Are you a lifelong or mature learner who wants to improve your language skills beyond phrasebook basics? Is it years since you did any kind of formal language learning? Do you know where to start? Does the idea of sitting in a language class terrify you? Did sitting in a language class decades ago terrify you? If the answer to any of these questions is yes then please read on.

This site is dedicated to supporting individuals who want to dust off or discover their language skills in the privacy of their own Web browser – and for preference without spending any money. We (re)introduce you to the basics of language learning in manageable steps primarily by looking at how English works and then illustrating how other languages differ. This approach ensures that you’re confident in your abilities from day one. You already know how to speak and read English, you’re simply applying what you already know to a framework you’re familiar with and then using that to learn something new.

Before we go any further we should address some questions you’ve probably already formed, namely, how come we know all this? Who are we? Why is this free and what’s the catch? And what languages can I learn?

This website evolved out of an initiative developed within the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) at Cambridge as part of of the University’s Festival of Ideas. The Festival is an informal broad-ranging annual event during which all the arts and humanities institutions hold talks and seminars for members of the public to come along, see what we do and hopefully get inspired.

We had a bright idea. We’d adapt the materials we use within the Faculty to help our students in developing their language skills. We’d show members of the public how easy it is to use and organise the dizzying number of freely-available online resources to engage with language learning. We thought the event might be quite popular – we try not to ask people to book in advance so that you can be spontaneous so we had no idea of numbers. The teaching room and the corridors beyond were rammed full of people of all ages. Even people who couldn’t get in the room stayed. We had to shout. We were onto something.

We are two technologists. Mel is the Computer-Assisted Language Learning Officer for MML and so a specialist in this field whilst Ian is based in central Information Services. This site is possible because we merely have to do some basic repackaging and reworking of what’s required for MML. The only elements we develop from scratch are those relating to dusting off your language skills, everything else is already in use in MML or indeed developed elsewhere. We provide you with the links to the best of the online language learning resources that are already online and freely-available. In many cases the sites are totally free, in others they might be the subscription free zones of larger commercial sites that still provide useful resources. This means we can put these pages together in our free-time with (relatively!) little effort and we enjoy it. That’s why we don’t have to ask you for any money.

We do have one confession at this point. Currently, the site is only available for Italian – primarily because we had to start somewhere and that somewhere is the language we’re most comfortable with, though the English grammar revision should be of use to anyone returning to language learning. If you’re a teacher reading this and would like to contribute towards a site dedicated to the language you teach then do please contact us.

It’s entirely possible that by the time you’ve finished working through the resources here then you’ll have the confidence to take on some more formal training such as a language class. Equally, you may decide that you’re happy with the results and not having to shout or wave your hands at people who’s first language is not your own is enough. You’re in charge and you can do as much or as little as you like. If you need any further incentive watch Benny Lewis’ TEDx talk on Hacking Language Learning to see how language learning isn’t as difficult as you think, or simply consider how good for your brain it’ll be to keep agile with the challenge of learning a new language.

Further, do visit Benny’s excellent Fluentin3months site for more language learning inspiration, resources and ideas. If we strongly recommend one other site to you, it’s this one.

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