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Internet Resources Make Learning a Language Less Daunting  

By Aparna Joshi (

 Farsi kam kam yad migiram.

Okay, so you don't know what that means.  But, you no longer need to turn your back on foreign languages now that they have all been trapped into the Net. Ein Moment! Just log on to PersianEnglish, and by the time you exit, you could well have more than that lone Persian line under your belt, which translates as ``Learning Persian little by little."  In fact, learning a language, just any sprache, bahasa, dialect, lingo, is only a site away.

          And you don't any longer need to enroll in lengthy courses that take a toll on your time and funds. If you think German and French are for the kindergarten variety of foreign language learners, go ahead and learn Swahili at the Swahili corner.  Here, you not only pick up the basic alphabet, numbers and pronunciations, you can also take a look at the culture, habits and customs of the locals.  It feels good to know that you already know a smattering of Swahili–words such as safari, yam and simba (of course, it means lion!) originate in this African tongue.

Trek to the Say Hello in the Kiswahili language to learn to say Jambo to greet a Kenyan.  Before you depart, you could be fluent enough to introduce yourself with ``Jina langu ni." Aside from the usual pages on alphabet, numbers, dates and dictionaries, the site has interesting links to pages on grammar notes, Swahili tongue twisters, Swahili language history and even the U.S. State Department's notes on Africa. And if all this inspires you to take a deeper interest in Swahili, log on to the Kamusi Project to find links to Swahili teaching courses near you in the United States and Canada.  The project is also a useful place to dig for Swahili songs and poetry and pronunciation guides. And if you haven't given up on Persian, the PersianEnglish site offers an online course in which you start with simple phrases.  A new word appears in the window every day, for you to memorize.

At Farsiabad, enter the exotic world of the Middle East, learning Persian vocabulary with sounds, trying out the Persian language quizzes and listening to Iran zamin radio.  PersianEnglish will also give a helping hand in linking to the Arizona Persian page, where you can build your resources on the language, ask for translations and get pen pals, all devoted to learning the language of Iran. If the Persian script is too cumbersome, try learning writing Persian with Latin characters at the Eurofarsi convention.

 Want to say hello in Mandarin but don't know how?  Go to for a taste of delicious Chinese learning. This innovative site uses flashcards to teach Chinese kanjis, the intricate picture script.  You can link to the Sound of Chinese in Real Audio to hear words and phrases as they are spoken in the most widely spoken language in the world. If all you want is learning 1 to 10 in Chinese, you can be treated to a audio aided tutorial of how the characters are formed, spelled and pronounced.

Don't miss the site on Chinese learning developed by Dr. Tanwei Xie of the Cal State Long Beach. It's a well-formatted site, where you can chat in Mandarin, Pinyin and Cantonese, after you have progressed beyond the grammar and basic conversation and the kid songs.  There is also a voice forum, where you can record and send messages to the discussion board and thus overcome the one handicap of learning languages online–that of learning in isolation.  If you are still interested in knowing more about China with the help of the language, visit, which gives a variety of links to the culture, languages, history and Chinese dictionaries.

Travel westward now to have a go at Italian with the most famous puppet in the world.  Pinocchio helps you choose between a playful and communicative approach and a rational grammatical one.  Enjoy listening to Pinocchio's comments, repeat what you hear, record and compare with the original sound of the words.  Get to know Italian habits and travel through art galleries with Pinocchio as he encounters historical characters such as Dante, Mona Lisa and Michelangelo.

Did you know Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, has been proclaimed to be the most computer compatible language? Well, if not Sanskrit, have a go at Hindi, which derives from this classical eastern language. At Hindi/Urdu, there is a wealth of the Devnagri font, word lists, Hindi news, related Urdu resources, translation resources and poetry. For Hindi audio lessons, a worthwhile site to visit is the Hindi program at the University of Pennsylvania.

          It seems as if the Net has been unable to pierce the Iron Curtain even after the fall of communism. There are several Russian sites, but few to help the English speaker lean the language.  Several sites are still under construction. If you are not averse to learning languages kindergarten style, there's a course in Russian using pictures.  It is a slow process, but if you are already learning Russian elsewhere, cruise on to Ruslang.Com to improve your language skills, get information on Russia and its cities, people and cultures.  It also offers intelligent alphabet exercises, online word games and listings of Russian folk traditions.

Russian for potential travelers to the continent is, however, best at Foreign Languages for Travelers, which brings all tongues of the world under one roof. Whether you want to learn Afrikaans, Czech, Dansk, Catalan, Latin, Norwegian, Yiddish or Zulu, this site allows you to surf through pages that allow you to speak easy phrases, ask for directions, travel and get introduced to a country's culture.  Although the focus is on easing travelers' language dilemmas, the site is also the answer to an aspiring linguist's prayers.

Edgamesandart, which lists a myriad resource sites for every major dialect, is also a great site.  The vocabulary trainers, study cells, ancient versions of modern languages and collections of literature are a delight to the serious student, although the lay browser may find it more convenient to log on to the Speak in a Week sites.

And if you have been hunting for a site where your 6-year-old can begin learning a second language, whether for pleasure or study, there's Kids Learn Different Languages From Different Countries.  Appealing visuals and easy exercises make this site a hit with kids and before you know it, your child could be saying bon jour, moshi moshi, ei je and hola with the help of the Say Hello Project of the site.

Muzzy of the BBC is another good second-language teacher for children.  At Muzzy–the BBC Language Course for Children–the lovable space traveling muppet takes tots through a comprehensive package of audio visual aids.  Muzzy is available as a package of audio cassettes, CD ROMs, video vocabulary builder and script boosters that can be ordered so that your child can learn at her own pace.

 And if you are one of those who are resistant to learning a new language, FUNics makes things a lot simpler.  Mike Ellis has created a world that overcomes all foreign language barriers, simply by investing foreign words with English meanings, although the end result can be nonsensical.  As a result, funtronix, or linguistics engineering as Ellis prefers to call it, spells the end of lingo barriers.  There's a plethora of languages including Dutch, Arabic, Portuguese and Turkish to choose from.

If you still haven't had enough, there are always distance learning courses.  At the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, you can choose between various levels of learning and from languages ranging from Spanish and Korean to Cantonese Chinese.  Take your pick. Or, as one would say in Hindi: Jo aap chaho!


Aparna Joshi is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai, India.


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