary of this vocabulary but it only refers to France and doesn’t include pronunciation. The online Dictionary of Modern France is very helpful too, but again, limited to France.  The books that do include cultural vocabulary are usually written for advanced learners and so are completely in French, but even beginning learners need to know certain cultural concepts, especially if they are living in the country with limited knowledge of the language. Culture needs to be taught along with the basics of the language from the very beginning. This is my biggest problem with textbooks and even social language learning sites. They all present bland, generic vocabulary that no one really uses and create fake situations and dialogs from it instead of just using authentic materials and the words that people actually say in everyday language.

I’ve tried to help learners with France-based vocabulary and included pronunciation of common acronyms and regions/cities in France but there are many more proper nouns that I need to add, especially names.

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

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

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

This post was originally published in March 2010 so some functionalities of these language learning websites may have changed.

An Example of 21st Century Vocabulary

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

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!

Multilingual Vocabulary Lists and Verb Conjugations to Learn Several Languages Together

Multilingual Vocabulary Lists and Verb Conjugations

Study several languages with multilingual vocabulary lists and verb conjugations

For those who also love multilingual vocabulary lists or verb conjugations, I’m continuously updating the Romance and Germanic pages. The Romance languages include French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Germanic includes German, Dutch, Swedish, some Danish, and a tiny bit of Afrikaans and Norwegian for the vocabulary sections, and German, Dutch and Swedish for the verb conjugations. Here are the index pages with links to each individual page:

Once I am able to add more vocabulary and verbs, I will probably split the Germanic lists and create separate Scandinavian lists (hopefully with Icelandic included). I have also been creating some Youtube videos so you can hear and see the differences among the Romance, Germanic, and Scandinavian languages as well as some fill-in-the-blank exercises for Romance languages.

For the Romance languages, you also have the option of hiding/showing languages as well as changing the order of the languages. This will be added to the Germanic lists soon.

Multilingual vocabulary lists - Days in the Romance languages available at


Other multilingual sites to check out:

The MediaGlyphs Project Vocabulary List Generator allows you to select 2-3 languages and a theme to display the multilingual vocabulary 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.

Book2 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.

Internet Polyglot offers lots of language combinations to study lists of vocabulary, many with pronunciation and games. It is free, but like Book2 you can only choose two languages to view at a time.

BePolyglot was a pay language portal about the 5 main Romance languages that offered multilingual vocabulary lists.  [Unfortunately this website no longer exists, but you can view the free pages using the Internet Archive.]


Multilingual, but more work for you:

These 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.


If you can help add other languages – from any language family – please let me know!

Updated July 2016

Learning Two Languages Together: Where are the Resources?

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.