Language Resources

I used to have a separate page for each language, but they were too scattered and really needed to be consolidated into one.

For each language that I’ve put significant effort into learning, I’ve got some story, some attachment to the language. Languages are near and dear to my heart, because it’s much more than just language. It’s culture. It’s… “Hey, I know you. I know where you’re coming from. We understand each other on a deeper level because we’re speaking this same language together”.

It’s hard to put into words, but if you’ve ever spoken to a non-native English speaker, started in English and then switched into speaking their language, you know the reaction I’m talking about. The person’s face lights up. They get more emotionally involved in your conversation and they speak a lot more. Try it some time, you’ll see. Even just a simple “Hola, ¿cómo estás?” can be enough to get someone excited.

In General

Language can really be broken into 2 major parts: Grammar (how to say what, when, etc.) and vocabulary. Vocab is easy, grammar not so much. Different resources focus more on one or the other. No resource will be 100% the only thing you need, magic-bullet solution to learning a language.

The classic Pimsleur courses are all-audio, but they’re absolutely, hands-down, 100% the best investment in time learning a language that I’ve ever made. They really are that good. If there were a magic bullet solution for learning a language, this would probably be it. I recommend the classic audio courses (don’t waste your money on their new “interactive” ones).

These courses teach grammar very well, and have you repeat after native speakers. This resource is also great for getting your pronunciation down pat. A few native speakers have told me that I have “almost no” accent, and I have to attribute that to the Pimsleur courses.

The Pimsleur audio courses are also good in the case that you need to start speaking today.

Radio Lingua Network offers several free podcasts for a variety of languages.

Rosetta Stone is ok for vocab, but horrible for learning to speak immediately. I can’t recommend wasting your money on it actually, but maybe the new ones aren’t so bad. I bought the Spanish version from a few years back (2009). I still can’t imagine the quality of their core offering has improved much.

forums.wordreference.com – I usually use this site by googling for a specific word/phrase while filtering the search results with “site:wordreference.com”, which will return results only from the wordreference.com domain. Example: enter “pardiez site:wordreference.com” into google (without the quotes).

Google Translate should be obvious by now. It’s still a machine, but a pretty smart one. I use it for single-word and phrase translations mostly.

I have more, but it’s late and I can’t remember right now. This will be updated as I remember more of the resources that I use/used to use.

Spanish

My first foreign language. Probably the easiest language to learn that’s also spoken in the most parts of the globe. I’ve met native Spanish speakers all over the world.

Spanish for Gringos Level One and Level Two are great workbooks for learning basic grammar and building up vocab. These are easy enough to go through on your own time, not just in a classroom.

Coffee Break Spanish by Radio Lingua is aimed at beginners and covers basics of the language. Show Time Spanish is geared toward the intermediate Spanish learner, for those looking to take their Spanish to the next level. These all used to be free, but apparently they’re charging for some of the episodes now.

123teachme.com has a great Spanish Verb Conjugator

The Diccionario de la Lengua Española, or DRAE, is the definitive guide to the Spanish language. Of course, all the definitions will be in Spanish. Published by the Real Academia Española.

Portuguese

My second foreign language. I was thrust into learning this when I arrived in Brazil without realizing that not everyone would understand Spanish. But I loved every second of learning and speaking it. I would stay in my pousada for 2 or 3 hours at a time just going over Portuguese lessons… those were the days. 🙂

I use a conjugator when I already know the verb in Portuguese, but need to know how to conjugate it. This one works well enough (my old one is gone): http://www.conjuga-me.net/en/

French

Probably my favorite language to speak. Wish I could get more practice in a French-speaking part of the world. Need to train my ear, which might be the hardest part about French. It’s really not as hard as it sounds to either hear or speak once you’re used to it.

Radio Lingua also offers Coffee Break French podcasts. Mark is an awesome speaker and professor of both French and Spanish.

Michel Thomas French is one of the best audio courses I’ve used to help learn and perfect my French. Highly recommended, but he goes a little fast. I recommend listening to this after completing all three of the Pimsleur French courses.

Le Figaro’s «Le Conjugueur» — a good verb conjugator.

Dutch

I’ve always felt a strong pull toward Dutch, maybe because I have Dutch ancestry. I just love it. It’s easier than German (just two genders instead of three). I really love the Dutch language and people.

A Dutch girl named Lidewij makes short videos on certain aspects of the Dutch language (pronunciation, vocabulary, etc.). She also puts the correct Dutch spelling (along with English) on the screen. Very helpful resource.

dutchforn00bs YouTube channel

Mandarin Chinese

If you have a smart phone, download and install the Pleco app. It’s a Chinese dictionary and lets you figure out a character by drawing it on the screen (stroke order not important). It’s been an amazing help for me traveling in Taiwan and China.

Another great app is ChineseSkill, which is like a DuoLingo but for only Chinese. (DuoLingo doesn’t have Chinese, and they seem to really be struggling to keep up with even their current languages. I really wonder if their management is very capable of running/scaling something with that much popularity.)

This online dictionary has been somewhat helpful.

I found a site which is both a dictionary and shows stroke order for the top 4000 characters, both simplified and traditional (many of them are the same). It’s really been a huge help in learning to write characters, and I only really started to memorize and recall characters after starting to write them. It’s amazing what writing things down does for the brain. The site is here: Learn How to Read and Write Chinese Characters There’s no DNS domain, just an IP address, but it’s been up for at least a couple years now. I am currently (2016-04-23) working on something so that people can make use of the character stroke animations on a mobile device.

I’ve tried Chineasy, and I have to recommend against it. The quality is so horrible that it will just confuse most people (e.g. traditional/simplified characters are mixed, and that’s not pointed out/obvious), there are mis-spellings and broken links on the website, etc. My recommendation is to avoid it.

Japanese

Romaji is the name for Japanese words spelled using Latin (e.g. “Roman”) characters. Don’t learn Romaji. Romaji is a crutch, and it’s a translation layer. As Gabe Wyner says in Fluent Forever, you shouldn’t translate, but instead learn a language as a native speaker does. It seems scary to learn Hiragana and Katakana, but they can be learned in just a few hours or days.

First, learn hiragana here (they tell you not to worry about writing, but I find that I learn the characters a LOT better once I learn to write them).

Then learn katakana here

If you want, learn to write the characters properly, with proper stroke order. (I find that it helps tremendously with memorization/recall).

Learn hiragana stroke order
Learn katakana stroke order

Vietnamese

This was really difficult for me as there aren’t many good resources out there yet. Pimsleur only has 10 lessons, and they teach the northern dialect spoken in Hanoi (sounds and words differ from Vietnamese spoken in the south, in Ho Chi Minh City).

This is helpful: https://www.youtube.com/user/AnnieVietnamese

If I were dedicated to learning Vietnamese, I would take an intensive language course for 4-hours per day (20 hours per week) in Saigon. But I’m not interested in living in Vietnam, and for me personally don’t see much of an ROI for learning this language.