Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Good Case for Learning a Second Language

Yesterday, I read an interesting post about the value of knowing a second language on Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis' blog. Leonsis is also a former president of AOL. In his post The Global Economy May Leave Our Children Behind, Leonsis points out that more Fortune 500 companies are seeking out and hiring more CEOs that can speak a second language. I encourage you to read his whole post. Leonsis promotes Rosetta Stone for learning a second language, but there are free services you can use to learn a language. Here are seven free services that can help you learn or teach a foreign language. 

Vocabulix provides numerous free tools for learning Spanish, German, or English. Vocabulix can be used to create quizzes or take quizzes online. Vocabulix provides dozens of drills and activities designed to help students learn Spanish, German, or English. The verb conjugation chart can be used on the Vocabulix website. The verb conjugator code is freely available for use in third party blogs, wikis, or websites. As most new language learning websites do, Vocabulix has a social networking option that helps match native speakers with learners.

Forvo can best be described as an audio wiki for word pronunciations. One of the problems with learning to speak a language that is not phonetic is trying to figure out how to pronounce the words. Forvo hosts hundreds of recordings of word pronunciations by native speakers. Currently there are nearly 200 languages supported on Forvo. Along with word pronunciations, Forvo provides some basic demographic information about each language. Forvo's content is user supported and user generated so new pronunciations are added every day.


CAPL, Culturally Authentic Pictorial Lexicon, is a project developed by Dr. Michael Shaughnessy at Washington & Jefferson College. The purpose of CAPL is to provide images that demonstrate the true meaning and intention of the words in a language. CAPL currently has collections of images for teaching and learning English (North American), German, French, Chinese, and Spanish. CAPL also has images for Japanese, Russian, and Ukranian. All of the images in the collection are licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows for re-use and manipulation for non-commercial purposes.


Verbs Online provides foreign language students with a good selection of activities for practicing verb conjugations. Practice activities are available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. The practice activities deal with the past, present, and future tenses of regular and irregular verbs. Students can choose to do the activities in sets of ten through fifty practice items.

Make Beliefs is a free comic strip creation tool that provides students with a variety of templates, characters, and prompts for building their own comic strips. Make Beliefs provides students with a pre-drawn characters and dialogue boxes which they can insert into each box of their comic strip. The editing options allow users the flexibility to alter the size of each character and dialogue bubble, bring elements forward within each box, and alter the sequence of each box in the comic strip. Students that have trouble starting a story can access writing prompts through make beliefs. Most impressively, Make Beliefs allows users to write their comic strip's dialogue in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Latin.

Euronews news videos is a service offering news videos in ten languages. Each video is accompanied by a written transcript directly under it as it is playing. Each of the news segments that I watched this afternoon were relatively short which means the transcripts are also relatively short. The brevity of the transcripts makes reading the transcripts not such a daunting task for struggling readers.

Hello World provides games and activities for students to develop their knowledge of foreign languages. Hello World has games and activities in nine languages including Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese. Not all of the games and activities are free, but enough of them are free to warrant listing as a good place for free learning activities.