Free Online Resources for Language Learners - Our Top Ten Categories

Leaning a new language is not easy, so we can all do with some help to get started. With this in mind we've created a selection of online resources for adult language learners that cover everything from help with vocabulary acquisition, grammar correction and pronunciation to downloadable apps that help you learn more effectively. What all these online resources have in common is that they're free to use. Please contact us if you think that there is a great free language site that we should feature. Bookmark this page for news of updates, or, for more language tips, sign-up to our free, weekly newsletter.

1. Free Language-learning Apps

Flashcards apps are a great way to learn vocabulary especially if they use a spaced-repetition system so that the frequency of when your chosen phrases next appear is based on how well you remember them. One of the best programs for doing just that is Anki. It works online, or as a desktop program across all platforms or as an app for a smartphone or tablet/iPad. Best of all, you can either create your own database of vocabulary or use one of the decks of cards in the public domain for most of the popular languages. Mnemosyne is another excellent free Flashcard app choice. Also, there's Memrise, a community-focused web site where you can create language-learning material in collaboration or just learn a second language from the many free courses posted by other users. All courses are based around using vivid, engaging mnemonic devices and a clever spaced-repetition system to help transfer learning into long-term memory. The Writer's app offers an excellent English language style guide, along with blogs and a readability checker.

2. Free Dictionary Sites

There are many free dictionary sites out there but here are a few that we particularly like. Reverso has teamed up with Collins Dictionaries to provide not only bilingual definitions, but also synonyms, grammar and verb conjugation in a wide variety of popular languages. The site also has a bilingual French-English medical dictionary. Also from Reverso, the Dictionnaire de Français Littré offers definitions based on Emile Littré's historical dictionary, publishe in 1873 and considered the largest lexicographical work for the French language at that time. If you are interested in the etymology of words, Online Etymology Dictionary brings together some of the best etymological dictionaries to give you this free online resource, an essential tool for language lovers! Lingro is a nifty web site that allows the user to input a web address for a site in a foreign language and then look up the definitions of any words on the page while reading the text in the original language. For English speakers, the Macmillan Dictionary site is a wonderful resource for those looking for just the right word or nuance of expression. Those looking for a detailed and entertaining explanation of the etymology of French expressions, both old and new, should check out the site Expressio, Les expressions françaises décortiquées. Melting Mots is a handy site for all the latest French abbreviations in current use. On France Terme, the website launched by the French government and the Académie française in order to protect the French language from Anglicisms, you can search for the correct French equivalent for foreign expressions. For speakers of Italian, outstanding online dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopaedia are offered on the Treccani Institute website, the most ancient and renowned publisher of Italian encyclopaedias.  The German website spokensanskrit.de offers an excellent English/Sanskrit and Sanskrit/English online dictionary and includes Sanskrit characters as well as English transliterations. 

3. Free Grammar Checkers and Primers

For speakers of French, Spanish (and English) one of the best free grammar checkers is Bon Patron. This handy checker works in the browser and highlights your mistakes while at the same time explaining why you made them. It's not infallible but it is extremely useful for getting you nine-tenths of the way there. Bienecrire.org is your one-stop shop for all your questions on French grammar. The site also features a downloadable  browser menu bar extension so that you can quickly get answers to grammar problems when surfing other sites. It is also well worth signing up to bienecrire.org's twitter feed for daily bulletins on current French usage. Also worth noting is Tex's French grammar, a very handy and humourous French primer for beginners and advanced learners alike. Lang-8 is a fun, collaborative language exchange site where native speakers will correct (and explain) the syntax and grammar for journal entries in the language(s) you're learning in exchange for your doing the same for them using your skills in your mother tongue. If you're having trouble with English grammar, Grammarly is the world's most accurate grammar checker, correcting over 250 types of grammatical mistakes, catching contextual spelling errors and enhancing your sentences with word choice suggestions.

4. Free Translation Sites

One of the largest sites for help with translations as well as dictionary definitions is WordReference.com. The WordReference forums cover a vast gamut of different languages and because they are so popular with amateur and professional translators alike, you are bound to find an answer to a thorny translation problem from other members. Linguee is a bilingual dictionary and translation site for a wide variety of European languages and is really good at showing words and phrases in context drawn from authoritative websites and official documents. This is great for fine-tuning translations and building up confidence in a particular usage.

5. Free Pronunciation Sites

Looking for help with the pronunciation of unusual words or proper nouns? Then Forvo may be able to come to your rescue. This extensive site has audio files for over 30 languages, including Arabic, Russian and Mandarin Chinese. The user can search for specific words, create watch lists for words not yet added, and as the site is very much a collaborative venture, help others by adding words to the site from their native language. Another really useful site is RhinoSpike, where you can upload text for 10 popular languages and a native speaker will read it out loud and submit a recording for you. French learners should check out Français Facile: Excercices de prononciation avec YouTube for wide ranging and entertaining drills using video.

6. Free Sites for Accents

For learners of English as a second language, the International Dialects of English Archive is a great resource for listening to audio samples of a wide variety of English accents not only from native speakers but also from non-Anglophone speakers from other parts of the world. The Speech Accent Archive is useful for anyone who wishes to compare and analyze the accents of different English speakers, both native and non-native. For those learning French, Les Accent des Français is a good audio guide to the main accents of the regions of France. The site Learnlanguagesonyourown.com has excellent and comprehensive tips and advice for speaking any language without an accent.

7. Free Language Lessons

About.com provides extensive support for language learners of ESL, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin in the form of lessons written by language experts. There are also lively, dedicated forums for learners to share tips and ask questions. The BBC Languages site is full of useful resources for learners of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Mandarin Chinese, Welsh, Irish and ESL. The site is particularly strong on video and audio resources, all produced to a very high standard by the BBC. For those interested in the Classics, the UK National Archives runs two very good interactive courses for beginner and advanced learners of Latin of late antiquity. Lingus.tv provides an extensive range of fun and entertaining short videos aimed at beginner, intermediate and advanced learners of Spanish. RussianLessons.Net is a very extensive website packed with free language learning resources aimed at beginner and intermediate learners of Russian; includes a dual-language e-book version of Crime and Punishment. NIHONGO eな is a fun portal produced by the Japanese Foundation that aims to regroup some of the best resources for those studying Japanese from scratch. Aimed at B2+ learners of French, Voyages en Français, presents an extensive series of fun, multimedia exercises based on getting to know the region of Aquitaine. Google has recently launched Endangered Languages, a project whose aim is to help preserve languages at risk of extinction. The new site contains high-quality recordings of people speaking the languages, copies of historical manuscripts, e-learning options, and even niche-language social networking opportunities, in addition to research and other documentation. This website run by the US Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Centre offers handy survival kits for over 90 languages and countries around the world, including many minority languages with few resources available elsewhere. Hands On Turkish is a free online course for complete beginners supported by the EU Lifelong Learning Programme. For those learning French, Radio France International offers a wealth of resources for learning and teaching French, as well as a self-assesment quiz that allows you to test your level. Also, Learn French by Podcast is an excellent website, providing free audio clips on current events and a glossary of difficult vocabulary in each podcast.

8. Free Language Community Sites and Search Tools

Italki is a large community site that allows users to meet online to do free language exchanges for a wide variety of languages using text, chat and video. Tandem is a web site and an app for iPhone and Android that helps you find native speakers of almost any language who want to learn your language in exchange. Conversation Exchange works on the same principle as Tandem through a web site interface. Livemocha offers basic courses and online chat with other members as part of its free offering. Yamli Arabic Search is a highly-useful search engine focused on providing more relevant search results for an Arabic query by expanding it to its most frequently used Latin representations. Yamli also produce the Smart Arabic Keyboard which allows users to type Arabic without an Arabic keyboard, from within their web browser. Another useful Arabic resource is the Arabic Chat Alphabet, which allows users to send messages in over the internet or on mobile phones where Arabic script is not enabled. Busuu is a language learning network providing learning units for twelve languages for beginners. The platform encourages collaborative learning with assistance from a growing community of native speakers. English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a free question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.
 

9. Free Language-learning Self-Assessment

Europass, an initiative of the European Union, provides resources to help you evaluate your language level according to the six bands of language attainment set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF) developed by the Council of Europe. Dialang, hosted by Lancaster University, is a free software program for PCs that is designed to test the learner's ability against the Common European Framework levels of attainment in any of 14 different European member state languages. The Dialang software enables the user to test and assess their reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary language skills. For German learners, the Goethe Institut website provides an online test designed to assess how well you understand written German texts, how good you are in grammar and how extensive is your German vocabulary.

10. Free Language Fun sites

One of the most extensive sites for free-to-use, interactive language learning games is Digital Dialects. Language resources include games for learning phrases, numbers, useful words, spelling, verb conjugation and alphabets for an A to Z of different languages i.e. from Afrikaans to Zazaki. The Austrian site, Uebersetzung, hosts a very extensive collection of tongue-twisters in 117 languages. Polar FLE encourages you to learn French through an interactive whodunit detective story. Try the European Commission's fun, interactive quiz on the languages of member states e.g. what's the origin of the word ciao? If you want a real challenge why not take the quiz in another language spoken in the EU other than your own. Published by the l'Office québécois de la langue française and le Réseau panlatin de terminologie (Realiter) the Vocabulaire panlatin du vélo is a very handy, free, illustrated PDF book of bicycle and cycling vocabulary set out simultaneously in eight different languages: French, English, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Galician and Romanian.  For those who like a little praxis to spice up their language learning Sporcle may have the answer with their wide range of fun games ranging from the undemanding e.g. first names in other languages, to the mind-bending e.g.the translation quiz '7 days in 6 languages'. Adg Blog, the official blog of Italian language school Accademia del Giglio, offers over 100 activities to learn Italian through songs. The Italian website www.mylatinlover.it has launched a free online magazine containing crosswords, quizzes and other games in Latin. Subscribe to the magazine or see the current issue of Hebdomada Aenigmatum. The Haggard Hawks Blog is a gold mine of interesting facts about words, language, and etymology, curated by Paul Anthony Jones, the author of the best-selling book Word DropsFor those who enjoy listening to the radio, Tune In is a great resource that allows you to choose a radio station in any language on any continent and listen to live, authentic language in use!  The World of Dante is a wonderful, free resource that presents all three books of Dante's masterpiece in a side-by-side annotated Italian-English parallel text.

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