Free FSI Language Courses – Are They Good?

Hello everyone. Thank you for tuning in
to the langfocus channel. My name is Paul Today’s topic is the FSI free courses
that are available online. So what is the FSI? That is
the “Foreign Service Institute”. And that is where American diplomats or foreign
service workers do their intensive language
training before they are placed abroad. Now, why does that matter to us, to language learners? Well, it’s because the FSI materials,
at least the older FSI materials, that they use for their intensive language study
are available in the public domain. And you can get them on the internet for free. So that’s very relevant to us. Anything that’s free
makes us pay a closer attention, doesn’t it? Well, you can also get them in hard copy format. You can get some repackaged versions like this. This one is called “Mastering Hebrew”
but this is actually the FSI Hebrew course. Just some some entrepreneur
repackage them and decided to sell it. I also have this one: “Mastering French” and
I have this one which is called just “Saudi Arabic”. That’s the Saudi Arabic course from the FSI. So you can buy them in hard copy format
if you’re willing to spend the money. If you want free one, if you want to try them, then
they’re public domain, you can find them on the internet. And I’ll give you a link where you can find them later. So let’s talk a little bit about the pros
and cons of these FSI materials. First of all: the pros. The first thing is: they’re free.
So how can you go wrong with free materials. Even if they suck, then you stop using them
and you have lost nothing. Right? So you can download them, try them out, see how
it goes. They’re free. What more could you ask for? The second thing is that they are quite dense courses. There is quite a lot of material that you can use,
that you can get through. The Hebrew one is about five hundred and fifty pages. The French one well this is
only one quarter of it right here in this. In this volume, this is 250 pages.
Altogether, it’s nine hundred or a thousand pages. And the Arabic one is 250 pages.
So that’s quite a lot of material for you to use. And there’s hours and hours of audio to go with it.
So it’s just a lot that you can use. If you do work through that material, you’ll gain
a good working knowledge of the language. That will probably also be very good for your sentence
level of fluency because they just drilled the hell out of you. There are so many drills in these courses. There are question-and-answer drill,
substitution drills, transformation drills. Just drills drills drills.
Not all the time, but a lot of the time. And it really helps you just spit out the sentences
more quickly. It really helps improve your fluency. And to produce sentences on the go when you need to. So you don’t have to spend as much
thinking time to produce your sentences. After finishing the FSI Hebrew course,
there was a huge jump in my fluency,
I could produce sentence as much more rapidly. I actually studied with the FSI course
between two trips to the Middle East. On the first trip, I couldn’t really
produce sentences very quickly. And on my second trip there, after using the FSI course,
everybody told me “Wow, you speak like a native speaker”. I guess they’re flattering me a little bit. But basically, doing so many drills helped me to speak fluently. And without a lot of pausing and hesitation. They’re also good because the language presented
is based on everyday common situation. Things like meeting someone for the first time,
ordering a ticket at the station, inviting someone out. That kind of thing. Talking about the weather. Those are the way they introduced the language
at the beginning of the lessons. And then, after that, they expand upon that,
by drilling the hell out of you but… They introduced the language,
using those common situation. So everything you learn is quite useful and relevant
and it’s thematically based in each chapter. So, that helps you remember
all of the new material you’re learning. Now, for the cons or the bad. These courses are mind-numbingly boring.
At least, some of them and at least at times. They can be really really drill-intensive and I remember
sitting there in the middle of these courses, sometimes just counting down the minutes and okay,
10 more minutes, 10 more minutes, I’m almost done. And just praying for the end
because they really are boring. You need to be motivated yourself.
These courses will not motivate you. They’re really dry a lot of the time
and you just have to … push through them and that requires you to bring
your own motivation to the table. Another downside is that the audio materials
are just not that high quality. Because they were produced in the 1960s
and 70s quite a long time ago. And the new CDs that you might get are
still based on those original master tapes. So sometimes they’re not clear they’re a bit fuzzy
and they’re just not really… they’re not really as good of a model as a digital audio
recording would be, a modern recording. So… So I would recommend that if you do use these FSI
materials, you get some other more modern digitally
recorded audio materials, so that you can copy the pronunciation
of a native speaker clearly, right? Another downside is that these courses are not really
made to be used as standalone materials, they’re made to be a manual for a classroom course
that is taught by an instructor. An instructor in these courses
is supposed to give you extra activities, that help you get more interactive experience
and, sometimes, in some of the books, you can see notes to the instructor, like please do this,
please prepare an activity for this purpose
and that kind of thing. But, obviously, those activities are not in the book.
They were up to the instructor of the classroom course. So this book don’t come with a classroom course,
you have to get that experience, that extra component that the teacher would be
responsible for, you have to get that on your own. So really, you need to just get experience communicating
and interacting with native speakers. You need to take some lessons, you need to talk
with friends to speak that language,
just do that in addition to these courses. So, in conclusion, most people find these FSI courses
really just too boring, too drill-intensive. But I do marginally recommend them for people
who are just having trouble with fluency and having trouble with sentence structure, people
who take a long time to think about their sentences
and piece them together. If you want to gain that automaticity, that fluency,
then you want to just practice with some drills. These are really good for drills. That’s basically
the main thing I recommend them for. If you want to just be able to spit out
sentences more quickly, then, by all means, try these out,
check out their drills. But bring your own motivation to the table
because these courses are boring. And also just be prepared for some unclear audio. Don’t expect 2015 level audio quality
because you won’t get it. So supplement with some other audio
that you can model your pronunciation after. Thank you for tuning in to the langfocus channel.
Have a good night. Talk to you later.

100 Replies to “Free FSI Language Courses – Are They Good?

  1. im living in sweden now and im learning some swedish and the fsi was pretty useful for me , only con i could find was the quality of the audio recordings, they were quite old

  2. Hi, Paul. Greeting from Saint-Peterburg (Russia). Firstly thanx for your channel – very useful information. And thanx for Free FSI language courses – now I study ITALIAN and this italian material is realy good: the quality of audio is superb and texts are relatevly modern.I also cheked the russian course – it is very old (1960) – so dont waste your time.

  3. Thank you for this insightful intro to FSI.
    I started learning Japanese way back in SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies, a meta-faculty of the University of London). We began, after learning hiragana and katakana, and dove right into "Beginning Japanese", a Yale University course based on books and audio cassettes. It was very very heavy on repetition and drills, hour after boring hour of them. The professors really didn't care for this approach, preferring grammar books and vocabulary lists, but by God it worked and I was soon producing grammatically correct responses with NO conscious effort. I ended up my efforts by becoming a professional translator. Moral: boring is sometimes a necessary part of language learning.

  4. One thing I would add is that FSI courses for languages that deviate from the Latin alphabet (e.g., Korean, Japanese, etc.) are kind of useless. They ignore the syllabaries and go phonetic in the Latin alphabet, which any teacher of these languages will tell you is a big no-no.

  5. i used the FSI Saudi Arabic book and it was really helpful. I had found it very difficult to find material using the Saudi dialect as most Arabic books are based on the Egyptian dialect, Modern Standard Arabic or Classical Quranic Arabic. i would definitely recommend that resource

  6. I don't like the Thai course, since it's not using the native script – must be for technical reasons in that time. Otherwise, I agree, the FSI courses can be quite good. Choose the ones where a native script was used.

  7. these could be useful for brushing up my spoken fluency in languages i studied in high school and college. reading practice is easy to find; spoken practice (esp. cheap or free spoken practice) is a bit harder to manage in a small town. hurrah for the internet!

  8. Hey! I'm sure someone somewhere has asked you this already, but what's your thoughts on babble? I started French on it, seems good so far. Cheers!

  9. I don't think I'll ever be able to speak hebrew like a Modern Native speaker… freakin' Tiberian Hebrew, Man… I love my dental fricatives, and voiceless glottal stop, and pharengealar sounds, but I refuse to make that pharengealized s for Tsadi, I'll keep it modern.

  10. thanks for that video Paul. i will use the FSI as a material to master and learn new languages. your channel is amazing

  11. I did this for albanian and everything he says rang true 100%😂still it was really useful…even if some of it was a little outdated

  12. The french fsi course is excellent. I don't bother with the old audio since it takes too long. I literally just read the thousands of french sentences aloud and I can see how I'm sort of programming my brain to know the sentence structures.

  13. Unfortunately some languages like Avar Language  ( approximately Three Hundred in the list of Languages most commonly spoken in the World – and usually only One Hundred Languages are listed in the list of most common languages)   can be very difficult to find any pronunciation or grammar material on.    I can only find courses in Russian Language and since my birth language in this life is English then I will find that extremely difficult unless I can become fluent in Russian too.    Maybe FSI courses are an exception?    Yes, I am interested in Avar Language.    ————————————————I just checked FSI courses.    49 Languages are listed which I have to admit is much more comprehensive than other language courses, but, of course, since Avar Language is about 300nth, it wouldn't include that one.——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————But, since Avar was a language I spoke in a past life (most probably), then I will never give up on trying to find a course.

  14. This is cool! I don't care if it's boring, because my love for languages will keep me motivated! Plus I can take small breaks! 😁

  15. Any recommendation on a similar style course for English? My parents speak Spanish, and want to learn English. I've tried teaching them one on one, but I think a course would help them learn on their own.

  16. Paul thank you so much for your helpful channel I would like to pursue a career as a diplomat, I speak ;English,Italian, in addition to my native Spanish French began talking in it in the early 70's I bought a book French made simple so that I could communicate with this lady from Morocco I met at the bus 🔴 stop I was only 18 years I remember it was my first time I came in contact with the French language,anyway then I took Portuguese free on line through duo lingo for almost year & 4 months these languages came easy because they're family of the romance languages in 62 yrs old & retiring in December 2017 working intensively on French my goal & challenge is to master the language & I will a Arabic & Chinese will take me over a decade or more i will be almost 74 yrs old by then! do you think. as old as I am now I will make it??? the reason I mention Arabic &Chinese is because they are spoken by more than 2 thirds of the world population Arabic appeals to me because of my Moroccan friend that I never saw no more,Chinese I really don't like it ,but it represents a challenge to me!so what do you think about my crazy challenge???

  17. Paul… Love the channel. Keep up to good work.

    Question about FSI portugues… Is it European or Brazilian? This is the portugues programmatic course I'm referring to. Have only gone through unit one, but the pronunciation of a couple words makes me think it's Brazilian.. D-I-a is "gee-yah", not "Dee-yah". Likewise, the "sh" seems to be absent as well.. "Estes" vs "ess-tash". Thanks for any info you (or another reader) can provide.

  18. Thanks, Paul. I'm starting on FSI Spanish,. I'm a boomer and it reminds me of the Audio-Lingual language labs of the 60s. Bored me out of my mind. But now, being older and wiser and perhaps a bit more patient, I appreciate the "pros" you highlighted– automaticity. Duolingo is great, yet I find myself tounge-tied even though I've allegedly mastered the material. I now… well, not "enjoy"…but do appreciate what the FSI course has to offer. And SO much material and all for FREE. If you bring your own motivation, it really is a valuable resource. PS: One question, can you get the books preprinted instead of just PDF? You show Barron's books in your video, are these the same as the PDFs of the courses?

  19. Thanks much for the FSI link. Surprisingly, they didn't seem to have much in the way of Dutch or Swedish – "my" languages of course – except for a very old and very musty DLI course. The Peace Corps course in Russian looked promising, though, and the Peace Corps section lists quite a few less-famous languages. Overall a very valuable resource for language students. Thanks again.

  20. I'm just unsure as to how and where to find the fsi books? I'm trying to study Italian, but would rather have it in book form. And ideas as to where I can find this?

  21. In my opinion the ultimate language learning tools would be pimsleur+rosetta stone+memrise+anki+FSI language course in target language

  22. Completely agree with everything you say there. Can I put in a good word for the Finnish course? I had already ploughed through quite a few Finnish courses and got to a point where I could read fairly well but speaking was something that I still struggled with. The FSI Finnish course is where I felt I actually began to speak it and it is basically what you said. It's the rigorous drills and repetition and the sheer quantity of material that did it but by the end of it I actually had the confidence to speak in Finnish when I next went. A bit like your Israeli experience. Having looked through most of them online I have to say the Finnish is probably the most well written, by the way.
    I also did the Serbo-Croatian course. It's a lot more old fashioned than the Finnish. The recording is painful. It sounds as though the speaker believed you had to shout to be picked up by the mic. Which may have been true at the time! My Bosnian wife was on hand to help sort out dialectal differences. It's actually basically a Serbian course and (oversimplifying it a bit) Bosnians use 'mostly' Serbian vocabulary pronounced in a 'Croatian' way. Nevertheless, the lack of materials beyond the beginner level (constant problem for linguists) and the sheer quantity of exercises etc meant I did really make progress.
    My current project is Romanian and although FSI only do a Romanian grammar book I've just downloaded the DLI Romanian course from which looks more or less the same deal as FSI. I'll see how I get on.

  23. To anyone who finished an FSI course: would you recommend them to an absolute beginner of a language, or someone that already has a good grasp on it? If so, how fluent should I be in a language before using the courses?

  24. I began using the FSI Turkish course, but after asking some native speakers to take a look at it, they all pointed out that a fair amount of the vocabulary was noticeably dated (also true of an older edition of Teach Yourself Turkish). I think even some of the pronunciation must have changed noticeably in the five decades between when it was produced and when I began using it, as I was told that the Turkish in the recordings sounded like it came from an old movie, and they weren't referring to the audio quality. Perhaps older diplomatic language use was meant to be stiff and formal. I really liked all the drills though, which are rare these days. I ended up switching to other materials, and as you pointed out, it's free, so you're not losing any money if it's not for you.

  25. Man, I just downloaded the textbook for Czech, since I am learning it in a serious way. Thank you very much for this link, it's old, but amazing! Thank you very much again!

  26. I just started the Spanish Basic Course. My mouth hurts from all the pronunciation drills. Some of them are really difficult — like tongue twisters.

  27. How come i didn't hear a single thing about those courses before i saw this video? I can't even thank you enough for this

  28. Obrigado Paul!! Você me ajudou muito, eu estava procurando materiais gratuitos em grego😍😍 Parabéns pelos vídeos.🇧🇷🇧🇷

  29. Excellent review. It turns out that the Hebrew course I bought was FSI and it was just as described , thorough, intensive, boring with low quality audio. This reminds me that FSI is the way to go because if you do not have your own motivation you are not likely to complete any course. Thanks for the info.

  30. Thanks for the info I have examined a few overall they are not mediocre but the second best haha. The audio quality is poor but not that horrendous if you have good speakers. The main problem I have with them and with so many other is that and you Paul a man passionate about other languages the main problem is the constant ENGLISH commentary and text. The rest of the planet does NOT speak English and having English comments all the time in many of these courses and that is very distracting. Also I have found that not so suprisingly the vocabulary is really outdated but in other occasions is perfectly adequate. The bottom line is this is the kind of free present we can expect from our American friends. With the power or corporations in the USA if you get something free then it has to be garbage. I do believe they can be useful but to a limited extent. I recommend going to your library and coming back home with some more recent books and audio.

  31. Love your channel man, I really truly appreciate all the hard work and dedication you put into this channel, and I'm super happy that you've racked up a really impressive amount of subscribers for this type of channel (language/linguistics based) since most channels on this topic don't usually get so many. Just means your hard work has paid off! Anyway have a good one man, et merci beaucoup!

  32. I tried the FSI Hebrew Course, maybe twelve years ago. Perhaps it was a FSI tactic to make its staff more tough. It was torture disguised as a language course to me. I should try it again now, let's see what happens.

  33. Thanks so much for this! I only just heard about this website, and your explanation was very clear. I'm going to go check it out for Portuguese :). I like drills, so hopefully it'll be handy!

  34. I just started the Spanish FSI course! I can't wait to start talking like a 1960s radio announcer!!

  35. Great post Paul! I went through and passed the DLI (Defense Language Institute) Russian course in the 80s. The FSI and DLI use the same format. Yes, those old school methods are completely effetive for getting to a CEFL B2 or DLI/FSI 2+/2+ but take A LOT of personal dedication if learning it on your own. You had me laughing about how boring it is and wishing the modules would be over! I remember pounding my head on the desk in agony during those recordings.

    A trick I learned from a friend is to NOT try to complete each module of drills or dialogue straight through. As soon as you feel bored or frustrated, STOP, stretch, do push ups, get some air, ANYTHING that works for you to reset your mind, then go back to it fresh. Some of the more boring or difficult stuff may require a reset every 2-5 minutes. Break those lessons up into bite sized snacks for your brain. Your brain will thank you for breaks and absorb the new information.

  36. Hey Paul. I really want to learn Dutch but in the FSI courses there aren't any Dutch courses. Do you know about any good book or a free course for Dutch? If so i will appreciate so much. Thanks!

  37. What do you think of the TV5 MONDE French web-based free course? I am finishing the A1 level but I'd really appreciate your opinion.

  38. They are great, and excellent.I recommend of this collection(FSI): ,Amharic ,Arabic Arabia Saudi ,Swedish ,Hungarian ,Finnish ,Hebrew and German.

  39. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for a long time. I really appreciate the review for this. I’ve been trying to improve my French for about 15 years to better communicate with my Mom’s family in France but I get stuck with fluency/automaticity. We’ll see how motivated I am now I guess haha. Thanks for sharing all of your insight and videos! It’s a pleasure to watch them.

  40. I will need to check this out for my studies of French and further languages (I would like to learn Spanish and Italian as well as German later). Thanks a bunch! It may be boring and the low-quality sound will bother me (I will be hunting down better quality audio for sure), but I've tried other free courses or cheaper in-person options and the one thing that drives me crazy is that in some beginner-level free (or cheap) studies, the topics don't go in any logical order and the words they expect you to memorize are often pointless for a beginner. I took formal Italian studies for a year and am re-acquainting myself with French after not learning it since high school and I need a classroom-like experience where you learn sentence structure and basic, logical grammar and terminology (ie: introduce yourself, ask directions) and move from there in a logical, systematic manner. Otherwise, I feel like I am definitely missing things. I will check out your link for sure!

  41. Great to see someone who is open to such an unfashionable approach. The FSI gets impressive and reliable results, so I'm sure that drilling has its place for many learners as part of a balanced study routine provided you can find the motivation. And at the very least the FSI courses can serve as a model for how to create your own well-designed drills to focus on any problems you identify, even if you don't use them directly because of poor recording quality for your target language. There's so little audiolingual material around these days that it's hard to find examples of best practice.

    I make drills with a free account in Quizlet, where it works quite well. The built-in digital voices are probably at least as good as the old FSI recordings (and FAR better than Michel Thomas), provided you're not using them as your source for pronunciation practice!

  42. I have giving you thumbs up on your presentation which I think was awesome but then I change my mind and I gave you a thumbs down because the music is too loud hope you don’t mind my honestly….

  43. I've used the Spanish and Italian courses and both improved my pronunciation beyond all expectation because they do one thing I have never seen in another course — they tell you what mouth shape to use for each of the difficult sounds. They describe the position of the teeth, tongue and lips and how to move them, which makes a huge difference for adults learning a language.
    I'd say if you get bored with the courses, just pay attention to the pronunciation parts of the courses.
    (gotta say that I don't know if each FSI course has the same method of teaching pronunciation as Sp and It, but what the heck, they are free, so check out the one you want for your particular language).

  44. The basic french and Spanish courses are great on their own to be used as a reader. Once you know enough about how to read the languages and pronounce the words, these resources as just readers are absolutely unparalleled. Absolutely amazing for people who want to work on instant reflex in speaking either of these languages.

  45. Every time I learn thai. It is so boring… My solution every time my motivation is low and stop learning. I look at hot Thai lady photo and the motivation is coming back immediately.

    Sorry for the bad English I was high. It helps me study…

  46. This is a very nice resource to be aware of. One thing that makes a resource a little bit interesting is the datedness of it. As an example, Korean is one of my languages of interest. Because I rarely have time to pursue my hobby while sitting down at a desk but rather must use available time when I am exercising or driving to learn or maintain language skills and abilities, I only find the audio part of the course useful. This is no problem for me with Korean, since I’ve studied it extensively and am listening to Korean for the most part without a transcript or notes. The interesting thing though is that the course that I am listening to was apparently dictated almost 60 years ago. Korea was a vastly different country back then. Since then, the culture and the language have changed. The course is free and yes useful, but it would be funny if I didn’t already know enough Korean to recognize some of the phrases that might seem out of place today. If the course was my main tool for a Learning Korean, and I went to Korea using what I had learned, I might seem like someone who had stepped out of a time capsule. So it is kind of unique listening to the dialogs and everything keeping this in mind.

    Of course when one is learning languages, there is never just one thing that one should use but a great variety of things in moving towards proficiency and fluency. So I doubt anyone would have a problem using this as part of their strategy. Thanks so much for posting this information!

  47. I think they're pretty good too, and intensive. I also like the lesser known languages that the peace corps offer. You have to be diligent however because they can get boring if you don't commit yourself.

  48. I have only skimmed some of the materials but at a glance it looks pretty damn effective and I will probably use it in the future. It has loads of audio almost entirely in the target language with the individual words spoken in isolation and also complete phrases at full speed. That is ideal, imo. Unlike Pimsleur (which I think is generally pretty good) you can read along and have the English text as well if you need it, but no English intruding on the audio. (I will say though that I think the German and French courses start out too challenging for a rank beginner).

    Yeah, it might be a bit dry. But for me the most motivating thing is GETTING RESULTS. I’ve never understood people who say they “like” their language program because it’s “fun” or some such.

  49. I saw you talking about FSI categories in another video (german). Do you have any material explaining how does it work? could you make that?

  50. I'm glad that someone has done a review of this website, I'd found it a while ago and thought it was an absolute gem, because of the variety of languages available and that it was free and had audio recordings.
    I'm looking to learn a language on there (potentially Uzbek or Georgian) but I was wondering if anyone knew how good they were or other courses were

  51. I never found those FSI courses boring, because the oral drills are rhythmic, and it's easy to go off into "the zone", just if you were chanting. They are good for use while walking around or otherwise occupying your hands or legs while your mouth works with the course. Some of the recordings are unclear, but at some of the sites where they're available for free download, people have digitally cleaned up the tape hiss, so while they're not as good as a new digital recording, they're better than they were in their original state.

  52. Hi Paul, where did you get those books from mate? I have been trying to find an FSI book on Russian but can’t seem to find it any where. All you find is online downloadable material.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *