Free FSI Foreign Lanuage Courses

If you’re looking for a full course to get started with in learning a language, you might be able to find what you’re looking for in the FSI language courses. The language courses were made by the Foreign Service Institute in the United States, and are now in the public domain. A few people at have taken on the mammoth task of gathering and digitizing all of this material.

Quite a few of the courses on the site are complete, i.e. all lessons and books are there. A few are complete are German, Spanish, and French.

I’ve personally used the German FSI course some, and have mixed feelings on it. First of all, I’ll say this: it’s very thorough and very effective. If you were to work through the entire course and master all of the content, you’d have a solid foundation in the language. The problem is that, since the courses were made for government employees and not someone who just takes it upon themselves to learn a language, no real effort is made to make the content interesting. Indeed, much of the audio is drillwork. Is it effective? Certainly. Can it be maddeningly boring, particularly when some of the drills revolve around diplomatic relations, embassies, etc.? Absolutely.

However, if you’re willing to slog through the drills, I think for most people, it will pay off. There’s a lot of grammar in these courses, and a lot of vocabulary. To give you an idea of what really makes up the courses, here’s a bit of the Foreward for the French course:

Planned in two volumes, French Basic Course (Revised) has been designed to help students reach a level of proficiency which will enable them to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations. …

For beginning students, the twenty-four units are designed for a six-month intensive training program of six hours of class per day, plus outside preparation. Each unit presents a situational topic introduced in a dialogue, and usually five grammar points. Each grammar point is preceded by grammar notes which generally are expressed in non-technical terms.

Of course, this program won’t be for everyone. Like I said, some of the drills can be pretty dull. But, with some perseverence, and perhaps some supplement material to break up the monotony, these courses could serve as an excellent foundation learning resource.

Looking for a good Russian news podcast? Here’s one.

The Slavic department of the George Washington University offers a bi-weekly podcast (or webcast, as they call it). The webcast, entitled News of the week in simplified Russian, offers, as the title of the webcast indicates, summaries of the news from the past 2 weeks. 🙂 Snippet from the site:

News of the week in simplified Russian is posted to the web bi-weekly and delivers a survey of the previous two weeks’ news in simplified standard Russian Listeners of Voice of America’s “Special English” broadcasts will recognize the slightly slower rate of speech and textual redundancy which characterize these webcasts.

Why News of the week in simplified Russian ? Back in Soviet times, the news was easy to understand. The propaganda-laden messages were predictable and the diction clear and slow. Post-communist newscasts feature telegraphic speech and slurry diction. Our webcasts serve as a stepping stone between the teacher talk of the classroom and the “real” Russian of the media.

Authentic news. The news itself is taken from a number of Russian sites, including Lenta.Ru, Vesti.Ru, and other authentic sites.

Perhaps one of the best features of the site is that there are full transcripts of every episode they’ve ever done. It’s recommended that you listen to the audio first without the text, to get the most out of it – but once you get stuck, you can always fall back on the transcripts. Not only are transcripts available, but there are also exercises for every single episode.

The archives for the website go back to 2003, so there’s a lot of content here. The interface of the website is a bit clunky, but it’s worth fighting with.

In regards to language level, the webcasts are recommended for “students with listening skills at ACTFL Intermediate Mid to Intermediate High. In most cases, that corresponds to college Russian at the end of second-year.”

Last (but certainly not least!), the webcasts are a project of the National Capital Language Resource Center (NCLRC).