As promised in my last post, here are some excellentl resources for foreign language learning.
Assimil, published in France, is one of the best language learning programs I have found. The general lesson structure follows the principles that I advocated in my last blog post. The core of each lesson is a dialogue spoken by native speakers. A transcript is provided along with a translation. Grammar points are introduced as necessary to understand expressions in the dialogue. The dialogues are short and witty. In addition to listening to, reading, and reciting the dialogue, there are only two other exercises during the first half of the program: translating 5 sentences each lesson from your target language into English, and filling in missing words in 5 sentences written in your target language. A third exercise is added to each lesson after the student has completed the first half of the program, namely, returning to the earlier dialogues in turn and translating the English into the target language.
Foreign Service Institute Language Courses
The Foreign Service Institute is the office in the United States government responsible for training the country’s diplomatic corps and others who work for the U.S. State Department to advance American interests overseas. In the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, this office developed intensive courses to learn many languages. These materials are now in the public domain and available for free. The lessons are generally rather dense, but there is a tremendous amount of material contained in them. Like the programs in Assimil, they contain dialogues spoken by native speakers, accompanied by transcripts and translations. Unlike Assimil, though, each lesson includes a large number exercises. One frequent exercises is a replacement drill, in which a basic sentence is given and then the student has to say a new sentence that involves a slight modification of the preceding one, such as using a different pronoun or verb tense.
I have come across 2 polyglots who provide excellent recommendations and resources for people learning a foreign language.
In this book author Gabriel Wyner provides recommendations for an overall approach to foreign language learning as well as enormous number of invaluable resources, including a list of the 600 most common words in various languages and guidance about how to make outstanding flash cards using Anki, a spaced-repetition computer-based flash card program. Wyner also provides recommendations about outstanding grammar books and dictionaries for several languages as well as information about various web-based services to find people to correct one’s writing and to provide opportunities for conversation.
This site has been developed by the polyglot, Steve Kaufman, who also blogs frequently about themes related to foreign language learning. The LingQ website is a tremendous resource of text and audio from many different languages. A special feature of the site is the ability to keep track of new words in passages as well as how many words one knows. I have been especially persuaded by Kaufman’s strong advocacy of focusing on maximizing input, which in practice means lots and lots of reading and listening, followed by frequent writing and speaking.
News in Slow Spanish, French, Italian, and German
These websites provide weekly news articles spoken slowly. Each news story is followed by commentary spoken slowly. Users also have the option to hear the text read at a normal speed. New vocabulary is highlighted and a translation of that vocabulary is immediately provided when one places the mouse cursor over the highlighted text. In addition to the podcasts on current events, every week a new dialogue is presented on a theme of general interest that contains many examples of a particular grammar point. The programs also provide a dialogue each week repeatedly using a common idiomatic expression. This is an absolutely amazing resource, a virtually inexhaustible supply of high-quality, interesting text and audio with numerous, clever aides for the foreign language student.
There are many useful online dictionaries now, but Linguee I think stands out. It not only provides definitions and audio with proper pronunciation, it also access an enormous data base to provide examples of words and phrases as they are used in text.
Phrase books are generally designed for travelers who want to learn a number of useful phrases in a language, but who do not necessarily care to study it at length in order to be able to speak and read at a high level. Nonetheless, they can be very useful tools to help a beginning student get started with his serious and more extensive language study. Two excellent series are those by Rick Steves and those by Lonely Planet.
There are many other excellent resources that I haven't mentioned, including many that deal with learning one language in particular. But one of the overwhelming aspects of beginning to learn another language is figuring out where to start, and these resources will quickly help you begin efficient and organized study.