The following courses are very popular on HTLAL, and they're all available for a large number of languages. (For language-specific courses, please see the page for the language in question.)
However, the list is very incomplete. It is more of a guide to what is everyone talking about than a guide to what all is available and proved useful. A much more complete list is being created here:
For more information, see the main page on Assimil.
Assimil's beginner courses typically include 60 to 120 daily lessons. Each lesson includes:
- A short recording in the foreign language, usually about two minutes long.
- A transcription of the recording. This allows you to see what the written language looks like.
- A translation of the recording. This helps you understand the recording and the transcription.
- Short explanations of any new grammar.
- Various exercises, including phrases to repeat aloud and a few fill-in-the blank exercises.
Every seventh lesson is a review lesson, which summarizes the grammar and goes more in depth.
The idea behind Assimil is that you do one lesson a day, listening to the recording around 10 times, and reading both the transcript and the translation. The goal is to understand that one lesson. Over time, the lessons add up, allowing you to understand a surprising amount of the language. And once you reach lesson 50, you begin the "active wave." In the active ware, you go back to lesson 1, and you translate from your native language to the foreign language.
Assimil is very popular on HTLAL, largely because it's fun, it's easy and it gets results. Assimil will generally take you far enough to hold a basic conversation and to read some easy native materials with decent comprehension.
For more information, see the main page on Michel Thomas.
Michel Thomas is an audio-only course that attempts to give you a solid grounding in the basic grammar of the language. Whenever possible, it uses vocabulary that is similar to words in English, allowing the student to focus on how the language works.
Michel Thomas covers less ground than many other courses, but lots of people at HTLAL find it useful. The various Michel Thomas courses tend to be expensive, but they are sometimes available in public libraries.
For more information, see the main page on Pimsleur.
Pimsleur is another audio-only course. Typically there are three levels with 30 units each. The programs are built so that the recordings prompt you to recall a fact just before you forget it, thus strengthening your memory of that language fact. (For more information on how this works, see Spaced Repetition.)
Pimsleur courses teach their material well. That is, at the end of the course, the student will generally have very good pronunciation and ability to use the material to produce new sentences. However, the actual amount of program content is very small—generally only about 500 words. This is less material than you'd find in the typical Assimil course, but more than most Michel Thomas courses provide.
Pimsleur has been popular at HTLAL longer than any other course. Like Michel Thomas, it tends to be expensive, though the prices have been coming down in recent years, and it's available in some public libraries.
For more information, see the main page on FSI.
The FSI courses were created by the United States Foreign Service Institute to train diplomats and embassy workers. The written and recorded materials were originally used as part of an extremely intensive small-group course. Because these materials were created by the US government, they were automatically in public domain, and various people have digitized the courses and made them available for free online.
These courses typically cover more ground than Assimil, Michel Thomas or Pimsleur. They're generally considered to be intense courses that require a lot of work. The included oral drills provide lots of speaking practice.
Some other popular courses include:
The well-known Rosetta Stone course is not often recommended at HTLAL.