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Language Resources, General + Specific

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Posted (edited)

ITT: Helpful links + thoughts on books, programs etc. Add your own if you have some.

Edit1: I don't understand the formatting for links lol... I used the traditional tag formatting, but it doesn't show. Removed "url" from each tag so you can see the link. Too lazy 2 fix properly.

Edit2: I hate this forum. (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻


  • Rosetta Stone - There is not a single serious linguist + language lover that will recommend this. Don't even pirate their software... waste of your time. I hate this company, they are a barrier to improving communication between humans. And yes, I have perused a few of their language programs.
  • Any kind of gimmicky, overpriced software + anything that tells you "Learn to speak ____ in 14 days!" That's not how it works.
  • Livemocha. I might take some heat for this one, but I haven't found that site very helpful. Too much emphasis on making something "pretty", rather than expanding content. That has been my experience with their Japanese track. Perhaps it will get better in the future. Also livemocha is owned by Rosetta Stone lol. IMO lang-8 achieves the same thing, except it's way better.
  • IRC. Meh... My experience with IRC is just meh. Community isn't that great for language learning. Lots of inactives/lurkers/people that don't care. Not very friendly.
  • Language trolls/snobs. Don't even talk to people who are also learning the language you are learning. Don't even browse language forums. Most of them will make you feel stupid, and it's a waste of time. A lot of it is people circlejerking in English instead of practicing the pathetic amount of ____ that they know. If you're learning Russian, go drink vodka with Russians, don't hang out with people pretending to know Russian.

General recommendations:

  • [] Innovative Language (Paid) - Podcasts. They have a bunch of websites of the form Offers content for many languages. Some courses are more complete than others. Offers a wide range of content. Centers around audio podcasts, usually native speakers talking about something, or listening to a role-play. I have found JapanesePod101 to be very good.
  • Michel Thomas or Pimsleur (Paid). These are audio courses for major languages. Pricey, and I'm not a huge fan of audio courses in general, but if you insist on acquiring an audio course, try those. Remember audio courses are only a brief introduction to a language, and certainly no substitute for interacting with native speakers.
  • [] Lang-8 (Free) - Language exchange + blog site. Brilliant. Very friendly community, very active. You might meet some lifetime friends on here. :) I'll definitely meet some of my e-friends in Japan one day. No grammar or anything on this site. But great for practicing your composition in a non-threatening environment and meeting skype buddies! Best site ever for language lovers.
  • [] Anki (Free) - Flashcard software. Uses the spaced repetition system. Open source and insanely customizable. I've had problems using their mobile software.
  • []] Princeton Linguistics Puzzles (Free) - These are puzzles that challenge you to use deduction in order to figure out the meanings of words/grammar/orthography in uncommon languages.
  • []] Omniglot (Free) - Encyclopedia of languages and writing systems. Gives a very, very brief overview of what the language in question is. Interesting if you want some quick info about an obscure language out of curiosity. Provides links to other sites online. So if you go to say, the French page, you can find a bunch of links that may be useful for learning French.
  • Yahoo kids' site? Search engine kids' pages? (Free) - So Yahoo has a great kid's section for Japanese. I browse that sometimes because it has a stupid amount of content and it's relatively easy to read since it's for kids. I'm not sure if they have a section for other languages. Other search engines might have some kind of kids' section.
  • []] Alexander Arguelles' youtube channel. He's been a language learner + linguist his entire life. He speaks somewhere around 10 languages to a near-native level. He reviews various books (Assimil, Hugo etc.), explains some general methods, provides some motivation for language learning, and his English and general diction is of course perfect. I enjoy listening to him talk haha.
  • Find out what popular social media site, chat software etc. is used among people speaking the language you are learning. Skype, facebook, LINE etc. Skype is pretty universal. Try to get some language exchange buddies on Skype ASAP.

There are 2 types of language books and language websites (with some degree of both obviously).

(1) Grammar books. Grammar books are about grammar. Pronouns, verb conjugations, adjectival declensions, particles etc. You must learn this stuff in order to learn a language in a reasonable amount of time. Even if you plan on moving to a different country, understanding the mechanics behind X language will exponentiate the speed of your language acquisition.

(2) Theme books. How to order a bowl of noodles in China. How to ride the bus in Italy. How to book a hotel room. Theme books are often very inadequate and do not at all represent what actually happens in reality. I find most of them to be cheap cash-ins within the language learning industry. Who the hell wants to go through some boring 300-500 page grammar tome right? No money to be made there. I recommend using these as a stepping stone (gives you some material to practice on lang-8 or one-on-one with a native speaker).

Ideally a guide discusses grammar, gives example sentences to demonstrate the grammar, and slowly works up to more complex dialogue, fiction + nonfiction. Either find something that does this, or create one yourself by using multiple resources.

Hint: Conversations in the real world NEVER happen like they do in your book.


I have used way too many Japanese websites. Here's a few of the best.

  • [] Japanese From Zero (Beginner) (Paid) - Online course. Great introduction to the language. I got started with Japanese on this site. It was only $5 / month back when I used it. I never used the book that accompanies the site. Not required. You could check that out maybe.
  • []] Tae Kim's Japanese Guide (Beginner-Intermediate) (Free) - All about Japanese grammar.
  • []] Erin's Challenge! (Beginner-Intermediate) (Free) - Follow Erin, a foreign exchange student as she goes through Japan and learns about the language and culture. Thematic learning with some grammar. LOTS OF CONTENT. Very cool.
  • []] Japanese in Manga & Anime (Intermediate) (Free) - There's a lot of slang / uncommon language used in anime/manga. This website tells you all abouit it.
  • []] Imabi (Intermediate-Advanced) (Free) - The motherlode. The website creator even started writing about classical Japanese. Very thorough, but heavy on linguistic terminology.
  • []] Kakijun (Free) - Reference for kanji stroke order.
  • []] Wakan (Free) - Software. Kanji reference for both Chinese + Japanese. I've used it for years.
  • []https://addons.mozil...don/rikaichan/] Rikaichan (Free) - Add-on for firefox. Hover your mouse over Japanese text and it automatically detects possible phrases + words and instantly displays possible translations. Used it for years.
  • []] Weblio Japanese < - > English Online Dictionary (Free) - Self explanatory. The best.
  • []] animenfo radio (Free) - Streaming Japanese music 24/7 from anime, video games, j-pop, j-rock. It's a clusterfuck of random music, you will hate it and love it.
  • Where can I find anime/manga/j-drama/video games in Japanese?
    • Morally opposed to pirating: ,
    • Don't care if I pirate: nyaa (dot) eu

    [*][]] Japanese subtitles for many popular anime. Sometimes the timing of the subs are a bit off. I use KMPlayer which let's you easily adjust subtitle timing by fractional seconds.

"I need to learn Hiragana + Katakana, how do I do that?"

It's been a while since I did that but... Brute force memorization is very inefficient. I used to do that, but then I tried the following method which allowed me to comfortably read all 92 characters within 2-3 weeks. This is kinda weird, but trust me, it worked.

If you don't know how to pronounce the characters, you need to do that first. Google "learn hiragana katakana". About 1 million sites will show up. Find something that has audio flashcards. Also search "hiragana katakana chart" on image search. Print one out.

So, Japanese people don't try to pronounce foreign loan words correctly. They Japanize everything. For example one way to say "cup" is カップ which is kappu. Make a bunch of flashcards with random Japanized English words. They don't have to be real loan words.

For example, paper becomes ペープル and ぺーぷる pe-puru (not a real loan word). Put paper on one side, then pe-puru in katakana + hiragana on the other side. Practice this. Very quickly, you'll be able to do this to a block of text. I dunno why, but this caused me to learn the alphabet super fast.


Sadly, I have just one thing I can recommend for Tagalog, and it's not free, but it's decent:

Good balance between grammar + audio + thematic learning.

Quick start guide to learning any language:

- Start meditating every day. Meditation improves concentration. Do the following with audio, then do it by yourself with no guide:

- Download Anki at

- Decide on a language. There are many reasons to learn a language, and they're all good. This might help:

- Acquire a bilingual dictionary online, because online is way faster.

- Find 3-4 different GOOD resources (grammar book, a good youtube series, all-in-one learning site etc.), then stick to those all the way to the end. Do not jump around from one thing to the next and half-assing everything. You need to use multiple resources because 1 source cannot be thorough enough.


- Go to, sign up, and go to the groups/community section. You will find various sections where people are looking for skype friends. Contact people. These will be your teachers.

- Some ideas for exercises:

  • (all levels) When you learn a new grammar point, write several sentences using that grammar. Post it on lang-8, or check with your language partner for mistakes.
  • (all levels) Free writing about anything. Post on lang-8, or check with your language partner for mistakes.
  • (intermediate-advanced) Create questions + answers based on your reading. While reading something in another language, take notes. If it's too difficult, you can take notes in English. When you're finished reading, create questions + answers based on your notes in the language you are learning. Post on lang-8, or check with your language partner.
  • (intermediate-advanced) Research something on the internet. Read a newspaper. Try to find information online that goes beyond the article. Discuss your findings with a native.
  • (intermediate-advanced) Watch something with non-English subtitles. If you're watching a movie in Spanish, watch it with Spanish subtitles. English subtitles are completely unhelpful and will hold you back. Talk about what you watched on lang-8 or your language partner.
  • (all levels) As you write or communicate with a native, create some flashcards on Anki based on new words. If someone said it to you, or you wrote it while free-writing, it's probably important.

Notice how I mentioned "with a native" every time. If you aren't interacting with natives, you're doing it wrong.

Edited by Michio
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Thanks for this. What do you think of Memrise?

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Posted (edited)

tl;dr I think it's fine for what it accomplishes, as long as you keep in mind it's a supplement. Definitely won't learn a language by ONLY using memrise, but it's a given that a multidimensional attack is necessary to learn a language.

I remember trying out memrise 2 years ago... I lost interest. The style/structure isn't my thing, personally. I can't make a fair assessment of the site since I have not tried it seriously. Although, mnemonic devices definitely work. From what I've seen, some polyglots use mnemonic devices, some don't. I used to use mnemonic devices a lot when I was trying to acquire basic vocabulary, but due to the way Chinese characters work, I began using Chinese characters to remember other characters + words.

I've noticed there's a trend with these really popular educational sites coming online... udacity, codeacademy (and 1 million other programming websites), khanacademy, duolingo etc... They're good sources of information and very useable and not-boring. There's no problem there, that's great. The problem lies in the users. They get too passive. You won't learn just by fixing up/filling in some pre-written code, watching a video, or doing some basic language exercises... the next essential step, the hard part, is applying whatever concept you learned to create something novel, even if it sucks. These sources of information are part of the process of learning, not learning itself.

That's why I always stress interacting with a native speaker. Even if you're not really interested in foreign languages, I think anyone can understand how crazy this is if they just think about it for a second: You spend 2 or 3 years working through some grammar books, maybe you can read a bit in the language... but the whole time, you did not once interact with a human being in the language. Can you really say you are learning the language by doing that? Nope.

Alexander Arguelles said the ideal language program would be something like 3 months of very intense grammar study, then you fly to the country/region speaking the language. So in other words, you introduce yourself to the language initially (3 months studying grammar), then you apply it (immerse yourself in the language). "Application" means something different in every field. If you're learning to program, write a program. If you want to become a writer, write a story. If you want to speak a language, speak the language.

Making an analogy to programming is pretty apt here. Say you studied a language's syntax for like 6 months. You did "exercises". You even learned to read other people's code in order to know what it does... But you have never actually sat down, and written your own program. Can you really tell me you know that language? Nope.

Spending some time memorizing new concepts/vocabulary is fine, but it must be balanced with application. And btw, when I'm talking to my Japanese friends... if I try to say something, and I make a mistake, get corrected, speak the proper sentence back to them, within an organic, personal, real world conversation between 2 human beings trying to understand each other... I will remember my mistake. I truly learn.

Yesterday I was talking to one of my friends, I wanted to tell her my hands got swollen from making snowballs. I could not say "swollen", no clue what it was. That's also quite a specialized word and very unlikely to come up in every day conversation. She briefly explained it to me once, and that was it. I instantly recalled it while writing this long text in English. Not even warmed up in Japanese. 手が浮腫む (te ga mukumu - hands swell/become swollen) 手が霜焼けになった (te ga shimoyake ni natta - hands got frostbitten/chilblains). I haven't studied those at all, but I remember it perfectly. No memory technique needed, no elaborate software or product required. I want to learn to speak, read, and write Japanese, so I speak, read, and write it, and it works.

Edited by Michio
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Posted (edited)

I think what makes a bad source bad, is when it's essentially lying to its users. This is my beef with Rosetta Stone in particular. It markets itself as learning through immersion, which is to be frank, laughable. It's a picture matching game, and it doesn't teach you any grammar whatsoever. It tricks you into thinking you're learning, but you're not. Also trying to deduce grammar from the material it gives you is impossible. Anyone who has seriously studied another language (like 500+ hours at least), will tell you it's impossible.

1. "Learn through immersion" - There is no immersion. There is no interaction with a human being. How can they seriously claim that's immersion?

2. "Learn grammar naturally" - It is both inefficient and impossible to deduce most grammar concepts from the program. Human languages are incredibly intricate. You can of course learn a language through total immersion, that's what we did before grammar books, but having the grammar laid out for you makes the process way easier.

With all of these new fancy websites coming online, they really should be honest with their users. They need to fully explain:

1. This site will get you started learning about a foreign language.

2. If you want to learn a foreign language, it is necessary to spend time interacting with native speakers. Ideally, total immersion in another country/region. It is necessary to go beyond this website, read on to found out how.

3. Learning another language is incredibly difficult. The skill cap is as high as any fine art. Depending on the language and your experience learning foreign languages, it could be anywhere from 500 hours to 2500 hours to attain basic conversational and reading skills (with lots of stuttering/hesitation). For fluency in any language, 7,500 to 20,000 hours.

4. Studying another language foh realz is a lifestyle, not a hobby. It's so difficult you'll likely have to make sacrifices in your life and give up certain activities and comfort. You will need to adhere to a very strict schedule in order to be consistent and effective.

Though, I understand scaring your users won't generate page views. In an age of convenience, a constant lowering of the bar, and shortcuts, nobody wants to put in the work. Few seem to understand what "work" entails, or it's not supposed to be easy.

The ideal language study has interaction between a native speaker of X trying to learn Y, and a native speaker of Y trying to learn X. That's all you need. If both of them are studying grammar together and constantly speaking to each other, they will learn insanely fast.

The ideal website would basically be lang-8 merged with one of these other sites. I'm imagining something like lang-8 + memrise + duolingo + open source grammar books. But, you can already do this pretty much, you simply use all of those sites! That's why I say, "Use multiple sources".

As an example:

"I really want to learn Japanese, like foh realz this time. I'm not playing around anymore. I only know how to say konnichiwa, what do I do?"

- use lang-8

- introduce yourself to native speakers

- use a thematic learning source (i.e.

- use at least 2 different grammar sources

- do some of the exercises I mentioned

- other language sites are optional

- flashcards are optional

- consuming media is optional and low-priority, you don't really learn anything through media consumption IMO, I've watched A LOT of anime and I've picked up a few words here and there

So you have a balance between: grammar, listening to audio, writing, analyzing text, conversation with a human, and producing your own novel phrases/sentences

Ideally you would do this all day, but for most people that's impossible. So I guess I would plan this week-to-week. You have to figure out a schedule by yourself because everyone has a unique environment.

Edited by Michio
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