General Resources for Learning Languages
Here you’ll find language book reviews, websites, and anything else I can collect for your language needs. General tools will be here, and specific language tools are at the links on the left.
I’ve made a base vocabulary list of 625 words for any language. This would be a good place to start your vocabulary before you move on to a frequency list. To research words, check out these handy bookmarklets to quickly search multiple websites at once. They can save you a lot of time.
Learning pronunciation is a combination of learning to hear new sounds and learning how to make them. Your first step involves training your ears to hear new sounds, and the most effective way to do that is through Minimal Pair Trainers. What are those and how do you get them? Glad you asked; you’ll find all that information at Kickstarter. Go! (And tell all your friends. If this thing gets enough support, I can spend every waking moment between now and my book’s release developing pronunciation resources for a bajillion languages, and that sounds like heaven.)
(If you’ve already seen the Kickstarter and still want more, you might want to check out this blog post about creating pronunciation trainers. You’ll need access to recordings:
- For recordings of example words in most any language, check out Forvo.com
- For recordings on demand, Rhinospike is a wonderful exchange service – your requests go up in priority if you record something in English for someone else.
To learn how to make new sounds, the best tool out there is the International Phonetic Alphabet. It’s basically an instruction manual for your mouth. You don’t need to memorize it (though if you’re learning a bunch of languages, you might want to!); you just have to understand the basics in order to convert a crazy symbol like this: [ œ ] into “Say to vowel ‘eh’, but round your lips in a circle at the same time, as if you were saying ‘ooh.’” Learn the IPA using these resources:
- My video series on English pronunciation and the International Phonetic alphabet is done. Check it out here, and check out the associated Anki deck!
- Ben Trawick-Smith has a wonderful guide to the IPA at dialectblog.com
- Yorku.ca’s interactive IPA charts are also pretty handy.
Resources for Writing (and getting questions answered)
As far as I’m concerned, writing is the best way to learn grammar. You practice expressing yourself using the words and grammar rules you’ve already learned, and when you receive corrections, you get a chance to learn the words and grammar rules you haven’t yet learned. All you need is a source for corrections, and you’re looking at a perfect, customized grammar class. You can even use writing to ask questions (and your source of corrections will usually be able to answer them). Your best bet for writing corrections is Lang-8.com. As long as you make a habit of correcting someone else’s work (takes 2-5 minutes) whenever you post your own, you can get an unlimited number of free corrections for your work in almost any language. It’s a tremendous website. Make sure you search for native speakers of your target language and befriend them; it’ll get your work corrected faster. If you don’t want to correct other people’s writing, iTalki.com can hook you up with a paid tutor to do it for you. It’s not designed for this purpose (it’s supposed to be for video chats), but I know of at least one reader who simply pays for writing corrections instead of video lessons. If you have a particular question (“How do you use German’s eben in a conversation?” “What are common small talk questions you might use at a Japanese dinner party?”), then try out fluentli.com. It’s a new community, but it’s growing rapidly and has a really neat points system, where you get points for answering questions (both in writing and by making recordings) and spend those points to get answers. For now, the English and Japanese communities are the big ones, but other languages should be growing pretty quickly over the next few months. Check it out!
Resources for Speaking
It’s easy to get in touch with native speakers through the internet. Your basic three flavors of online language exchanges are Verbling (speed-dating style), LiveMocha (basic dating website-style) and iTalki (paid tutors). The main challenge becomes figuring out what you’re going to talk about. So check out this article about conversation topics for language exchanges to help you get past “What’s your name and what do you do?”
Anki itself (Download link) The iPhone App (iTunes App Store) My personal Anki decks for French, Russian and Italian (Link to the disclaimer and download) Anki decks at the Tower of Babelfish Store (English Pronunciation and the IPA now available, French Phonetics coming soon)