The time has come. At this point, I can honestly say: you don’t need to pay anything to learn a language. From absolute beginner to near-native level, there are enough free resources out there (for commonly-studied languages) that, if used together, will take you all the way.
I don’t just mean one free online course. I mean a battery of courses, each of which would be enough to reach intermediate level or higher all by itself. And not just courses. There are dictionaries, grammars, phrasebooks, ways to work on your listening comprehension, your reading comprehension, your pronunciation, even ways to improve your writing and speaking with real native speakers to correct you – all for free. Not to mention that there are ways to get language lessons for free, legally and without any hassle.
Just for fun, I collected all the different ways I could think of to learn Spanish for free – not just online but also offline, but only counting high-quality resources that I would use myself. The number I came up with? 72. Same if you want to learn German, French, Japanese, Chinese… they all have tons of excellent free study materials which can be grouped into 72 “ways” to study each of these languages.
Here are some examples of the kind of materials I’m talking about:
- Duolingo – a new kind of language courses for Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese
- FSI – traditional-style language courses that the US military has successfully used for decades
- Bliubliu – read texts that are at the right level for you
- Lang-8 – post your foreign-language writings and people will correct them for free
- Rhinospike – post a text and people will record it for you / post an audio file and people will transcribe it for you
- Quia – exercises for any grammar/vocabulary topic you can imagine
Of course most great courses and materials are language-specific. You shouldn’t try to teach French by translating a German course. There are some truly amazing language-specific resources out there, for example Radio France International has 4 free language courses that are based on engaging mystery stories.
There is too much to mention. I wound up writing down 40 pages worth of suggestions for each language. That’s when I decided that I should turn those into an ebook rather than an interminable blog post. Also I had spent a lot more time researching and evaluating sites than I originally intended. Over a month, to be exact. So if you or one of your friends want to study a language on a budget, buy one of my ebooks for the price of a coffee (no, you don’t need a Kindle):