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World Language Learning: Getting Started

A guide to resources at the Boston Public Library and online that can help you learn another language.

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Why Learn a Second Language?

There are many benefits to learning a second language including:

  • Work: With the global economy and an increasingly diverse society, speaking a second language can have advantages in terms of employment.
  • Travel: When traveling, for either business or leisure, being able to communicate in the language of the country you are visiting can prove useful, and enrich your stay.
  • Culture: Learning a country's language allows you to connect directly with all aspects of that country's culture including literature, poetry, music, films, and more.
  • Academic Benefits: Studies claim that students who learn a second language score higher on standardized tests.
  • Cognitive Benefits: Studies claim that learning a second language improves cognitive ability.

Link to the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages site to find out what the research says on the benefits of learning a second language.


Welcome to the Boston Public Library's guide to resources, both online and at the library, for learning foreign languages.  Whether you are brushing up on a previously-learned language, or attempting a new one; studying the language for work, travel, school, or cultural interest, this guide will direct you to the books, media, and online resources you need to succeed.

Language-Learning Tips & Strategies

Learning a new language can be quite a challenge. Here are some suggestions on what you need to do to master a second language, and how to make the most of the language-learning resources listed in this guide to help you do it:

  • Choose a language you have a strong motivation to learn.
  • Use the language learning program Mango Languages; and language-learning books, eBooks, audiobooks, and CDs to learn the basics and build skills.
  • Study at least 20 to 30 minutes a day. During your commute is a good time.
  • Set definite goals.
  • Build vocabulary using cognates and word-frequency lists. Keep the focus on relevant context,
  • Join local groups or online language-learning communities to practice speaking skills.
  • Read foreign-language books, magazines, blogs, newspapers, and online news services.
  • Watch TV programs and films in your target language.
  • Listen to music, podcasts, and radio programs in your target language.
  • Use the language to write to a pen pal, or contribute to a blog.
  • Think in the language. Keeping an online, or print, dictionary with you at all times will help.
  • Make the language part of your daily life: Write your shopping lists, make notes, use recipes, and more in the language.  For intermediate and advanced learners, consider changing the language setting on your browser and using your favorite search engine in the target language.
  • Travel to an area where your target language is spoken.
  • Experiment with a variety of resources.  See which works best for you.
  • Practice! Practice! Practice!