Lao

FSI Courses Mini-Review: Free, Comprehensive, but Also Outdated

FSI Courses – 4.7 

The Foreign Services Institute developed their language courses to help diplomats quickly reach professional working proficiency in a language. They would attend 5 hours of language instruction per day, plus homework, for 24-88 weeks (depending on the language). The table at the bottom of this page indicates the average time it would take for a student to reach professional working proficiency.

The FSI program places a strong focus on listening comprehension, in addition to extensive exercises for grammar and vocabulary. If you follow along with the audio and respond to the prompts in each drill, you will also develop confidence in speaking the language.

With hundreds of pages of text, dozens of hours of audio, and several levels in many languages, the FSI courses are still probably the most comprehensive, free courses you can follow. Just remember that they are decades old, so the audio is not very clear and the vocabulary often includes both sexist and obsolete language. Also, some of the topics will not be relevant to your everyday life.

Several sites host these free, open-source courses, but the site linked below is organized and easy to navigate. Beware of any site selling courses “originally made for diplomats,” as these are probably free FSI courses with a price tag.

Visit FSI Courses

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Forvo Mini-Review: Audio Pronunciation of Millions of Words

Forvo – 4.8 

Forvo’s mission is to improve spoken communication across cultures. Anyone can explore pronunciations of millions of words in over 390 languages with maps displaying where each speaker is from. The site also organizes popular categories and essential phrases for when you don’t have a specific word in mind.

As a registered user, you can contribute to the site by pronouncing words or phrases in your native language or by requesting pronunciations in a specific language. You are also encouraged to vote on audio files in your native language to help others identify the best pronunciation. For those of you who enjoy using Anki, Forvo allows you to download mp3 files to use in your learning endeavours.

Forvo also has an e-learning course for French, Spanish, and English; you will find three levels and a group of topics with sets of the most common words in your target language. Using an SRS flashcard system, you will be able to learn the pronunciation of these words and view an example of how to use them in a sentence.

If you are looking for a pronunciation reference guide, look no further than Forvo’s extensive database!

Visit Forvo

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Write Me Mini-Review: Learn Basic Scripts

Write Me – 3.2 

Write Me seems to be a decent app to learn different scripts, especially for lesser studied languages like Bulgarian and Khmer. Each character in a given script is accompanied by a sample word that contains those characters. You will watch an animation of the proper stroke order before having the opportunity to write by yourself. Later you will be quizzed in various formats to help you retain what you have learned.

Write Me seems to support the act of writing and recognizing individual characters — however, similar to Write It! and Scripts by Drops, it doesn’t seem to give much background about each script. You won’t learn that Korean Hangul consists of morphosyllabic blocks, or that its consonants are pronounced differently at the beginning of a word than in the middle. You also won’t learn that Khmer stacks consonant clusters, or that you are writing Hebrew cursive script but receiving a print script prompt (which gets confusing without a little research).

You can test out Write it! (free), Write Me (paid lifetime access), and Scripts by Drops (monthly or lifetime access) to see which app best suits the language you are learning. For more comprehensive apps, check out Eggbun for Korean or Skritter for Chinese and Japanese.

Visit Write Me

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

italki Review – The Good, The Bad, & The Just Alright

Quick Review

4.5 

Summary:

italki is the most flexible and affordable place to find a tutor for the language you’re learning. They have a huge number of teachers offering classes to students of over 100 different languages. As a learner, you’ll be able to find a tutor that best fits your learning style, schedule, and personality. Teachers are able to set their own prices and make their own schedule.

Teacher Quality

You’ll find everyone from long-time professionals to brand new teachers.

Platform

The overall platform has tons of useful features but also some room for improvement.

Value

Huge number of teachers, low prices, and flexible scheduling.

Price

The prices vary by teacher and language with some being as low as $4 and others as high as $60 per hour. Most will fall somewhere near the $10 per hour range.

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Brainscape Mini-Review: Adaptive Flashcards

Brainscape – 4.5 

Brainscape is a flashcard app that uses a Spaced Repetition System, also often referred to as ‘adaptive flashcards’, to help you memorize new vocabulary and facts. It has a team of scientists, engineers, and education experts working to optimize their program for effective learning.

Brainscape is quite similar to Anki, but has a more modern and colourful interface. They also have Certified Classes, which are decks that seem to have been developed by experts in the chosen topic. The app adds what they call Intelligent Cumulative Exposure (ICE) to some of their Certified Classes; it seems to combine a Spaced Repetition System with gradually introducing new concepts, increasing the difficulty of the concepts, and providing context so you can build your own sentences.

It has several Certified Classes for various languages (and other topics), and many more decks created by users. Unlike Anki, edits that creators make to user decks seem to sync up even after you have downloaded the deck.

With the free version, you have limited access to premium decks but unlimited access to user-made decks.

Visit Brainscape

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Ling Review — Gamified Practice in Less Common Languages

Quick Review

3.2 

Summary

Ling is a gamified language-learning app with courses on over 60 different languages. Practice happens through short themed lessons, making for convenient and entertaining study time. It isn’t the most comprehensive resource out there, especially for more popular languages, but it can make a decent way to get started with a less common language.

Quality

The app is easy to use and visually appealing, but I found some mistakes in the material.

Thoroughness

There aren’t many explanations, and the materials are the same for each language, but practice is varied.

Value

For many of its less common languages, there aren’t a lot of viable alternatives, but the price feels high.

Languages

Over 60 languages, including less common ones like Thai, Tagalog, Serbian, Nepali, Albanian, Bulgarian, Bosnian, Finnish, and Khmer.

Price

Monthly $8.99
Annual $43.99
Lifetime $119.99

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Cudoo Review — I Wouldn’t Even Use it if it Were Free

Quick Review

0.6 

Summary

Cudoo is an online learning platform that offers courses in over 160 languages. The platform also offers courses teaching soft skills and other professional development courses. Certificates are available upon course completion, and courses are provided to libraries and non-profits for free. We feel that the quality of the language courses is quite low, and that the prices are relatively high.

Quality

It’s nice to have native speaker audio, but I personally found the course to offer very little learning potential.

Thoroughness

The course didn’t cover everything listed under “Course Content” and offers no explanations.

Value

This course is way overpriced in my opinion. I wouldn’t even use it if it were free.

Languages

There are courses in over 160 languages on Cudoo. You’ll find languages as rare as Alsatian, Jerriais, and Navajo alongside more popular languages like Spanish and German.

Price

Price varies by course, from $4.99 to $24.99, with language bundles costing up to $199.

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Speaky Review: Better Than Other Language Exchange Apps?

Quick Review

3.7 

Summary

Speaky is a social language-learning app for people interested in language exchange. It’s available for iOS, Android, and the web. Users can chat with other language learners, share photos, leave voice messages or even have voice calls. The basic features on Speaky are free to use, but access to more than five translations per day requires a subscription.

Community

There are some dedicated language learners on Speaky but not as many as similar apps.

Features

The platform is easy to use but lacks advanced features.

Value

Speaky is mostly free to use, extra features are available for a subscription.

Languages

There are over 100 languages on Speaky. These include popular languages like Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic, etc.

Price

The basic features on Speaky are free to use. A premium membership is available for a subscription.

1-month Subscription $5.99/month
6-month Subscription $4.83/month
12-month Subscription $3.91/month

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uTalk Review – Learn Set Phrases But Not A Language

Quick Review

3.2 

Summary

uTalk is a software program and mobile app offering learning material in over 140 languages. Its approach is based on learning set keywords and phrases through gameplay. It covers a wide range of set phrases and offers pronunciation practice. It does not offer any in-depth language instruction or grammar.
uTalk is most useful for people who want to learn key phrases in a new language and aren’t interested in a more comprehensive understanding.

Quality

The app is very user-friendly, and the content is mostly useful, but the features are limited.

Thoroughness

The opportunities for focused practice are somewhat lacking.

Value

The price is very low, and there’s a decent amount of content, but there are more time-efficient ways to learn.

Price

$2.99/month on a monthly basis and can be canceled at any time
$1.67/month for a year-long subscription
$1.00/month for a two-year subscription

*This is the price for the more popular languages like Spanish, German, Arabic, etc. Less common languages such as Afrikaans and Tibetan cost slightly more.

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