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Get conversational in a foreign language for free

Speaking more than one language can be personally fulfilling. It may also give you an advantage in the job market. It takes discipline and work to learn a new language, but if you’ve looked into classes or language learning CDs and books and gotten the impression it would cost hundreds of dollars just to get conversational, there’s good news. The internet is full of free online resources that can teach you new languages – at least enough to communicate.

Bookshelf with foreign language dictionaries
  1. Word2Word is a well-maintained list of links to free language resources. It covers quite a few languages, and the links all lead to live, functioning sites, and the offerings really are free. Resources range from sites where you can listen to words being spoken to sites that offer written explanations about that language’s culture that could be invaluable to travelers.
  2. WebGerman isn’t just for people learning German. It links to resources for a number of languages. Like Word2Word, the resources it links to work, are free, and don’t require you to sign up or register for anything.
  3. BBC Languages introduces you to several languages with videos that show you people interacting as you listen to them speak the language. This might be ideal for someone who leans strongly toward visual learning, as you associate the actions you’re seeing with the sounds you’re hearing. This one is aimed at people who want to learn practical traveling phrases.
  4. Byki lets you download a free software package to learn the language. There are also paid versions of the software that teach you more, but the free version is fully functional and should give you a decent grounding in any of the 74 languages Byki covers. To get a sense of this one without downloading anything, watch the video here. You can also check out their online forums.
  5. LiveMocha has free entry level and intermediate courses along with paid higher level and “plus” courses. A free email registration is required for you to access the free courses, and then you get constant annoying reminders that parts of the courses are only available if you “upgrade”, i.e. pay. But if you don’t mind ignoring the hard sale approach, you can get a lot out of it.

Don’t forget the very best way to learn a foreign language: if you know someone who speaks it as a native, get them to talk to you in it as often as they’re willing to do it.