An introduction to
101 languages in
Where to learn a language:
Finding the right language course
Define your expectations
When you're searching for a language course, the first question you
need to ask yourself is: Why am I learning the language? Do you hope
to use the language only when you go on vacation? In that case, you
won't need to write much in the language, but you'll need to be able
to understand spoken language and to communicate orally. Do you plan
to learn the language as a requirement for graduate school or to use
the language for research purposes? This typically requires a good
reading knowledge of a given language. Do you plan to do business
with natives of the target language? You will need a focused range
of vocabulary, and will need to be able to understand and communicate
orally, and to be able to compose formal business letters and written
Of course, you may wish to learn a language for a range of reasons.
If you're interested in a fully enriching language experience and
in truly learning about the life and culture of other peoples, then
you'll want to find a course that gives you the opportunity to jump
in full-force and to develop a complete range of skills.
Identify your learning style
Once you've identified what kind of language skills you'd like to
develop, you need to consider what type of learner you are. Do you
tend to be self-motivated and learn material well independently? Or
do you need the structure of a formal course with frequent homework
assignments to keep you on task? Do you prefer daily contact with
an instructor who guides you through the material or are you comfortable
working through material yourself with the instructor as a resource
for answering occasional questions? Do you tend to absorb material
well by hearing it or listening to it or do you need to see the material
in written form before you can grasp it?
It's important to keep in mind that just because you are weaker in
one skill area does not mean that you should ignore developing it.
If you seem to have difficulties with listening comprehension, for
example, the only way you can improve that ability is to practice
it. The key is identifying your strengths and using them to buttress
your weaknesses while working on improving in the areas where you
need it most.
Explore your options
Knowing what you want from a course and identifying your learning
style will help you narrow your focus in searching for a language
course best suited to your own unique situation. Here are some places
to start looking for the language course that's right for you.
1. Self-paced online courses
If you've identified yourself as the type of learner who learns
well independently but who appreciates learning support from time
to time, the Internet has a lot to offer. Many language learning
sites have been established by good folks who, like us, strongly
believe in the value and importance of learning languages. A variety
of sites are maintained by individuals or groups who want to share
their own language and culture with others. If cost is an important
factor in your selection of courses, the good news about online
language instruction is that much of it is free.
The cost-free online language courses typically offer self-paced
lessons, audio and interactive content, and oftentimes automated
assignments and self-tests. Many such sites also have native-speaker
tutors and they typically host discussion boards where the online
community of learners can gather and share ideas and information,
ask each other questions, and support each other's learning.
Good one-stop shops for
- Online courses in Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian,
Portuguese, and Spanish. Plus essential phrases in 36 languages.
- Maintains a comprehensive list of sites offering language courses
A few individual language sites:
German or Spanish - For a fee you get not only interactive online lessons but also
the assistance of a personal tutor at LernPlus.
- Series of 8 courses, including one on Ancient Greek, through Kypros in collaboration with the CyBC
- 16 basic Japanese lessons
- Lessons from Beginner to Advanced in reading, writing, listening,
When venturing online to look for free courses, remember that anyone
can set up a website and post content. Scan the site for signs that
you're receiving accurate, quality instruction (credentials of site
owner, professional endorsements, number of satisfied users, etc.).
2. Self-paced offline courses
A number of computerized CD-ROM modules, CD / audio cassette language
courses, and teach-yourself language books, often with accompanying
CDs or cassettes, are on the market. We recommend this type of self-instruction
only as a supplement to other instruction or as a last resort. Why?
Language is above all a vehicle for communication. Without the opportunity
to interact with others you will not be able to practice your ability
to communicate in meaningful ways. Additionally, without access to
a language instructor who can provide you with feedback and who can
guide and monitor your language progress, you learning productivity
is likely to suffer. Even if you plan to learn a language only for
reading knowledge, you will find it useful to have access to a language
expert or a community of tutors and learners at various levels who
can at least answer your questions.
Finding published language learning materials is simple. Browse materials
at your local bookstore and get a feel for the methods used behind
each set of materials. Is the instructional method heavily grammar-based?
Does it focus primarily on tourist-related themes? Does it give ample
opportunity to hear and practice the language? Are there opportunities
Some simple programs for language learning are available for free
or at a very small cost. Check out our list of free
software for foreign language learners, which includes a variety
of software programs for over 20 different languages. If you're looking
for something more robust, Rosetta
Languages are companies that offer audio CDs and computerized,
interactive learning environments on CD-ROM for a range of languages.
- Highly acclaimed language software program providing
instruction in 28 different languages. Used by such agencies as
NASA, the US State Department, many Fortune 500 companies, and over
- Offers a variety of products for over 100 different languages.
Programs include listening, speaking, and reading opportunities,
vocabulary and grammar practice, videos, flash card modules, native
speaker audio instruction, add-on content modules, and more.
- These audio-only courses, available for 38 different languages,
are designed to help people develop speaking skills quickly. Used
by the FBI, CIA, and many businesses.
In addition, Amazon has a myriad of language
learning software and language
books available and ECTACO sells a number of electronic
language-learning aids, such as hand-held voice translators
and computerized dictionaries and language tutors.
3. Instructor-led, live courses
If you need the structure of a formal course, whether online or
in-person, the course will in all likelihood carry course fees.
Depending on your situation, course fees can range from minimal
to hundreds of dollars. Check offerings at local colleges or universities
or community education or continuing education programs. If you
are in an area without a college or university nearby, note that
some universities offer distance courses delivered via various modes
from satellite TV to Internet to correspondence courses. The continuing
education division or extension service of your state university
is a good place to begin searching for these types of language courses.
4. Intensive and immersion courses
Immersion courses are often the most rapid, most satisfying venue
for learning a language. These intensive courses give learners the
opportunity to fully engage themselves in the world of the language,
whether they take place in your own country or whether they are
taught abroad in a country where the language is spoken. Immersion
courses are widely varied in cost, target audience, the number of
hours of instruction, extracurricular opportunities, and more. Be
sure to inform yourself about any program in which you're interested
and make sure it's in sync with your learning goals.
- The site allows criteria-based searches and comparison of language
- Offers a searchable online directory of language schools for students
looking to learn or study a foreign language abroad.
Schools and Language Courses
- Language-directory.com lists immersion
and on-site courses for several languages, organized by language and
- Lists dozens of international language schools
with brief descriptions and links to their sites
Intensive and/or immersion courses are also an integrated part of
most study abroad programs. When you choose to study in a country
where the foreign language is different than your native language
you'll have the opportunity to participate in such rapid-paced language
instruction. One of the greatest benefits of participating in such
courses in the countries where the language is spoken is that you
can leave the classroom and immediately apply what you're learning
in an authentic setting. Read more at our Study
While immersion courses tend to be the most rewarding and satisfying
kind of course you can join, they also tend by far to be most costly
type of course. Still, you may be able to substantially reduce your
costs by finding financial assistance for your participation. Visit
and scholarships page for financial aid tips and resources.
All content on this site is copyrighted. © 2004-