We’ve got some great news for penny-pinching language learners.
Truth be told, it hasn’t been for a while.
Social media and smartphone apps have been bringing the world and its ideas closer to us in most of the thousands of languages we speak across the globe ever since broadband Internet was the hot new thing. Now the World Wide Web has gotten small enough to fit in our pockets, along with Android and iOS.
And that’s an awesome thing, because it means the benefits of learning a new language no longer have to come with a hefty price tag—or any price tag at all!
Welcome to 2016, where your problem isn’t finding free language learning websites and resources, but sorting through the masses of them buried in different corners of the Internet. Whether you’re looking for pronunciation help, Skype exchanges, grammar games or other online tools for learning the language you love, it’s out there, and you don’t always need to pay for it.
You could Google your heart out until the endless trial-and-error wears you out, or you could start by checking out these 52 free language learning websites, some of the best freebies from around the Web. Whether you prefer flashcards or face-to-face interaction, whether you’re learning Amharic or Zulu, for novices and near-natives and everything in between, here’s how you can start fine-tuning your language skills without spending a cent.
52 Free Language Learning Websites That Are Almost Too Good to Be True
Websites for Finding Free Language Courses
When most of us think about taking a language course, we’re picturing a classroom full of wobbly desks and chalkboard dust, plus a three- or four-digit tuition fee. For those who are looking for all the structure and formality of a traditional course but aren’t sure about stepping back into the classroom or forking over those fees, check out some of these free online language courses, available in nearly as many languages as there are learners.
1. Live Lingua
Heading off the list is Live Lingua, the Internet’s largest collection of free public domain language learning materials, according to the site itself. It’s not hard to believe. There are thousands of free e-books, audio recordings and foreign language video materials available in over 130 different languages.
It’s also one of the most user-friendly websites hosting the US Foreign Service Institute’s public domain language courses, which were developed by the US Department of State for expert language learning and are now freely available on various sites across the Web.
Learnalanguage.com is a website with links to extensive resources on and in 19 different languages. You can learn over 1400 words in your target language for free with their vocabulary lists and verb conjugation charts, and there’s plenty more free learning to be done in the nine languages in which Learnalanguage.com maintains its own Web-based courses.
3. Open Culture
Open Culture is an e-learning website that hosts “the best free cultural and educational media on the web,” and when it comes to languages, they’re not bluffing. Open Culture maintains a list of free courses in 48 languages across the Web, from Amharic to Yiddish. With these collected resources from governments, universities and respected private institutions across the world, you’re sure to find free, high-quality lessons in 48 languages that are learned far and wide.
Surface Languages maintains an extensive database of free online learning resources, as well as its own beginner audio courses in Italian, Portuguese, French and Polish. Additionally, there’s a handy section with audio and flashcards in Afrikaans and Romanian, and a “recently added” sidebar that shows you the latest additions to their ever-growing language learning library.
Internet Polyglot offers many of the same kinds of resources as the sites listed above, with the awesome added advantage of its “quick start menu,” which allows you to choose not only what language you’re learning but also what language you’re learning it in. Do you already speak Spanish and want to get started on Portuguese? Just select “Spanish” for the language you speak, and get started with a composite mental exercise to strengthen one language while building another.
The Defense Language Institute (DLI), like the Foreign Service Institute, is a government service that makes high-quality language learning programs available for free. Headstart2 is one of the best and most easily navigable services hosting complete DLI courses. After quickly registering for an account, you’ll be launched straight into interactive lessons with maps, images, sound, cultural notes and more.
Websites with Video-based Language Learning Content
The science shows that switching on the TV is great for language learning. If you want your brain to soak up the sights and sounds of what actual everyday speech sounds like and how it’s used in your target language, tune in and kick back for some quality input-based learning with these websites.
For the tube-loving language learners out there, Streema’s hard to beat. Although it’s not necessarily designed as a language learning tool, it offers free TV streaming from over 100 countries around the world in nearly as many languages.
This is an especially exciting resource if you’re learning a less commonly studied language with less widely available video material. Tuning into your favorite Albanian or Nepali TV station can easily make up for the lack of other learning materials in your language.
FluentU is a totally different world of language learning.
If you’re into learning with video, TV and movies (which you definitely should be), you’ve got to at least grab your free 15-day trial and spend a couple weeks binge-learning here with our video and audio libraries, which feature many of the same things native speakers of your target language are watching in their sweatpants while eating potato chips at home.
Two main features set FluentU apart from the others on this list. The first is the sheer range of available content: movies, news, documentaries, cartoons, music videos, funny YouTube videos or whatever else you like to watch, it’s there.
The second is that it uses real-world video. Instead of contriving some slowly-spoken and articulately-pronounced (and usually terribly boring) videos for learners, FluentU directs you to authentic video content appropriate to your level with built-in learning tools that ensure you can keep up.
Starting out with the free trial will give you a priceless learning boost, and if you subscribe after the trial period you’ll be paying less monthly for unlimited video content than you’d be shoveling out hourly for lessons with even the most affordable tutors.
Here’s just a brief taste of the content you’ll find on FluentU:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
Since its inception in 2005, Innovative Language has striven to become one of the leading language lesson providers.
Innovative Language is a massive system of free video and audio lessons in 34 languages. It’s updated with new lessons every week, with material geared towards absolute beginners all the way up to advanced learners nearing fluency. You may recognize it from its podcast sites (for example, Portuguesepod101) These are the language-specific sites you’ll be directed to once you enter your email and pick a language. Here’s just a sampling of the many popular foreign languages they currently offer:
It focuses on featuring audio and video material made by professional teachers, and it’s one of the most prolific and consistent language sites in the game. They teach grammar, vocabulary, everyday conversations, real-life situations and culture. So, basically, you’ve got all your bases covered.
Although they have a paid version of the service, thousands of professionally produced audios and videos are given absolutely free.
You can benefit from this flood of language content regardless of your state of fluency—they’ve got something for absolute beginners as well as advanced learners.
Did you know that YouTube has an insane number of TV shows available from around the world? Just go to the International TV section and scroll through the shows sorted by language.
This one is particularly helpful for learners of Indian languages, as it includes Hindi, Tamil, Marathi and others widely spoken through the Indian subcontinent, but other options like Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Greek, Danish and more are available as well.
Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for Free Language Learning
Did we mention that we think technology is awesome? A lot of the world’s best universities agree with us. That’s why so many of them are making lesson materials and entire university courses available online for free. Here are some of the best massively open online courses for learning a language.
MIT was one of the university hipsters making their course content available online before it was cool. Under the amazing Global Studies and Languages section of their Open Courseware website, you’ll find courses ranging from Chinese II to Contemporary French Politics, all designed to help you engage not only with the language you’re studying but also with its greater cultural context.
EdX is one of the biggest MOOC (massive open online course) websites out there. You can find a lot of college-level courses here, created and taught by actual professors from top universities. As a language learner, you can consider taking a dedicated language class, or if you’re more advanced, taking a course in your target language. For example, right now you can sign up to take an algebra class entirely in French!
You can actually earn college credits on EdX, through Arizona State University. Some of the courses have certificates you can get for completing them. In general, it costs money to get a verified certificate for completing a course (so make sure you check the details before you sign up), but many of the courses themselves are still free.
The courses offered on Coursera are run by professors from world-renowned institutions, and it’s even possible to earn a certificate from many of the courses.
Coursera, another big name in online education, also maintains a Language Learning section under its online catalogue. Many of the courses will be geared toward beginners, like First Step Korean, and others will engage more generally with language learning, like the Miracles of Human Language course from Leiden University. Still other classes are taught on other topics in foreign languages, so you can learn about writing, math, engineering or literature in the foreign language you’re learning—though this approach is recommended for higher-level learners.
On Coursera, there are currently 122 classes taught in Chinese, the second most common language after English, and a long list of other languages trail after. Spanish has 79 classes. French has 41 classes. You get the idea. There are a ton of classes out there for you to try. You can even learn about entrepreneurship in Khmer!
Whatever you find here, it’s coming from a respected university or educational institute, and if it’s not on offer now, sign up to get an alert when it is!
The OLI at Carnegie Mellon isn’t specifically made for language courses, but there are several excellent ones on offer. From elementary Spanish and French to “Arabic for Global Exchange,” you’ll find frequent courses available in the world’s biggest and most commonly learned languages.
Each of the eight languages offered on Alison’s language learning platform include at least an introductory course, and others include more advanced and detailed courses in popular languages like French. Best of all, if you complete all modules and score at least 80% on all your course assignments, you’ll be rewarded with a fancy (and free) certificate!
The blog Web Technos and Translation smartly and helpfully recommends taking an MOOC given in the foreign language you’re studying, and gives you a decent list to get started on doing so. Once you’ve broken through the intermediate level and are ready to start doing more with your language skills, why not try taking a course conducted in that language? Whether you want to study Croatian history in Croatian or systems administration in Spanish, the goal is the same: by focusing on learning about a topic instead of the language itself, you’ll learn more naturally.
Free Websites for Connecting with Native Speakers of Your Language
The biggest secret to effective language learning isn’t really a secret at all: You’ve gotta talk! And who better to talk with than a native speaker?
It’s okay if you can’t hop on a plane this weekend—instead, just click over to one of these websites, where you can connect with native speakers of your target language for free.
The site italki is one of the biggest names out there for practicing your language skills online with native speakers. Designed for language learners to find native speaking teachers and exchange partners via Skype, the free version of their service includes some great benefits, including access to their learner community. This access allows you to connect with other learners and arrange informal language exchanges via Skype or email. If you're looking to invest a little more to have a private tutor or teacher at some point, you can do that on italki too.
The Polyglot Club is an awesome all-purpose language learning website with tons of free features for connecting you with native speakers of your target language. You can find language exchange partners, submit written texts for correction, hang out in chat rooms, browse through target language videos and even attend their language events and meetups for connecting with even more learners!
HiNative is an innovative app that takes a nontraditional approach. Rather than giving you flashcards and courses or even facilitating Skype sessions, HiNative allows you to ask questions to native speakers of the language you’re learning. Whether it’s about the difference between two confusing words, getting a pronunciation check or figuring out how and when to use the subjunctive, just send a text and wait for a response.
Where others like to charge you to connect and chat with native speakers halfway across the globe, WeSpeke offers that totally for free. Just sign up and start speaking. If you decide you’re ready for some more formal studying, take some of WeSpeke’s affordable online lessons to supplement your exchange.
Word2Word is all about connecting the world, and they aim to do so by providing you with an insane amount of free online language learning resources. Not only are there chat rooms and meetups, but the site hosts resources on everything from typing characters in other alphabets and scripts to a Dictionary of Period Russian Names. If you’re looking for language exchange and don’t mind falling down the rabbit hole of linguistic geekery, this is definitely the place to get started.
For many of us, speaking comes easily, but when it comes time to put pen to paper and communicate in writing, all of a sudden we feel like we don’t speak a word of the language. Lang-8 is a community of native speakers of various world languages who work together to improve each other’s writing in languages they’re learning by offering revisions and tips on the posts made in their languages—just don’t forget to pay it forward by helping others out with your native language too!
Free Vocabulary Games and Flashcards
There are boring flashcards, and then there are the kind that turn language learning into a game and wake up the competitor in all of us. To build your vocabulary while having some fun, these sites offer some fantastic flashcard exercises and other language learning games.
How could we even make a list without mentioning everyone’s favorite pushy little green bird? Duolingo’s user-friendly vocabulary games made language learning cool again by unlocking the power of gaming for language learning.
They use the gaming strategy to make sure you retain more of what you learn than you would from your standard, flipping-through-printed-flashcards approach. The truly dedicated will be rewarded by being asked to translate sentences of increasingly comical ridiculousness as they work up through the levels of their language.
Memrise gives you a more hands-on option for flashcard learning with its “mems.” You can use the cards provided by Memrise and other users, or you can create your own mnemonic devices by composing and finding images for your own cards. Somehow, repetition doesn’t seem so repetitive when you can turn all your flashcards into irreverent memes and personal in-jokes tailored to you and your own brain.
25. Digital Dialects
For beginners and those suffering from 90s nostalgia, Digital Dialects is a techno-retro online game site with animated and interactive lessons in a couple dozen languages. Listen to the voice as it names fruits, then click them and drag them into a basket, or match English phrases to the ones being spoken in your target language. It’s a simple platform free of distraction, and it offers that je ne sais quoi for the Nintendo kids who still have a knack for learning in 16-bit.
General Language and Language Learning Resources
For those of us with a deep and passionate love for language and languages, we want to know everything about them. Not just how to get from the airport to your hotel or how to make small talk during your coffee break, but the details.
Who speaks the language we’re learning, and where do they speak it? What’s its history, and what can it teach us about the cultures that created it and that are created by it? These websites include the kind of encyclopedic information necessary for thorough, holistic learning, as well as free courses and learning resources.
If you’re learning one language or find yourself in a polyamorous love affair with all languages, Omniglot should live on your browser’s bookmarks bar. This online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages is like the Wikipedia of all things languages and linguistics.
Not only does it provide linguistic and cultural information on hundreds of world languages, but it also offers some of its own free video lessons. Under its “courses” page, Omniglot maintains an impressive list of links to learning resources for specific languages, most of which are free.
27. BBC Languages
Another goldmine for the language and linguistics geeks in the room, BBC Languages offers free information and learner resources for 40 world languages. While some are more thorough than others, the seven languages listed on their main Languages homepage include extensive links to target language media (like TV streaming services, online newspapers and magazines in French, Chinese and Greek). The kinds of resources offered vary from language to language, but most include overviews and phrasebooks, as well as BBC’s own introductory lessons, on-site courses and links to help you find classes in your area.
About.com provides a long list of language learning resources like many others on this list, but also has its own sites dedicated to several of the languages on its list. About French, for example, includes educational videos, blog posts on French learning topics and guides to language essentials. About German offers much of the same. Explore multiple languages and find links to extensive resources across the Web.
You don’t have to be planning a vacation to take advantage of Wikitravel! The user-maintained wiki has a compilation of travel phrasebooks, ranging from well-known world languages like Arabic and Portuguese to less popular choices like Kannada and Papiamento.
Even some of the most skeleton-like articles on languages like Zulu include guides to pronunciation, basic phrases, numbers, time, transportation, eating, shopping and common problem-solving vocabulary, making it an incredible resource for practically-inclined learners who just want to get out and use their language.
Free Language Learning Websites for Specific Languages
Some of the best free sites out there are the ones that focus on a single language, building an entire website packed with information, lessons and more for learners who know what language they want and know they don’t want to break the bank learning it. Here are some of our favorite websites for learning that one language.
30. The French Experiment — Free French lessons, stories, reviews and cats!
31. London Speaks French — Vocabulary and grammar lessons with a helpful pronunciation tool to compare your voice to natives’ voices.
32. French Assistant — A cartoonish interface with stimulating lessons and some friendly animated monkeys to help you out.
For dedicated Francophiles looking to max out their online learning time, browse through some of these best websites to learn French.
33. Deutsch-lernen.com — With 10 beginner lessons and 24 advanced grammar lessons, this free resource is a great starting point for beginning learners and those intimidated by the infamously frustrating German grammar.
34. DeutschAkademie — This größter Online-Deutschkurs has helpful audio clips and interactive lessons, as well as links to in-person courses in Berlin and other parts of Central Europe.
35. Deutsche Welle — The German international broadcast’s online Deutschkurse offers free courses by level, from beginner to advanced.
For video-loving learners, don’t forget about all the great YouTube videos for German learners out there!
36. StudySpanish.com — Don’t be fooled by the simple name. With exhaustive information and lessons on all aspects of the language, it’s a Spanish linguistic powerhouse and a goldmine for learners.
37. LingusTV — Watch beginner, intermediate and advanced videos in Spanish, with subtitles as needed.
38. Spanish Games — Learn Spanish with fun, interactive vocabulary games.
39. 123 Teach Me — A mega-resource for all things Spanish, including free online games, courses, word of the day and a handy verb conjugator.
If you like thinking outside the box when it comes to language learning, you can also try out some nontraditional websites for learning Spanish.
40. CCTV — Chinese public television, as well as a BBC-like array of written media and resources for Chinese language learners.
41. Chinese-Tools.com — A 40-lesson online course with a learner forum and Chinese dictionary.
42. Zhongwen Red — In-context vocabulary and culture lessons in a conversation-like format.
More of a bookworm? Try getting started with some free and cheap Chinese e-books!
43. Japanese Online — A simple beginner’s resource with four units on the basics, topic modifiers, sentence structures and Japanese traditions.
44. Easy Japanese — Flashcards and games geared toward writing and speaking the language.
45. NHK World — This Japanese public broadcaster maintains its own online magazine, including language lessons, audio clips and video resources for learners.
Is it grammar that’s got you down? Check out these websites for mastering your Japanese grammar.
46. Arabic Online — This website from the European Union aims to help beginners familiarize themselves with the Arabic language, and offers several paid courses beyond the beginner level.
47. Arabic Keyboard — Aside from helping you with tricky Arabic script and the grammar that goes along with it, this site includes super helpful, practical information about the Arabic language, its dialects and where and how to use them.
48. Arabic Reading Course — For absolute beginners, this letter-by-letter course is the perfect jump-start to get you reading and writing in Arabic.
49. Learn Portuguese with Rafa — Beyond introductory lessons on things like counting and ordering food, Rafa maintains a sidebar full of links on everything from traditional recipes to doing business in Portuguese.
50. Todo Mundo Pod — An exciting São Paulo-based podcast with basic tips in English and the rest in beautiful Brazilian Portuguese.
51. Practice Portuguese — For those looking to learn Iberian (European) Portuguese, get started with the free Practice Portuguese Podcast.
52. Really Learn Portuguese — Podcasts and flashcards for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners, all brought to you by two friendly Brazilians.
These 52 websites prove it: Money is no object for determined language learners.
The first step is just clicking one of the links above.
Haven’t started learning any one language yet? Choose your language and head over to Omniglot or BBC Languages to read up on it. Build up your basic vocab with a flashcard app or your favorite language game, immerse your brain in quality video content and connect with natives around the world via Skype or your social network of choice.
With money concerns firmly out of the picture, now all you need to do is make the time for language learning, and you’re all set to start heading towards fluency!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.