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Getting the Competitive Edge:

Learn Languages for Computers and

Communication Online for Free

by Paul Giangiordano

Building your skills in today's marketplace can be a necessary and often costly objective. The Internet is rich in opportunities for you to learn languages, both virtual and real. Looking to learn new computer skills that will help you compete in a marketplace that demands more and more digital know-how? Wish to learn a foreign tongue and strengthen your presence in today's global job arena? Well, look no further -- here's your starting point to an even more promising future.

You can take an entire course through various Web sites and set your own curriculum. While many of these sites target the beginner, others pick up where beginner sites leave off, and take you further. Best of all, it's always available when the urge to study calls, and it's free.

Naturally, there are numerous sites on the World Wide Web that teach computer language fundamentals. Here are some of the more notable sites:

Object-Oriented Programming


Formerly a mailing list, the author has compiled his lessons into a concise, downloadable HTML guide to familiarize you with the general concepts of Object-Oriented Programming as it relates to the C++ language. A Spanish version is also available. User-friendly layout and diagrams help clarify the material.

C Language Tutorials

A 13-chapter tutorial that takes you from the basic program structure to the more advanced dynamics of C, the predecessor and requisite for C++. Well written and to the point, use it for the two-week trial period as advertised.

From the Ground Up: A Guide to C++

All you need for this site is a login and password. From the Ground Up caters to your needs by giving you the option of establishing a user profile to configure your learning environment to your taste. Divided into chapters best designed for those fresh to the language, this site is as comprehensive as it gets, and even offers such goodies as a C++ editor for you to test out scripts, exercises for you to apply what you've learned, and a download option to work off-line.

Java Coffee Break Tutorials

Java Coffee Break Tutorials illustrates the building blocks of programming in Java. This site was designed with the beginner in mind, so if you're curious about the structure of one of today's most important programming languages, this is a fine place to start.

The Java Tutorial

Brought to you by the ones who brought you the language, Sun System provides a complete package for programmers looking to attain proficiency in Java. You'll go into this site asking what a "servlet" is, and you'll complete the trail by coming out and having a good idea about how to construct one. It also offers a bingo game that includes the application of all information taught in the tutorial. The catch: you must assemble the pieces of the program yourself.

The Visual Basic Cell

Offers links to the Microsoft Knowledge Base so you can get your information straight from the source.

The Visual Basic Workshop

A strong source of information for programmers new to Visual Basic. The tutorial section offers an unassuming look at the fundamentals of the language so you can first grasp its concepts. Go to the growing "Source Code" section to see the language at work.

Internet Programming

HTML Goodies

So you want to learn HTML, huh? HTML Goodies is far and away the best resource for the prospective HTML student. Wonderfully designed and written in friendly terms for the HTML novice, this site will make an aficionado out of the curious newbie. You can also learn about the peripheral and increasingly central areas of Web programming -- Javascript and DHTML. Each section contains an exercise to test your knowledge, presented in the kind of detail that leaves little room for questions after reading the material.

Website Abstraction General Javascript Tutorials

This total package offers everything you need to know to spice up your Web page with Javascript commands and features. Takes you by the hand until you're ready to go into the specifics, covered in full detail. Javascript events are embedded in some lessons to illustrate the material.

Javascript for the Total Non-Programmer

A gold mine of Javascript lessons that demystify the language and break down script step by step into digestible form. also offers lessons in Perl and CGI for the UNIX platform. Once again, this one's a winner for the beginner since it assumes little knowledge of UNIX on the reader's part. It offers a generous yet concise explanation to break the ice.

Dynamic HTML Resource

This may be a site like no other you've seen before, and it truly shows why DHTML is beyond HTML. The graphic, futuristic interface is alluring enough to keep you testing the state-of-the-art scrolling controls that obviate the need for a mouse click. DHTML is covered in great detail in an engaging and fascinating environment that will leave you thinking: "I've never seen a link do that before."

Foreign Languages

To give yourself the competitive edge in today's economy, learning a foreign language can be a wise endeavor. Want to avoid the overcrowded bookshelves packed with countless tape programs and phrase books? Log onto these sites and save yourself the hassle, and enjoy some savings while you're at it!

Here's a collection of several of the languages widely spoken during the day-to-day goings-on of the world economy, and a couple of general language sites to help you along the way.

Learning Chinese Online

Although not a Chinese lesson site per se, it offers a treasure of links to other sites that teach you the many facets of Mandarin Chinese. Links include a Chinese Romanization converter, audio pronunciation guides, character tutorials and Chinese chat, not to mention grammar, vocabulary and basic phrases. The list goes on further with broadcasts of Chinese radio, online dictionaries and online tests. Could you ask for more?

German for Beginners

Offers an introductory look at basic German phrases and conversation. Helpful if you have Real Audio so that you may hear the pronunciation of the listings of common German utterances. The German Electronic Textbook takes you through the intricate and precise discipline of German language form. Designed in easy-to-read tables, and explained clearly with colored texts for those serious about learning the sentence structure, verb conjugation, and the particularities of nouns and pronouns.

Fast and Friendly French for Fun

Simple and likable enough, and designed with the fun of a children's book, here you'll find a compact and welcoming taste of French verb conjugation. Test those skills at Guide to Intermediate French, where you can download the Java applet and gauge your French conjugation savvy. offers phrases and Real Audio sound samples for pronunciation.

Foreign Languages for Travelers

Offers introductory words and phrases in 70 languages, all with sound files.

Teach Yourself Japanese

The author does a thorough job of uncovering the Japanese alphabet for the westerner. This dynamic site illustrates and explains one by one each character of hiragana and katakana, and includes a Java applet that automatically displays inflections of several Japanese verbs in all tenses and cases. Java games make learning the alphabet fun, and sound samples bring tangibility to the language. Vocabulary and links to dictionaries, idioms and other diverse resources provide for a comprehensive and valuable online learning center.

Learn Spanish: A Free Online Tutorial

Learn Spanish illustrates the general picture of Spanish grammar and a vocabulary for starters. The lower section of the home page offers a series of links for further interest. The Bahasa contains a dynamic Java applet that allows you to click on words to hear their pronunciation without downloading delay. Business Spanish Tutorials presents a helpful look at the business end of Spanish and features audio demonstrations with which to practice.

Learn Basic Russian for Free

The title means what it says, and the site delivers basic Russian through the sounds (in .wav and .au format) of the Cyrillic alphabet and pronunciations of everyday Russian words. The only drawback here is the display of the Cyrillic alphabet, which sometimes does not appear properly on Roman-character computers.

AltaVista Translations

AltaVista Translations is a brilliant learning tool for learners who would like to test their knowledge in a new language. The site offers a choice instant translation from English to French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian, and vice versa. Although the site is intended primarily as a translator, you can use it as a valuable tool for discovering correct grammar and vocabulary in these European languages.

The Internet, with all of its other features and advantages, makes for an invaluable learning tool. If you're trying to accumulate skills for your future, you can take the opportunity to learn languages for computers and communication that you can apply in many parts of the world with success, minus the tuition and loan payments.

Paul Giangiordano is a New York City-based fashion importer and freelance writer, with a passion for world music, international cuisine and foreign languages.


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