If you’ve ever struggled in your language studies, then you’ve got something in common with Thomas Jefferson.
The third president of the U.S. managed to learn four languages, but he kept books in several more—and ultimately had trouble achieving fluency in some of the languages he studied.
Maybe it was because he had to spend so much time trying to figure out where he put all those dang books.
Okay, okay, maybe not.
He probably had plenty of other stuff on his mind, what with helping to create a country and all.
But it’s true that learning a language by reading books, though valuable, isn’t always the easiest or most convenient method.
Fortunately, there have been some advances since Jefferson’s day.
This is where e-books come in.
They have all the target-language content to help you Jefferson it up, but they’re conveniently packed into one handy device. This means you always have an opportunity to read and learn, even when you’re away from your bookshelf. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about whether the floor boards can sustain the growing weight of your extensive collection.
And e-books offer a full array of genres—from textbooks to novels. Chances are if you can find them in hard copy, you can find them in e-book form.
So it’s time to write your Declaration of Independence from hard copy books and check out these great sources for foreign language e-books!
Why Read Foreign Language E-books?
Foreign language e-books are more convenient than conventional books. Since you can upload them to your phone, tablet or whatever you carry around, you can have them with you wherever you go.
What’s that mean for language learners? You can fit in reading practice anytime, anywhere. Plus, the more convenient it is to do some reading, the more likely you are to do it (and, naturally, the more your skills will improve).
These e-books are also often easier to find than hard copies of foreign language books. After all, e-books are entirely digital, so retailers don’t need a warehouse storing a wide array of foreign language books in hopes that someone might purchase them. Retailers are a lot more eager to sell something that takes up literally no room.
Finally, foreign language e-books offer super-charged reading practice. Not only will you be boosting your comprehension skills just by reading, you’ll also have easy access to language tools on your device. You can quickly look up unfamiliar words or switch to your translator app without losing the train of the story you’re reading.
And to suppliement your learning, why not use a language learning app like FluentU?
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It’s much easier than juggling a reference book along with your hard copy—which means more motivation to read and learn.
Read the World! 8 Fruitful Sources for Foreign Language E-books
Project Gutenburg is a dream come true for language learners.
It offers a huge assortment of free e-books in dozens of foreign languages. All these books are in the public domain, so most of the offerings are older books, but this also means that many of them are classics.
There are several languages with more than 50 offerings each. These are mostly more common languages like Spanish, French, German and Chinese. However, there are also e-books in many languages that are less commonly served by learning resources/stores, such as Scottish Gaelic, Yiddish, Slovenian and much more.
With so many options, chances are there’s a free e-book (or a few dozen) in your target language.
Amazon is one of the best places to find foreign language e-books because it offers plenty of books and is easy to browse. Of any website, Amazon does the best job categorizing different types of foreign language e-books.
You can browse authentic foreign language e-books, which were written for a native-speaking audience—like novels, nonfiction or self-help books. On Amazon, these offerings include the most common languages like Spanish, French, German, Chinese and Japanese, but you can also find works in less common languages like Danish and Afrikaans.
For the more common languages, you can even select a genre, making it easy to find the ideal e-book for you, whether it’s a popular Spanish YA novel or a Chinese cookbook for the most authentic recipes possible.
If you’re looking for foreign language e-books written specifically for language learners, Amazon also has your back. You can browse e-books on language instruction, phrasebooks and dictionaries. These offerings cover dozens of languages, so there’s something for virtually any learner.
The eBooks website offers two convenient browsing options to help you find the best foreign language e-book for you. You can browse the foreign language books category or the foreign language study category, depending on whether you want authentic content or focused language study.
The foreign language books include everything from crime to religion to health and fitness. A few books on language analysis and/or language education also sneak in. Just go to the lefthand sidebar to filter the results by language or subject. You can choose from Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese and Swedish.
The foreign language study category focuses more squarely on materials exclusively for language learners such as textbooks, phrasebooks and dictionaries. Language categories for language study include Spanish, French, German, Italian, Latin, Russian and Scandinavian languages.
If you’re looking for that perfect foreign language textbook (but don’t want to lug a heavy brick around all day), then check out VitalSource’s collection of digital textbooks. VitalSource caters to many disciplines but there are thousands of texts to choose from in the World Languages category.
You can filter by language (Spanish, German, Portuguese, Greek and more are offered). To access the VitalSource texts, you’ll use an app called Bookshelf that works on iOS and Android devices as well as Kindles. Cool features include the ability to easily mark up your texts digitally, and the option to change your default language so your entire reading experience is in the target language. It’s a great way to get some focused, formal language study anytime, anywhere.
Plus, VitalSource lets you rent textbooks so you can see how one works with your learning style before putting a chunk of money down.
Kobo offers thousands of foreign language e-books in a wide range of languages, including some less common ones.
This site emphasizes instructional foreign language e-books. They aren’t organized by theme, so finding your ideal e-book will require a little browsing. However, you can filter by language so that at least you aren’t browsing through too many languages at once.
You might also try searching the name of your target language in that language to see more offerings.
Language offerings include Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. Other language groups include Indic and South Asian languages, Scandinavian languages, Slavic languages and Southeast Asian languages.
iTunes offers a convenient (if somewhat limited) selection of foreign language e-books.
Unfortunately, licensing laws prevent users from downloading authentic content directly from abroad. In a cruel twist, even if you search in a foreign iTunes store and try to download a book, you may very well be blocked. However, you can find foreign language learning books and a handful of authentic offerings by browsing.
Perhaps the easiest way to do this is paging through the foreign language reference section (linked above) until you spot a title in your target language. There are thousands of different titles, including learning books and authentic content. Not only are these convenient, there are also a good number of free options.
If you’re looking for more authentic e-books to read on your Apple device, you might also download the free iBooks app. It offers essentially the same options from iTunes, although the browsing experience is nicer and you may see a specific “Books in Spanish” category depending on where you’re located.
Like iTunes, Google Play is somewhat limited by licensing laws, so you can’t always download foreign content.
However, Google Play still has some offerings that are worth a look. Google Play’s book options are convenient and come in a wide variety of price points, so you can go all out or find budget options.
Google Play offers easy access to plenty of Spanish language books in particular. Other languages are more limited, but there are a few out there if you search the name of the language. You may also find a couple if you search your target language’s name in that language.
While you’re more likely to find learning books than authentic content, there is definitely some authentic content mixed in, so look carefully to find your ideal match.
Your Local Library
Most libraries offer some digital content, including foreign language offerings. Your library may even be more likely to have e-books in your target language if you happen to live in a region with a lot of native speakers.
To get access to all these free e-books, all you need is a library card. You typically don’t even need to visit the library itself. You can just enter your library card number into the library’s online catalogue to browse e-books and download to your device.
Of course, the specific process will differ depending on your library, but you can just call or visit to get a librarian’s guidance if necessary.
If you have a Kindle, you can directly access public library e-books by following this procedure.
You’ll never accomplish all Thomas Jefferson did in his life. You’ll probably never be on money. Your home may never be a tourist attraction. But at the same time, Thomas Jefferson would probably be jealous of all the foreign language e-books you can carry around with you, so give these resources a try and do what Jefferson never could!