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5 Free Tools for Foreign Language Students

September 21, 2011 by Emily Phillips |

foreign language dictionaryLearning a foreign language in the classroom is tough. There are all those words to memorize and your teacher speaking what sounds like gibberish at 90 mph. And then there's verb conjugation. Did those last two words send a chill up your spine? OK, multiply all that anxiety by 10, and that's what it's like to learn a language online, right? Not necessarily.

Regardless of how you're tackling a new language, here are 5 free tools to help you get to near-native proficiency in no time.

1) Google Translate

Google has put out one of the best electronic translators I have found to date. For starters, you don't have to pick the language you're typing; it's automatically detected. Then, the tool translates as you type--no lag time! Not impressed? Give it a whirl and you'll see. A word of caution--as with all mechanical translators, their output is well, mechanical. Great for looking up individual words and getting the gist of a statement, but not perfect. Complex verb structures and linguistic subtleties are lost on a machine, so handle with care.


2) Forvo

 A pronunciation tool so popular that a fan wrote an ode to it. Want to hear just about any word pronounced by a native speaker? This is the place to go. It's especially handy in the absence of the classroom environment. 


3) Podcasts

 If you have Apple's iTunes, you have hundreds of no to low-cost podcasts at your fingertips. A quick search for "free [insert language]" will get you started with programs geared toward language students. If you're feeling ambitious, you could listen to a podcast on any topic in the language you're studying. 


4) Livemocha

Livemocha is a way for you to "gain practical, real-life language skills." It combines vocabulary and cultural lessons with live conversation practice with native speakers. For online students, it's a great opportunity to be part of a language community.


5) Accent Codes

Most languages have letters with accent (diacritical) marks--easy enough to handwrite, but historically challenging to type. Remember having to use ASCII codes? Technology has come a long way, so here are shortcuts to typing those pesky tildes and umlauts on a PC or a Mac.

Hopefully, you will find these tools useful in your linguistic endeavors. Have you used any of these? What did you think? Is there another site or tool you rely on?

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