Paid resources can make the language learning process much easier and more interesting. However, it is entirely possible to learn a language for free if you are okay spending some extra time looking for resources and have some creativity. For a beginner, it’s best to see what you can do for free at first, and then start adding paid resources based on how you enjoy learning and what your budget is.
Keep in mind that this advice does change based on what language you are learning. Less commonly learned languages in some cases still have a lot of resources available for free. However, this does become less and less common as you go down the popularity scale. The answer to the question of whether one needs to spend money can range widely. On one side of the spectrum, there are languages like Spanish and French, which probably have more free resources than one person could possibly list. On the other side, there are endangered languages which may not have any.
All of the following are resources which, as of 2023, can be used extensively for free without time limits or reminders to try a paid version.
This is a very underrated resource for audio courses which has a relatively long list of languages available, even compared with many paid resources. In addition, the languages can be combined in different pairs, making it a great resource for learners who either don’t have English as a first language, or want to try laddering as a language learning strategy.
50 Languages is a set of very simple audio courses. The audio consists of a phrase said in one language, followed by the phrase in another language. The phrases are generally identical in all languages, however, there can be slight variations. This is a slight drawback, however, it should not be a major problem, because if you learn a language long term, you will probably use multiple resources anyway and hear a word from multiple sources before it becomes part of active memory. This is a small tradeoff to create a resource with such a great selection in languages. It appears that the courses are not individually recorded, there is essentially a list of phrases which the voice actors are given, and each language pair’s course is just one language’s audio combined with the target language’s audio for those phrases.
All in all, it’s a really good resource. The audio consists of 100 files, about 2-10 minutes long, each containing a few phrases. It can be good for getting used to the sounds of a language and helping cement basic vocabulary.
The site does have paid products, including physical books that can be purchased, and it looks like the company is working on some kind of service for connecting language learners with teachers. However, as of 2023, the audio course is entirely free and can be downloaded at the website.
Wikipedia / Wiktionary / Wikibooks
Wikipedia is probably rarely thought of as a language learning resource, however, it does actually have very extensive write ups on grammar for many of the more popular languages. Even some less popular languages might have some useful information. The format is more academic, just laying out the facts as they are, without giving any advice or long explanations on how exactly to use grammar structures. However, some do prefer this style. Even if it generally isn’t your style, it’s still worth checking out. For some languages, the write ups are quite detailed and you might end up finding exactly what you were looking for.
Wiktionary is, of course, the dictionary counterpart of Wikipedia. Definitely a good resource; entries often come with IPA pronunciations, conjugation and declension tables, and even the origin of the word.
Wikibooks is like Wikipedia, but formatted like a textbook targeted towards learners, rather than an academic format laying out the facts. It’s a much smaller project than Wikipedia, but it has some writeups that Wikipedia doesn’t have, which can be useful. In addition to being more focused on explanations, it has interesting word lists for some languages, for example, cognates, false cognates, etc.
Youtube has lessons on various aspects of languages, including vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Some creators make content more as a hobby, while some are essentially just advertising their private tutoring, with many in between. Quality varies a lot, but even for less common languages good content can sometimes be found. Lessons aside, it’s also a good resource just to consume authentic content.
Your Local Library
Don’t be too quick to dismiss old fashioned resources. A trip to your local library can provide physical books on all kinds of language learning topics entirely for free. Availability will, of course, vary depending on the language that you are learning, however, you may be surprised by what you can find.