Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore

Friday, December 3, 2010

Learn a Southeast Asian Language—for Free

Spinning gasing (tops) in Kelantan, Malaysia
Interested in learning a bit of Laotian to help you get around Pakse? Planning on being in Cambodia long enough that knowing Khmer honorifics or knowing how to say, “I don't speak Khmer” would be helpful?  Knowing a local language can add tremendous value to your experiences abroad and greatly deepen your engagement with the people and cultures you encounter. 

Rosetta Stone is one option to learn some of these languages, but if you have shopped for these programs you know that they will set you back a few hundred dollars—for the first level course. Rosetta Stone provides Indonesian language, Thai language, Filipino (Tagalog), and Vietnamese (as well as Mandarin). Currently, because of a holiday sale, these programs begin at $209 and the full course costs $479.

However, there is a free alternative for some of these languages, although it greatly differs from the Rosetta Stone Program. A disingenuous company, ForeignServiceInstitute.Com, which actually sells these programs (which are perfectly available legally from free), has this to say:

Our competitors like Rosetta Stone would like you to believe learning a language is easy and fun. We think they are being dishonest. The truth about learning a language is it takes time. Repetition, vocabulary, sentence structure are the building blocks our course utilizes to teach a language. Lots of repetition drills. Dialog drills. Pronunciation drills. Vocabulary. Your investment in a language course is your time. The audio material is from native speakers and the corresponding textbook is your guide.

However, provides these free courses that were developed by the United States Foreign Services Institute, the university-like program to train State Department officials in the Foreign Services.  government and are in the public domain. This site is dedicated to making these language courses freely available in an electronic format. It is not affiliated in any way with any government entity; it is an independent, non-profit effort to foster the learning of worldwide languages. Courses here are made available through the private efforts of individuals who are donating their time and resources to provide quality materials for language learning. 
In terms of Southeast Asian languages available, there are currently the following available on the site:

and Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese

We're disappointed that neither Bahasa Malay nor Bahasa Indonesia is available. There are, however, some some great free resources for learning Indonesian online—the best site by far is The Indonesian Way, co-developed by giants in the field, George Quinn and Uli Kozok, which includes free video and audio lessons. It is used to support their online classes offered through the University of Hawai'i. More advanced students may find Warung Sinema helpful.  This resource, developed by the University of Wisconsin, is a bit clunky but it helps get the job done!

Being able to be polite in a local language--knowing basic greetings, knowing how to say "thank you," "you're welcome", and "yes" and "no" can begin to open doors and hearts for you as well as set you apart from the crowd.  We hope that some of our readers will use the resources from these sites before their next trip to deepen their experience and show an interest in the people and places they visit that goes deeper than a photo opportunity.

To learn more about Southeast Asian languages, read our "300 Word Lesson on Southeast Asian Languages."


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