Foreign Service language courses—for free

You can use language courses developed for U.S. diplomats for free. The courses, which usually feature PDF texts and MP3 audio—plus tests—were created before 1989 and are now in the public domain. Currently, you can't download anything, because the site's servers got swamped after a mention on Lifehacker. But I thought y'all might want to bookmark for future use, once things get up and running again.



  1. While the language learning part is pleasing, there are some hilariously dated bits of scenario like the following from the Basic Spanish listed in the TOC as “White’s arrival in Surlandia”

    “John White, an American arriving for the first time in Surlandia, a country south of the United States, has been met at the airport…”
    Gotta watch for those native in Surlandia – they’re a surly bunch! John White indeed, wasn’t he a character in a Crumb comic too?

  2. I once watched a Japanese language learning video that featured a white guy named “Waito-san” and and black guy named “Buraku-san”

    Looks like this will be a great resource!

  3. Thanks! This is excellent. I need to brush up on my Italian, and learn as much French and German as I can. Hope I can try these out soon.

  4. Sweet! Time to get back to my Russian studies, and on the cheap to boot. I can finally learn some Japanese, too.

    If you’re finding the French lessons to be inadequate, try French in Action. It’s horribly dated, but it totally works. I learned more in 2 semesters with that program than I did in 4 years in high school. Oh, and everything I know about English grammar, I learned in French class.

  5. *Sigh* If only there were an internet transfer protocol which would allow the sharing of material in a manner which scaled with the number of users. Some way of transferring the bits of data in a veritable torrent of information.

    It is really cool, and I am going to be using it as soon as I can. It does illustrate a missed opportunity great (and perfectly legal) use of peer to peer networks. I wouldn’t dare use it at work, however, even if they were available as torrents, since the presumption would be I was doing something illegal.


    1. I use my personal laptop at work for using Skype because I have problems with the sound drivers on my work machine. One time I accidentally forgot to stop a legal torrent download when I came in to work. They sent someone up to the wiring cabinet to physically yank my connection in the middle of my conference call. The person then told me that BitTorrent was a security risk because they might be downloading files off of my computer. I had really hoped that we might get past the reflexive “p2p = bad” at some point, but we’re clearly not there yet.

  6. When they post them again, seed them as torrents, folks!

    Really, the FSI should seed them themselves, as someone suggested on LifeHacker.

    1. Hey, it’s an example of how what’s dated comes around. During most of the Cold War (the era of most of these FSI courses) it was assumed that the Chinese were the Asians that mattered. Briefly during the cyberpunk era we thought some minor island nation was cool, but they petered out and again the Chinese are the relevant Asians.

  7. Oh, this is awesome. I’ve been looking for a good, free way to continue learning the Russian I started studying in college, but had to abandon.

  8. Excellent: having recently moved to Texas, I’ve been feeling like I’ve a responsibility to learn Spanish. I might give this a whirl! :)

  9. Yeah. They at least have a good fast connection: I’m getting a few hundred k a second here. they also haven’t limited it to 2 downloads at a time: I’m getting about 8 at a time.

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