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 easy to navigate. Beware of any site selling courses “originally made for diplomats,” as these are probably free FSI courses with a price tag. You can also check out the DLI courses, which are equally as comprehensive (and free!).
Easy Languages gets people involved from all around the globe —from Brazil to Mongolia — to film authentic interviews about everyday life with locals on the street.
A typical episode format starts with the interviewer (or interviewers) introducing the topic and location for the day. Then, they will approach various locals to ask their opinion or test their knowledge. Only a handful of languages, like Hindi, and Swahili, don’t follow this format — these are also typically the languages with fewer videos.
Easy Languages invites co-producers to join their channel, which means that anyone can apply to create videos, as long as they are filmed according to the Easy Languages guidelines. These co-producers receive multimedia training if they don’t already have experience in the field, so the videos typically have a baseline quality standard (although sometimes the filming can be a bit shaky).
Most of the interviewers have a bubbly personality, and some of them appear in multiple language interviews within Easy Languages. Overall, the interviews are enjoyable and will train your ear to understand a range of voices and accents. Also, for anyone who uses Seedlang for German, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see Cari’s friendly face in the Easy German episodes!
The DLI and FSI language courses are still some of the most comprehensive resources for language learning today, and probably the most comprehensive free resources you will find.
Although the DLI and FSI courses are comparable in quality, DLI courses focus more on military terminology in the later lessons, while FSI courses focus on everyday communication and communication for diplomats. Another key difference between them is that the DLI courses may go into more depth, and also seem to provide a more comprehensive guide to the study of each language; the FSI courses either have briefer explanations or dive straight into the content. Both of them have outdated content, which is understandable considering that they were developed in the mid-1900s and have scarcely been updated since then.
Often the DLI courses outline clear practice strategies to reproduce your target language’s sounds. Also, depending on the language, literal translations are sometimes used so that you get accustomed to each language’s grammar structure.
All the PDFs and audio files are available for download on various sites, although Live Lingua has made navigating between the material quite intuitive. If you can’t find your desired language in the DLI courses, check out the FSI courses for different options.
Arabic Quick! Is a website dedicated to teaching you the Arabic alphabet. Although it has an attractive interface and is quite thorough, it doesn’t have much audio support to help you learn pronunciation — but, with Madinah Arabic as pronunciation support, Arabic Quick! is an excellent guide for your first steps in Arabic.
The first page of the guide has an overview of the entire alphabet. Then, each letter is broken down by how it is written at the start, middle, and end of a word. There are sample words with explanations of different pronunciations, mnemonic devices to remember how each letter is written, and a visual comparison between other letters that look similar.
After learning the alphabet, you can practice reading a series of essential Arabic words with audio pronunciation by native speakers. This section is more like phrasebook, so if that’s what you’re looking for you can also download SimplyLearn or go to LingoHut for lots of pronunciation by Native Speakers. Otherwise, we recommend you check out Madinah Arabic, Arabicpod101, or Arabic in 60 steps for structured lessons for beginners.
ArabicPod101 has loads of audio and video lessons that cater to students learning their first few words in Arabic right up to advanced learners. Covering a wide range of subjects, the lessons explore anything from Arab culture and particular grammar points to specific scenarios and essential vocabulary.
The lessons progress in difficulty and are perfect for beginner and intermediate learners although not much focus is placed on learning how to speak and write. While the lessons are generally very good, learners need to pay attention as some of them are in Modern Standard Arabic while others are in the Egyptian and Moroccan dialects.
Ideal for people who are already at an upper beginner/intermediate level, Clozemaster will help you build your vocabulary and learn new words and sentences in context. While you won’t learn much grammar or improve your speaking and writing much, it is great at what it does and the videogame aspect makes it fun and addictive to work though. Although the exercises are all pretty much identical, there are various ways in which you can increase the difficulty and Clozemaster’s free account is almost as good as the Pro User one.
My Language Exchange
My Language Exchange has been growing since 2000. Although the website seems out of date, it still has an active community of millions of language-learners who speak almost 200 native languages (including less commonly studied languages).
You can choose a pen pal by reading their bios, or there is a chat room available for you to instantly connect with a language exchange partner — note that if you create a Gold account, you can initiate chats with other users, but as a regular user, you will have to wait to be contacted.
Using the Cormier Method, the website provides tools to help intermediate speakers effectively practice with other learners. It advertises a Chat Companion with lesson plans to accompany your exchange, or lesson plans developed by teachers (although the quality of these resources varies drastically).
You can also find language teachers on the site, but given that the transactions take place directly between you and the teacher, you may feel safer using a 3rd party platform like italki or Verbling.
Although there are outlines on how to participate in language exchanges, how these outlines are followed depends entirely on you and your partner(s). My Language Exchange will help you build connections with other learners, but it’s up to you to plan how to practice. The concepts can also be used with any language exchange platform, such as Lingbe, italki, Tandem, and Amikumu.
It is the go-to app for free (except on iOS) Spaced Repetition System (SRS) flashcards. It has a simple user interface with various features that more hard-core users can dive into if they choose.
Your flashcards will appear according to your natural forgetting curve; the app will test you in increasingly spaced out intervals, with more difficult cards appearing more than once in a session, while easier cards spacing out over weeks — or even months and years. An SRS system is the most effective way to drive information into your long-term memory.
The cards can sync between the web, desktop app, and mobile versions to keep your flashcards updated and with you at all times. You can add images and audio clips to your cards and change the text formatting (if you use it on your computer). One feature unique to Anki, as opposed to other SRS flashcard apps, is the “Cloze deletion” function, which allows you to block out parts of your card and create a “fill-in-the-blanks” type card format.
If you want a resource for how to make effective flashcards, check out the book, FluentForever. The author leaves a whole section dedicated to understanding how to use your Anki deck to advance your skills quickly.
LingQ is a language-learning platform that focuses on extensive reading for over 30 different languages. You can import your own content or choose from the community library of books, articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, and more.
The app highlights unknown words across every lesson and makes them reviewable via different types of SRS flashcards. The more you read, the more accurately you will be able to identify content that is suitable for your level.
Although I did not find it beneficial for languages I had never studied before, I think LingQ can be helpful for upper-beginner to advanced language learners who enjoy reading. It is especially helpful if you struggle to find graded readers in your target language.
Memrise is a super popular language-learning app available online and on mobile. It functions much like a gamified flashcard app, and it offers a lot of content for free. A lot of the content is user-created, and there is a premium subscription that provides access to additional features. Memrise can be a great tool in your arsenal, but you’ll need more to learn a language seriously.