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Why You Need a Foreign Language
Why You Need a
Foreign Language
& How to Learn One


15 Language Learning Resources
at Your Fingertips

If you've been learning languages for a while, you know that attaining proficiency in a foreign language requires considerable practice. What can you do to practice your language skills? Other speakers of the language you're learning may be a continent away or they may be right in your own community. Either way, there are a multitude of resources available to today's language learners.

Language proficiency consists of a variety of skills -- the ability to speak, comprehend, read, and write -- and each of these requires a subset of passive or active abilities: knowledge of vocabulary, the command of grammatical structures, understanding of cultural contexts in which language appears. For this reason, it is helpful to practice language in various ways. Besides, none of these skills exist in isolation. Practicing and improving your ability in one set of skills can also promote your language learning in the other areas.

[ See also specific language pages for additional resources: Arabic - French - German - Italian - Japanese - Spanish ]

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1. Find a pen pal

Modern technologies have undeniably brought the world closer together. Years ago penpals communicated primarily through letter writing (hence pen pal!). Today there are many more alternatives which are much faster than snail mail and are still cheap or even free, including e-mail, fax, text chat or voice chat, text messaging, or video conferencing via the Internet. They don't even require a pen.

Finding a foreign language pen pal is easy. Many online services exist that will allow you to file a pen pal request or search databases for pen pals suitable to your language needs, age, and interests. You can find a partner for nearly every language, even those that are less commonly taught. The eTandem service allows you to register online and will actively match you based on your application with a suitable partner. At, you can locate your own pen pal. The site gives you the opportunity to post a request for a pen pal or to search other requests by language and several other limiting criteria. Polyglot allows you to search for a language partner by language. All of these services are free.

2. Rent and watch a foreign film

Visit your local movie rental store and browse the foreign film section. Most films will be in the foreign language with English subtitles. If you're choosing a video rather than a DVD, be sure that the film is not dubbed, but rather in the original language with subtitles. Some university libraries have foreign videos that you can check out. Another alternative is to join an online DVD subscription service. Netflix has over 3500 foreign films available for rent -- by far more than any other rental service. And some of the films are even available for download, so you can view them immediately upon joining Netflix.

Especially if you are a beginning language learner, you will likely not understand much of the language in the movie. Native speakers talk rapidly, use slang, and often speak in accents or local dialects. Nonetheless, watching a foreign language film is a fantastic way to attune your ear to the sounds of the language. You'll probably notice that by the end of the film, you're able to understand bits and pieces of what you hear. Gather your friends together, make some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the adventure!

3. Read or watch foreign news online

The Internet gives web users access to 1000s of international news sources within seconds. The Internet Public Library provides links to online newspapers in over 150 countries. Press Display provides digitized replicas of over 1000 printed newspapers over 1000 newspapers in 82 countries and 39 languages. Some of the content is free, but the company also offers subscription services and allows single issue purchases. Broadcast-Live provides a links television stations with streaming video. Multilingual Books maintains a similar list of TV stations with streaming video for over 30 languages and dozens of countries.

Reading a foreign language newspaper or watching a video broadcast from another country is a great way to hone your language skills and familiarize yourself with an area where it's spoken. You can pick up vocabulary pertaining to current events and become exposed to different perspectives on those events. And you can become aware of local issues of importance to the readers or viewers of that particular news source.

After you have gone through the news stories once, read up on international events in your own language to fill in the details that you missed. Then go back and read or view the news reports again. The second, or third, or even the fourth time around, you will understand successively more.

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