Sometimes it can seem like the world is really only interested in the world’s largest languages. Everyone seems to be learning English or Spanish or German. Sometimes daring individuals attempt craziness like Japanese or Russian.
Insane, I know…
But what if you’re looking for something a bit different? What if you already speak French and Italian and Spanish? What if you’re planning a trip to somewhere a little less common like Bangladesh?
Finding resources for “rarer” languages can be really difficult and the the tens of thousands of us who are interested in learning some of the less represented tongues the world has to offer are often sh*t out of luck when it comes to finding software programs, books or even other speakers.
Luckily for you I’ve been on the prowl lately for some companies and products that reach outside the boundaries of what is typically found on the shelves of your local bookstore.
Lots of people in the language learning community, especially veteran polyglots, are looking to branch out beyond their comfort zones and are targeting languages that one probably doesn’t think about on a daily basis. Languages such as Pashto, Catalan or Indonesian are cropping up more and more frequently among readers of this blog and on the Facebook page.
So with that in mind and without further ado, lets get into some things you can do to start working on those harder-to-find languages that you’ve always wanted to learn but have never known where to start.
Glossika is rapidly becoming a heavy-weight in the realm of language learning software. Although still less well known than other big-name products out there I imagine that it is well on its way to becoming a common household name. You know, at least among language dorks.
But I digress.
Besides being an extremely effective and relatively affordable product, one of the things I love the most about Glossika is its inclusion of some of the world’s lesser-knowns.
With Glossika you can find a vast array of languages including but absolutely not limited to such tongues as Mongolian, Swahili, Icelandic and Hindi. Glossika also comes with a lot of variant languages such as both Mexican and Iberian Spanish, both Brazilian and European Portuguese and, perhaps most impressive, several different Chinese languages and dialects, specifically Cantonese, Hakka, Mandarin (both China and Taiwan), Hokkien, and Wenzhounese.
Want to learn more? You can also check out my much more detailed review of Glossika and find out more about how it works and what I think of it as a whole.
Parleremo is a really cool browser based language community that allows users to create a (free) “home” within the imaginary town of Parleremo.
Users choose a language (from an enormous list) that they’re interested in learning and then are given a “house” in a district of the city in which their language of choice is spoken. It then puts you in touch with your neighbors – other language learners interested in that language.
Most of the content is user-created, which means that it can still prove somewhat difficult sometimes to find activities for learning some of the world’s super obscure (or dead, they have Gothic) languages.
I think, however, that the most valuable aspect of Parleremo is its capacity to put learners in contact with one another to share ideas, experiences, and resources. Learning with other people is always better than learning alone.
You can check out my review of Parleremo here.
What would an LATG list be without the inclusion of Memrise?
Yet again, Memrise reigns supreme as one of the world’s most valuable, free language learning resources.
Memrise uses a mnenomic system to connect images or sentences to vocabulary, boosting recall and significantly increasing competence with a new language.
All of Memrise’s content is created by users. Anyone can make a course – even you – and it can also be used as a classroom for teachers looking for a cool, techy way to appeal to their students.
Because Memrise uses user creations it comes complete with some really obscure languages. I’ve used it over the years to study Kyrgyz, Quechua and Armenian.
Choose a language you want to learn – Memrise probably has at least a couple of courses that you can use to boost your vocab.
It’s important to remember that Memrise is a secondary language resource, meaning that you probably can’t become fluent in Pashto simply by reciting flashcards and learning some sentences. There’s no direct human interaction either, but nothing is perfect. For what it is, Memrise is a companion tool that no language learner should be neglecting.
You can check out my review here.
WeSpeke is a web based social media site for language learners all around the world. It attempts to foster language exchanges by connecting learners with other, reciprocal learners of their own language. It comes with a built in chat system as well as audio and video options.
I’ve used WeSpeke to exchange my English skills for Kazakh and I can tell you in all fairness that it’s worth checking out.
WeSpeke has its odd little quirks. It can run extremely slowly sometimes and as with any program or system in which you are put in direct contact with another human being – your experience may vary drastically from those of others.
There is a little bit of a “dating” atmosphere at times, which can be circumvented by being clear about your intentions and being careful about who you exchange languages with. Or maybe that’s what you’re going for. I don’t know, that’s your business.
It’s 100% free and comes with a mobile version. It’s quick and simple and definitely worth your time. Just tell it what language(s) you want to learn and let it find partners for you.
Check it out and tell me what you think.
As one of the world’s most successful platforms for discovering speakers willing to teach you your language of interest, I can’t stress enough the value of taking professional lessons on iTalki.
iTalki boasts that over 50 languages are offered by its thousands of tutors, and I’ll be honest – I didn’t count.
That said, I did take a look at the list and yeah, they’re probably not kidding. You can find everything from various sign languages, to Xhosa to Cebuano and most likely the language you’re looking for.
Unfortunately – iTalki isn’t free. But for professional lessons the prices aren’t generally too bad.
Each teacher on iTalki charges their own rate based on their time, reputation, teaching experience, or just whatever they want. Most of the prices I’ve seen are affordable and in the $15-30 USD per hour range. Yes, this will add up over time, but human lessons from a serious teacher are arguably the best way to learn.
But in all honesty, if you really want to learn Kurdish and you find a teacher on iTalki willing to teach you, you pay the price they ask because good luck finding someone else!
6. Martindale’s Language & Translation Center
Yeah, it’s a mouthful, and yeah, it looks like a crappy website from the 90s, but Martindale’s database of language dictionaries, keyboard layouts, language courses and other reading material has something for pretty much everyone.
If you can get past the fact that the website is blue – and I do mean really, really blue – you’ll be pleased to find almost anything you can imagine.
The raw amount of content on Martindale’s is mindboggling. Ever wanted to learn Ho?
You probably didn’t even know there was a language called Ho.
There is, it’s in India. Over a million people speak it.
Now, chances are that Martindale’s isn’t going to make you fluent, but in addition to its own resources it’s a great tool for pointing yourself towards other tools, so you never know.
Martindale’s boasts over 2300 languages.
Sure, there’s a chance you won’t find what you’re looking for. But I doubt it.
Believe me when I say that I understand as well as anyone how difficult it can be to find learning – or teaching – resources for some languages. You can use YouTube for a while, and you should, but eventually you’re going to need something a bit more substantive.
If your goal is to learn Navajo your options can be fairly limited when it comes to software, books or teachers and it can rapidly become frustrating when you feel like your progress is stagnating for a lack of tools.
The next time you find yourself stumped by this conundrum, take a look at a few of these options and try to dig a little deeper. You can learn any language that you want, but you chose a rare one and you’re going to have to look harder than everyone else.
What resources have you found? Let us all know in the comments. I’d love to find more!
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