The Internet Is Your Friend: Learning a Language on a Budget, Week Two

65DACCA0-7966-40B4-9597-14D38F099207.jpgphoto credit: woodleywonderworks

In part one of “Learning a Language on a Budget” I talked a bit about the things you can do to get prepared to learn a language. A number of you offered comments and provided additional information about some resources that are available. Much appreciated!

In this second post in the series I’m going to focus on some of the Internet resources that are available for the study of Spanish and, to some extent, other languages. There are an amazingly large number of resources available to language learners on the Internet.  Many resources are free (or near free) and, with proper dedication, can go a good distance toward your goal of learning another language without spending any (or much) money!  So let’s take a little time and examine a few of these resources.

If you are studying a foreign language you might first want to see what is available in terms of foreign language courses.   While there are a variety of resources out available, one of my favorites is the language course created over the years by the Foreign Service Institute. These courses were created by the United States government to help teach foreign languages to diplomats and other government employees assigned to locations around the world. Although these courses are a little long in the tooth (after all many were developed 4-50 years ago), they can still be an effective way to study a language.  Because these were courses designed to help diplomats and their staffs (among others), they often contain elaborate explanations of how the languages sounds and tones should be produced (from the perspective of someone who speaks American English). Many even discuss regional variants.

The FSI language courses are part of the Library of Congress files (your tax dollars paid for them) and are downloadable as PDF, and often MP3, files. Additionally, there are companies that, for a fee, will prepackage the courses for you. Although this is convenient it is not nearly as cost effective as locating them yourself.

With a simple Google Search I was able to locate a number of places from which to download the files but finding most was as simple as visiting  This site has the public domain versions of these courses (PDFs and MP3s) and, as previously noted, they are free.  These are the versions I used.   I was happ to discover that through private efforts this library of language courses is growing.  It really is an excellent language-learning resource.

There are many other good sites out there that can help with learning a new language.  I started with a simple google search for “learning Spanish”.One of the places I especially liked was the site   Be careful, however! Some of these sites are genuine enthusiast sites. Others, however, are simply lead-ins to purchasing lessons or some other language product.  Even so, some of these leading sites still offer great content, even if there’s a commercial product behind the website.  There are also sites that may not offer direct language lessons, but are instead a great support site while you are learning the language.  One site I came across in my travels and liked was Learn Spanish.  The site has a great set of links for things like “Christmas Vocabulary”, “Internet Terms”, “Weather Terms”, “Frequently Used Verbs”, and much more.  There are even sites that will give you colloquialisms!   I’m sure many of you have come across other excellent resources too!

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Another resource not to be overlooked are language podcasts. I am, for example, a big fan of Coffee Break Spanish and SpanishPod 101. The “Coffee Break” folk, the Radio Lingua Network, offer their podcasts in a variety of languages. Each offers one or two concepts, a handful of words which are presented with dialogs to help the learning process. Many of these podcasts use humor to aid the process.  Additionally, for a subscription fee, you can download PDF written materials and enhanced podcasts that include visual aids and extra dialog and/or information.

The folks, Innovative Learning, lead me to one of the more interesting trends I’ve seen in this space lately – cross filtration between the podcast and iPhone applications.  Innovative Language offers a number of applications, such as Pocket Spanish series, that are actually presentations or remixes of the podcasts. These apps also include text from the podcast, and background information about the subject. They bundle 10 lessons per application. This is really a very cool thing, but there is a bit of a cost for them ($4.99 or $2.99 depending on level).  You can get the basic info from the podcast, but if you want to extend things a bit and you are willing to spend a little money, these apps are a nice offering.

Although not a free resource, another interesting application variant has been in the form of the video podcasts from Miniature Studios. Their “Bueno, entonces…” series uses animation and application controls as well as video and audio in a 15-20 minute interactive presentation that was highly entertaining. Be warned, however, they use innuendo occasionally, so it probably isn’t suited for younger learners.  They are available on the AppStore for $2.99 each (30 lessons available).

Using these resources, and many others, you can get a good jump on learning a language without spending much money at all.

Next time we are going to look at online translation and some tricks I’ve learned to help get better translation results.

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About the Author

Christopher Gavula
Chris has been a COBOL programmer, a desktop support technician, network engineer, telecommunications manager, and even a professional musician. Currently, he is focused on deploying Voice over IP technologies in a large, corporate setting. He started working full-time at the tender age of 14, even before there were PCs, and will probably be working and trying to finish “just one more project” as he’s lowered into the grave.

5 Comments on "The Internet Is Your Friend: Learning a Language on a Budget, Week Two"

  1. I’ve tried just about all of those at one time or another. My favorite site by far is Completely free with video, flash cards, exercises and great guided lesson plans. Check it out.

  2. Christopher Gavula | October 30, 2009 at 5:06 pm |

    It’s good to keep in mind that there are a LOT of resources out there! If you’ve been following this series so far then you’ll note that I already mentioned SpanishDict in the last installment which was all about dictionaries. It is an excellent resource and I was happy to give it a nod.

  3. Oops…well, sorry about that Chris. Heh.

  4. Hi.

    Awesome post! I’m really passionate about how you don’t have to spend $1000 to learn a language.

    Two free ideas for spanish learners – First, Notes in Spanish is an awesome podcast at Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced level. I’ve listened to just about every one when I was learning Spanish. They’re free podcasts (you can buy the transcripts) that are actually interesting.

    Second – this is my own website Lenguajero – The main focus is finding a native Spanish speaker to have an online conversation with (actually practicing). There is also a writing club (where spanish-speakers will correct your written spanish), SRS flashcards and a forum.


  5. I absolutely agree. There is so much great material out there for language learners, there is no need to spend a lot of money. The most important factor by far is motivation.

    There are plenty of free resources to be found at our site at A large library of podcast, audiobooks, etc. all with transcript and our vocabulary learning functionality. We do also offer tutoring services which you have to pay for but there are opportunities to earn credits for tutoring by tutoring yourself and by creating lessons for other members.

    Please check it out and tell your readers what you think.

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