We often find ourselves recommending products for self-learning foreign languages, and we thought it’d be useful to compile a list for your reference.
We have included some of our own products only where we are convinced they deserve a place in the list, and we have included both paid and free study resources without discrimination.
- Online courses
- Vocabulary building
- Speaking practice
- Writing practice
- Reading practice
- Educational games
- Podcasts, music & radio
- Vodcasts & video blogs
- Polyglot blogs
- Books on language learning
- Forums & communities
- Dictionaries & translation
Self-teaching can be much more effective than regular courses, but every once in a while, even self-learners need to ask a question, or receive words of motivation and support. It can also get rather tiresome to keep searching for new resources and learning how to learn. LinguaLift combines quality content, advanced algorithms and personal coaching to give serious self-learners everything they need to succeed.
Created by the inventor of ReCaptcha, the ubiquitous am-i-a-robot checker Duolingo has quickly become the leading free language-learning website. Although the methodology is far from perfect, and you may want to complement the site with other resources, the overall experience is really fun and engaging and you can’t really beat the price!
These excellent online courses are composed of interactive mini lessons. The interface is friendly and easy to use, and the program does an especially good job at teaching sentence word order through intuitive colour coding and clear explanations. There’s just one snag: you need a school or library subscription to use the website.
Babbel is similar to Duolingo, but rather than relying on automatic algorithms to generate the interactive exercises, all content is divided into lessons curated by their teachers. The benefit is twofold: more immediately useful expressions, and a wide variety in the type of exercises you get to do.
You’ve probably seen its iconic yellow box in airport terminals, at the local library or at your favourite bookstore. The Rosetta Stone method of teaching languages is based on the way that babies learn their mother tongue. It is engaging, but becomes rather ineffective once you move beyond the basics. Read our full Rosetta Stone review
Udemy is a repository of video courses on every imaginable topic. They specialise in business-related content, but there are also some great foreign language lessons and an excellent advanced English writing course by a former New York Times journalist.
Lingvist is the creation of a CERN scientist, turned language educator. The site shows a lot of promise for the future, and features some novel ways to visualise your progress, but the actual learning method doesn’t offer anything particularly innovative or effective at the moment.
Language Zen’s algorithm adapts to your pace and style of acquiring material and remembers all the vocab you learned across different topical packs and songs. So after you went through greetings you don’t have to go though he same basics when doing the “at a restaurant” course. The site is currently limited to Spanish, but looking at the quality of the course we keep our fingers crossed for the future.
About.com has pretty good articles on virtually every topic, and foreign languages are no exception. Their grammar explanations are particularly helpful and generally use simple language without going into unnecessary detail.
Similar to About.com, the BBC has a variety of resources, both written text and audio, for all major languages. If you’re learning British English, be sure to check out their excellent pronunciation section.
Anki uses the so-called ‘spaced repetition system’ (SRS) to predict when you are about to forget what you’re learning, and remind you just before your memory fades completely. Although there are many other SRS applications, Anki’s active community and extensive flashcard deck library makes this one a particularly good choice.
Anki has an online version, but if you don’t need all of its advanced features and would prefer a friendlier interface and more extensive flashcard library, Memrise is the way to go for learning vocabulary in your browser. The methodology revolves around memes, or mnemonic devices that use imagery and associations to help you remember a word.
Think of SuperMemo as the grandfather of Anki. Wozniak invented the original SRS algorithm and the current iteration of SuperMemo remains the most advanced of its kind. You can create your own cards free of charge, and the upcoming version will also, similar to Anki, offer course-sharing options.
Mnemosyne is a distant third in the spaced repetition software race.
Quizlet may not use any advanced algorithms to predict your memory patterns, but it is by far the leading repository of online flashcards. The free library includes hundreds of thousands of decks on any topic, the interface is very easy to use, and the PDF export feature has no equal.
Can you guess from the name what it does? 😛 The site lists full conjugations of verbs from over 35 languages. The verbs are accompanied by example sentences, and information about usage.
Not quite sure how to pronounce Yokohama? Meeting your Russian pen-pal for the first time and struggling to read his name? Forvo is a free collection of pronunciation recordings for the vocabulary of every language, and is recorded by volunteer native speakers around the world.
On the rare occasion that a particular word is not available on Forvo, RhinoSpike is at your service. Simply enter whatever word you’re struggling to pronounce, and wait for a benevolent native to send you a recording from across the globe. The service is especially useful for languages where pronunciation changes according to the surrounding words and the wider context of the sentence.
HelloTalk allows you to chat with native speakers all around the word by exchanging text and voice messages. The system has an easy facility for correcting written messages, so you’ll immediately get feedback on your writing. When recording voice messages, HelloTalk relieves the stress of an immediate conversation (although you can also call people if you wish) and on top of that, HelloTalk has an inbuilt dictionary!
If italki didn’t meet your needs, give its latest competitor, Verbling, a try. The site has a nice interface and makes use of Google Hangouts to automatically set up the tutoring sessions, but the community is still rather small, particularly if you’re learning a language other than Spanish.
Another alternative to italki, similar to Verbling. The feature-set is largely identical, but Fluentify’s founder also offers bespoke, one-to-one prep courses for English language job interviews.
Pairing you with your conversation partners based on interest, Coffee Strap not only allows you to practice the language but also to find friends. If you don’t buy into that cheesy promise, think of it as a completely free language exchange app form.
This one is for learners who need language training in specialist fields (hi-tech, pharma). As mYngle comes with a personal coach and study plan, all you need is attendance and motivation.
Like mYngle, Lingo Live targets business customers and tailors plans to groups of employees from one organisation. Courses are developed following the Common European Framework, but are personalised to specific groups.
The golden grail of writing practice. Write anything from a sentence to an essay in your target language, get corrected by native speakers, help others in return. One of the first, Lang-8 is also one of the most successful sites of this kind. Try to write regularly, taking the time to understand the corrections, and your writing ability will improve in no time.
Whether you’re learning Japanese, Mandarin or Cantonese, Skritter is the place to learn the stroke order in Chinese characters. The software is a pleasure to use, it is compatible with most popular textbooks, and there’s just no better way to practice kanji and hanzi handwriting than by tracing the characters on the screen.
The basic concept—open any text in your target language, mark words that you haven’t met before, track your progress—is nothing new, but the difference is that the brand new Readlang is free, lightweight and better designed than all its competitors. If you’re a Google Chrome user, make sure to install the Readlang extension.
Devised by polyglot Steve Kaufmann (Lingo Steve), and one of the first websites of its kind, LingQ has a big library of texts at different pronunciation levels. It teaches an impressive (and growing!) number of languages and includes a community component: students can post and reply to language requests from other learners.
If you have the time and money to spend, there’s nothing quite as effective as Pimsleur. The renowned spaced repetition audio course is slow to get going, and only covers a small subset of the language, but you will remember every word, expression, name and location taught in the course forever, with minimal effort.
Kerstin and Lindsay discuss language learning methods with invited guests from the language learning sphere. With a casual atmosphere and friendly style, the authors share advice based on their personal polyglot experience, making it fun and informative at the same time.
JapanesePod101 is one of the best, and certainly the longest-running podcast for Japanese learners of all levels. Although the company has now released podcasts and audio courses for other languages, the quality is not quite on par for many of them.
A collection of basic phrases in over 25 languages. In each short, 1-2 minute audio lesson a native speaker explains one basic phrase giving the context of its use. Each lesson has a free downloadable pdf guide. Great to learn the basics on the plane before you land at your next destination.
Longer than the lessons in Survival Phrases, the Radio Lingua 20 5-minute episodes of stories are native speaker conversations on levels from beginner to advanced. The foreign language text is accompanied with word-for-word or phrase-for-phrase translations and explanations. Wonderful resource for learning while commuting.
MyLINGO’s mission is to make the world of non-English speaking cinema goers a better place. The service provides synchronised audio for foreign language films so you can watch them in the theatre without subtitles. Though currently there’s not a lot of content, MyLINGO is one to keep an eye on in the future.
One of the most effective and underrated methodologies for improving one’s day-to-day conversation, listening, intonation and pronunciation is known as ‘shadowing’. Assimil is the collection to get if you decide to try this method. Read our shadowing how-to
Careful with this one because it gets addictive even in your mother tongue! Choose a fave song and a level of difficulty then try to fill in the missing words in the subtitles while the track is playing. Great way to improve your listening skills and… typing speed!
Radio is a great way to improve listening comprehension, acclimatise your ear to regional dialects and accents, and simply keep your language up-to-date while commuting or doing house chores. Tunein makes it easier than ever to, well, tune in to thousands of radio stations around the world.
A fun little language learning app with a collection of games teaching you the writing system, basic vocabulary and grammar of your target language. The content is somewhat limited but the games provide a nice break from more serious learning.
Crowdfunded on Kickstarter, Influent let’s you explore a virtual world from a first-person or third-person point of view. In the learn mode, walk around and click any object to learn its name in a foreign tongue. In the timed review mode, do your best to quickly find objects whose names appear on the screen.
Languagenut helps teachers create tailored, gamified language classes for students. Schools and individual students can then compete with each other.using a wide selection of languages, including minority ones.
Vodcasts & video blogs
Channel belongs to the creators of the Babbel app. The funniest series of their videos features an amusing twins cover topic related to language-learning methods and learners’ concerns. A few other series cover language basics and offer bite-size lessons on specific topics.
As far as languages go, Jade focuses on English, pronunciation and accents using funny videos to explain the quirks of British English. A second strand of her videos deals with introvertism and its impact on language learning.
The very friendly videos here present the basics of a big variety of languages, featuring native speakers as teachers and also in conversation with the presenters. Everything is done in casual reporter style.
You probably know Steve Kaufmann already, and now you can actually hear him speak about his personal experiences in language learning and really follow his progress and learning routine. A lot of videos have to do with LingQ, but that shouldn’t be a surprise.
If you’re looking for an approachable polyglot, try Luca. His channel is a mix of his multilingual interviews and lectures as well as his thoughts on and experiences in language learning.
Travel Linguist is a series of vocab learning videos providing 101 basic phrases in 15 different languages. Each phrase is written on the screen and as spoken by a native speaker. It can get pretty monotonous, but nonetheless is rather useful.
You get video content from the payable software, so you will not get the interactive exercises here! Yet the videos are very easy to follow and will slowly walk you through the basics of French, Spanish Italian and Mandarin; all with clear explanations. A separate strand is devoted to learning tips and to learning success stories.
Paul is not afraid of controversial topics or strong opinions. He answers common questions regarding language learning as well as sharing his learning story and giving honest product reviews. He has separate playlists devoted to Arabic, Hebrew, Tagalog and Japanese.
Benny Lewis only started to learn languages seriously in his early twenties, but has quickly become a polyglot through his 3-month language acquisition methodology based on using the language actively from day one.
Suzie Kelsey’s blog focuses on language learning, especially in the context of travel. She has posts about learning the languages of different countries around the world, and focuses the most on Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese.
Remember LingQ? The prolific polyglot Steve Kaufmann is also an author of this blog — a frequently updated resource aimed at learners of all ages.
Richard Simcott is something of a celebrity on the polyglot scene…Having studied 40 languages, and fluently speaking 16, he definitely has something to say on the matter of effective learning. He also runs Polyglot Workshops with (fellow polyglot) Alex Rawlings, so check out his events page to see if there isn’t one near you!
“Anyone can learn a language” is the tagline of this blog and Kris Broholm is working to motivate us all by producing interviews with language experts, bloggers and product creators. At the same time, he is himself trying to learn 10 languages in ten years—visit if you’re looking for inspiration!
The promise in the title of this blog may seem a bold claim, but Olly speaks eight languages and has recorded over 65 podcasts on language-learning methods. Visit to check if he knows what he is talking about 🙂
This dreamy blog is perhaps unusual in that its author, Luca Lamparello has posts in the various languages he has mastered. What’s more, Luca managed to learn 10 languages in his home country despite the common misconception that learning without travelling is impossible.
Shannon is not only a polyglot, but also a musician, which begs the question: are language learners better at music, or does musical ability enhance language learning? Or both? If you enjoy her posts, have a look at her resource page too, where she lists all the materials she regularly uses.
Agnieszka is not only a Polish language fan (see what I did there?) but is also a motivating writer. Her blog, which began as an attempt to teach her boyfriend Polish with short 5-minute lessons, has grown to be one of the more popular sites in this field.
Lindsay is one of the more creative bloggers out there and it’s hard to miss her brightly coloured posts on Facebook. She does Instagram challenges and a monthly “Clear the List” where she shares her language learning goals with her fans, encouraging them to do the same.
From Abaza to Zuni, this site has you covered. Are these even languages?-—you may ask. Yes, Simon Ager has made a point in including lesser known languages in his resources so whether you want to get an idea of a language or learn phrases, this is the site to visit.
Donovan from The Mezzofanti Guild is a polyglot, specialised in the Arabic language. This is a highly recommended read both for language learning tips as well as insights into the life and culture of Egypt and Kazan.
Apart from sharing tips on learning specific languages, John also draws from his university education in linguistics and writes about psychology, brain health and motivation, among other topics.
Siskia started as a bilingual so you may say she had it easier to become a polyglot, but that’s not the case! She shares her leaning struggles, tips, product reviews and occasional videos in an engaging, Mexican style.
Alex Rawlings, dissatisfied with the style of language teaching at his university, has made it his mission to show other learners more efficient methods of study. In 2012, he became Britain’s Most Multilingual Student, so his blog is definitely worth checking out.
Learning languages can be a dreary business, so why not have a fun break? Join the multinational and multilingual at the funny Itchy Feet and laugh at the problems or common situations that happen to all of us abroad.
There is probably no topic that Brian, the author of this blog, hasn’t covered. From reviews of language learning tools, tips on learning specific languages and unusual learning methods, to posts directed at language software and app producers. Brian spares no one! 🙂
Language Crawler’s posts aren’t your regular short “7 ways to do X” style, but are fairly well-researched pieces on specific aspects of languages and linguistics.
Language Surfer Ron aims to turn his blog into a technical manual for language learning. Coming from Florida, he learned Arabic, Spanish and German; all in flip flops of course 😉
The Intrepid Guide is run by Michele, a native of Australia and features travel tips, language hacks and travel phrase guides. It also has some of the best travel photography I have ever seen!
Books on language learning
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We’ve already listed Benny Lewis polyglot blogs “amonth” on our site, but his book is an equally good read. All his great tips on self-learning a language quickly by using it from day one are expanded, improved, and adapted for this hardcover format.
This book is a step-by-step, method by method review of the most common memorisation techniques and learning methods, supported by references to academic research on which they are based—sort of like the articles on our blog! Read the author’s definition of fluency in the blog post below.
Short read (like maybe a flight between London and Poland) with fun facts about European languages. Not all the facts and not all languages, but definitely a fun choice and a good present for those who seem to have “all the books about languages”.
Translation is just rendering one language in another, isn’t it? You may think that until you start speaking a foreign language and try to translate to your interlocutor a phrase like “kick the bucket”. This funny book shows how our lives are indeed all based on translation and describes some comical results of this setup.
How do people acquire colour vocabulary? Why would we have a hard time to understand directions as explained by Tzeltal speakers? Topics from linguistic theory and psycholinguistics are explained in an approachable manner with a lot of research examples.
Anyone bored with learning Spanish, German or even Japanese? Why not try Klingon, Láadan or Ido? Arika Okrent tried that and the book is a record of her experiences as well as stories behind constructed languages and their creators.
If you are a language fan, you must have at least heard about Stephen Pinker. In this book he argues that humans have an innate capacity for language acquisition and, perhaps, an in-built grammar “software”. Is it true? Read the book and tell us what you think.
This one is for those of you who are addicted to SRS language sites and want to upgrade their brain’s memorisation skills. The advice in this book comes from a former American Memory Master, so there is reason to believe that after reading it you will memorise a deck of cards in 2 minutes
Human history is a history of wars, movement and (add whatever you believe). All this is reflected in the languages and dialects we currently speak, and the discipline that studies it is called historical linguistics. For those who weren’t fans of this topic at school, trust me, Nicholas Ostler can even make historical linguistics interesting.
Forums & communities
Stack Overflow has become a go-to Q&A site for programmers, and the Stack Exchange (SE) network is promising to do the same for other fields. The Linguistics.SE is a good place for general language-related questions, but you should also explore language-specific subsites such as English Language & Usage.
Have you ever found yourself at a loss for words in a specific situation, or not quite sure about the precise wording of this or that expression? HiNative! positions native speakers around the world just a click away, and they’re ready to answer simple questions about language usage and nuance.
A site that does exactly what it says on the label—comprehensive self-learning guides for around 20 languages, covering linguistic information and providing relevant resources. All that combined with a vibrant forum with discussions on language learning methods and materials, also in languages other than English.
Language exchange groups, polyglot conferences and other language-related events are a great way to make new friends, practise your target language, and find out about the latest learning techniques and products. Meetup makes it super easy to find a language learners’ group near you.
Most people think of Couchsurfing as a fun, personal and, last but not least, free way of traveling in foreign countries. If you can’t afford to take a holiday, however, the service can also double as a great way to learn your target language by hosting and guiding visitors who speak it.
You must subscribe to gain access to the community that allows you to connect with language learners in your town, to see the meetups that are happening, find language partners for language exchange and ask for advice online.
InterNations has a “foreigner search” that helps you find and connect with your language community (or simply a community of non-locals) in a new town. We all love new languages and interacting with the locals, but sometimes, when you feel homesick, it’s good to have a supportive community-cushion to fall back on.
Dictionaries & translation
Babylon is an application that sits in the tray and allows you to translate anything by clicking it and pressing a keyboard shortcut at the same time. The free dictionaries included with the software are in no way exceptional, but what makes Babylon unique is the huge choice of premium dictionaries that can be loaded into it, including gems that are virtually unattainable in print.
A good alternative to Babylon, Lingoes is an on-demand dictionary offering translation in around 80 languages.
This website is indispensable when a traditional dictionary doesn’t give you enough context to figure out what the appropriate expression in a given situation would be. Simply search for a word, expressions, or part of sentence in your native language, to bring up a table highlighting your search phrase in professionally translated documents, most often from government websites or academic publications.
As the name suggests, this WordReference is home to an extensive collection of dictionaries that are especially useful for looking up nuanced translations of set expressions and word groups. Even better, however, is the site’s forum, which hosts some very interesting discussions on language usage and nuance.
When Google Translate just doesn’t cut it, that doesn’t mean you’ll have to spend a fortune on a traditional translator. Simply upload your text to Gengo, and the service will instantly match you with the ideal freelance translator that fits your budget and requirements.
If your goal is to become a professional translator, ProZ is the community to join. You’ll find an extensive collection of resources for translators, niche dictionary tools, and never ending discussions of language usage and nuance.
IFTTT stands for ‘if this then that’ and the four words pretty much sum up this online service. Choose a source web app or software, define a trigger event and channel it to one of a myriad of other services. If its purpose for language acquisition isn’t immediately useful, see our guide on automating your language learning.
TripLingo wants to make foreign travel less stressful. The app has many features like a voice translator (helpful if you want to ask for soy milk in a Latvian Starbucks), a phrasebook and various courses, as well as useful tools related to specific foreign travel (local emergency numbers and currency converter).
A journal is a language learner’s best friend, but as more and more aspects of our lives turns digital, you may want to consider online alternatives. OneNote is an excellent digital notebook application that syncs across all your devices and allows you to easily combine typed text, handwritten notes, audio recordings and even documents in a single entry.
Evernote is another digital notebook application, in many ways equivalent to OneNote. There are some differences between the two (such as support for handwritten notes, useful for Asian languages), but you’re likely to be happy no matter which one you choose.
Phew! This would be it! We hope you found something for you on the above list. If you did, feel free to share it with your friends!