Every linguaphile should learn a sign language

You are definitely missing out if you haven’t tried to learn your local sign language. So how do you start? I have tried two now (NZSL and Auslan) and I am still totally in love. I find the initial learning curve to be very easy, as long as you pick up a little bit of grammar you can start constructing sentences right away. There’s no pesky verb conjugation, no struggle to pronounce foreign sounds, and much of the vocabulary is very intuitive. The hard part is of course learning to express yourself with all the nuances as even a raised eyebrow can change the meaning. But starting with the basic conversation and being able to communicate basic needs comes very quickly. Learning a sign language is certainly something worth trying if you love languages, because they are totally different from your other spoken languages. Having to increase your visual and spatial awareness and learning to use classifiers is all part of the fun. When I first started I wondered “How will I learn words if I can’t write them down?” and I was even unsure if my previously learned language skills would help me at all. It was a great experience to give it a try, one I highly recommend. I’m still working on both Auslan and NZSL and hope to be fluent in one someday…

Here is my advice if you are starting out with a sign language

Step One: Identify your local language

Contrary to popular belief, there is no one universal sign language. Each language formed naturally on its own, just like spoken languages. Just two countries speak English doesn’t mean the sign languages will be mutually intelligible. American Sign Language, for example, is more closely related to French Sign Language than to British Sign Language. Some countries with more than one official spoken language also have more than one sign language (Swiss people use German Sign Language, French Sign Language and Italian Sign language) while New Zealand has only one sign language incorporating concepts from both English and Māori.

Step Two: Sign up for a class if possible

One of the most important things about sign language is to see it in action, in person. Grammar is an aspect that is very hard to find online resources for. Sign languages have their own grammar and are not just the signed words of a spoken language. Since it is such a visual language, you would really benefit from a person to person exchange. There are often quite affordable courses available at community colleges and high school night classes. Your local Deaf Association should be able to help with finding a course. Not only do you get instruction from a fluent signer who can correct you, it is also a great way to meet fellow learners. While of course I advocate getting out there and signing to native speakers, starting with other learners is a great way to practise without feeling too self-conscious. You might even make some great friends 🙂

Step Three: Learn the manual alphabet

Learning to fingerspell can be done in an afternoon. Some sign languages have a one-handed alphabet, others use two hands. But be forewarned: learning to read other people’s quick fingerspelling feels like it takes a lifetime! Don’t be discouraged if you have trouble reading when people fingerspell to you, because signers don’t necessarily see each letter separately like you will need to do as you are starting out. What you want to work up to is is to read the shape of the word (and of the lips: usually the signer will mouth the word as they spell it) which is what people fluent in sign language are doing. This is a great video which explains a bit about the “flow” of fingerspelling.

Step Four: Explore the available resources

There are some wonderful online dictionaries and exercises which you will want to make full use of. I have included some links at the ends of the post. Video dictionaries are becoming ever more common. You can also purchase paper dictionaries with pictures of signs. Your local library is likely to have video courses and exercises as well. Do all you can to pick up new vocabulary and try to make a note of signs you learn in class. Did you know that memrise has a sign language section? You could make lists of the words you learn. Youtube and Vimeo also have stories and vlogs in sign language, not to mention a few tutorials, great especially for learning the manual alphabet.

Step Five: Move out into the real world

The sooner the better, try to find Deaf events to attend. Not only will you be learning about a language, but about Deaf culture. Many cities have Deaf clubs, meetings for learners to practise with fluent signers, cultural events, theatre, sports teams, book clubs and public events that are interpreted. If you know any Deaf people, ask if they wouldn’t mind helping you with your sign language. Perhaps your teacher might know someone as well. You could put an ad online or at a local university to see if anyone would like to be your sign buddy. And if you can’t go out to events perhaps you could find someone to video chat with over Skype.

Even if you don’t plan on becoming fluent, basic sign language is a wonderful skill to have. It makes a fun change from the spoken/written languages you might have tried, it will introduce you to Deaf culture, and it is great to use when you have a sore throat or are out with friends at a loud club. For that I recommend dragging your friends with you to a course and forcing them to be your guinea pigs 😉


General Links from Omniglot includes quite a few languages and different manual alphabets

American Sign Language Resources

British Sign Language Resources

NZSL Dictionary with awesome sample sentences

NZSL Lessons

NZSL Exercises Online

Auslan Dictionary and resources

Curso de Lengua de Señas Argentinas (Argentine Sign Language)

Bambara Resources

Le bambara. C’est une langue que j’ai aimé il y a longtemps parce que j’adore la musique malienne. J’ai pensé que il n’y avait beaucoup de ressources mais j’ai trouvé un livre de le corps de paix y c’est très utile. J’ai lu un par de blogs intéressantes aussi.
5 Reasons Why Bambara is one of the coolest languages on earth (Il faut lire l’article sur cousinage aussi)

Some free Bamanankan resources

Quick Intro to Bambara (PDF)
Beginning Bambara text
Beginning Bambara audio
Intermediate text (for some reason the first half seems to be missing..)
Intermediate audio
Bambara – English Student Lexicon
Useful phrases
Great bilingual French/Bamanankan blog by Boukary a teacher and activist.
How to type Bambara (and other African languages) symbols such as ɛɔŋ
Grammaire élémentaire Bambara

Almost forgot – this is one of my favourite songs in Bambara, check it out if you’re curious to hear how the language sounds. Oumou Sangare – Ndiya

Scottish Gaelic Resources (Gàidhlig)

Learn Gaelic.net – the first place you should visit!
BBC Learn Gaelic main site
Beag air Bheag  – great lessons for beginners
Air Splaoid – BBC fun site for learning, with cool animations
Colin and Cumberland – learning games for beginners
An Litir Bheag (Little Letter for Gaelic Learners) – very useful podcast with transcript for learners
Bruidhinn ar Cànan – Colourful lessons for beginners, based on the first few lessons of “Speaking Our Language”, with sound samples and interactive tests
Gaelic4Parents – designe to assist kids and parents in Gaelic education, this site has tons of stories with audio, games, songs etc
Gaelic for Punks
Taic Lessons
Abair Thusa – Social network completely in Gàidhlig! Awesome place to find people to practise with
Fòram na Gàidhlig – An online forum where you can use your Gàidhlig, learn the language and connect with others doing the same
Choice of Dictionaries on SMO
Am Faclair Beag – great dictionary
Vocabulary List
Online Gaelic Texts – Through the Internet Text Archives which has books about culture and language, history, poetry, etc
Bhidothan Pools – Videos of clear and natural conversations with Gaelic speakers
Gaelcast – podcasting in Gàidhlig
Gaelic Podcasts – Fiona J Mackenzie teaches useful phrases
Scotsman – Gaelic column from the Scotsman newspaper
Additional Resources at SMO

Language Podcasts

I absolutely adore Podcasts as a method of taking foreign language radio with me to listen to when I’m travelling. I think it’s a wonderful interesting way to learn. This post contains two sections.The first section consists of podcasts aimed at learners, they are tutorials designed to help you learn and have been specifically made for that purpose. The second section is Foreign Language Podcasts which are usually targeted at native speakers, like radio shows on different topics. So make sure you keep scrolling down because there is more below. If you have a suggestion to add to the list, please let me know 🙂

I endeavour to keep all these links updated, please give me a hand and let me know if you find a broken link.

Last updated Feb 2013


Mission Europa – A detective story for learning the basics of German, French and Polish
SurvivalPhrases.com – 10 free lessons and more available to buy for each language. Arabic, Bulgarian, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, Hebrew Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian Spanish, Swedish Thai Vietnamese
Radio Lingua Network – Company which does the Coffee Break series also has One Minute podcasts of Catalan, Danish, Gaelic, Greek, Irish, Japanese, Luxembourgish, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, Zulu

ArabicPod – Fantastic podcast, both MSA and colloquial lessons that can be understood throughout the Arabic world, recent series of Levantine episodes
Arabic Podclass

Culturev Cherokee Podcast

Chinese (Cantonese):
Naked Cantonese
Popup Cantonese

Chinese (Mandarin)
News in Slow Chinese

copenhagencast is a Danish-English podcast for learning Danish – free audio and free pdf-files. Although there are only about 25 episodes so far, it’s worth listening. Some mp3-files are even between twenty and thirty minutes long.

Laura Speaks Dutch

The Bob and Rob Show
English Fluency Now – podcasts are free, you can pay for the lesson that goes along with them

Learn French by Podcast
One Thing in a French Day
Cultivate your French
Daily French Pod has pdf guides to download with each episode.
Comment vont les affaires? is a business French podcast course and has notes and scripts.
Native French Speech – free level gives interesting podcasts with French transcripts. You can subscribe for English translation and other features

Gaelic (Scottish)
Gaelic Podcasts – Fiona J Mackenzie teaches useful phrases
Little Letter for Gaelic Learners – for beginner/intermediate transcript & English translation available


Hit Greece – Learn beginner’s Greek with podcasts on grammar and vocabulary. Free lesson transcripts. Seems to be discontinued.
Learn Greek vocab – Aims to improve your Greek vocab. Only the last 7 lessons are free, the rest can be bought in itunes. Free pdf word sheets.
Hellenic American Union Greek podcast
– Many lessons teaching Greek in Greek. Probably more helpful if you already have some knowledge of Greek.

Let’s Talk Guaranime (by a native US-English speaker) Quite basic, and interesting for those who have never heard about Guarani


Learn Hindi from Bollywood Movies
I Speak Hindi – great podcast with transcripts

Let’s Learn Hungarian

Learning Indonesian

Qui Italia

Learn Japanese with Beb and Alex
Japancast – Learn Japanese language and culture through examples from anime and everyday conversation.
日語自遊行 – 1 & 2 (extra material 1 & 2)
– Learn basic Japanese words and phrases for travel and everyday life. Note: Only available in Cantonese.
日語自遊行 – 3 (extra material 3)
– Teaches more advanced Japanese words and phrases for travellers. Note: Only available in Cantonese.
Nihongo-Juku – Advanced Japanese podcasts with transcripts explaining common difficulties of learning Japanese.
Osaka Dialect 大阪弁 – Bilingual podcast explaining Japanese culture and language; with English translations and transcripts on website. Good if you want to get practice listening to a Japanese dialect.
Japanisch Podcast – Japanese lessons in German (by a native Japanese speaker). PDFs available.

Talk to Me in Korean
The Kimichi Girls

Latinum – comprehensive Latin vido course
Nuntii Latini – weekly review of world news in Classical Latin

Lithuanian Out Loud – Many podcasts, free transcripts

Learn Real Polish – some MP3 and text free, plenty more to pay for

Tá Falado – Portuguese especially for those with a background in Spanish

A Spoonful of Russian
A Taste of Russian – conversations on everday topics
Business Russian – from UCLA
Russian Literature – also from UCLA
Russisch lernen mit Russland-Journal – Russian lessons in German. Lots of ads, but free. A great complement to Russian lessons and the broadcasters are very constant

Audiria – Truly amazing site with many varied podcasts
Notes in Spanish
InstaSpanish Lessons – weekly comprehension and grammar lessons

Sprich mal Schwedisch – Swedish lessons in German by a native Swedish speaker. PDF files available. Perfect for exercising listening and speaking. Joakim (the teacher) points out differences between written and spoken language, and there are different episode-categories (lessons, alphabet and culture)

Viloria Pinoy Podcast – Includes useful PDF notes

Learn Thai Podcast

Say Something in Welsh

Millie’s Yiddish Class – video lessons


NHK World Radio Japan – World news podcasts for 18 languages Japanese, English, Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese, French, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Thai, Urdu, Vietnamese

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – Propaganda, but in 28 languages [sic].

SBS – News reports, children shows, sports reports, dramas, cooking shows, interviews etc. Lots of interesting stuff.
Languages available: Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Assyrian, Bangla, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dari, Dutch, Fijian, Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Khmer, Korean, Kurdish, Lao, Latvian, Macedonian, Maltese, Mandarin, Nepali, Norwegian, Persian-Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Serbian, Sinhalese, Slovak, Somali, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Urdu, Yiddish

SBS Amharic program – The program notes are in English, the shows are in Amharic.

Arabic Audiobooks – A good range of books from Taha Hussein to Dan Brown
News in Simplified Arabic – Includes exercises and transcripts but unfortunately not updated too often
BBC Xtra – 2 hour magazine programme entirely in Arabic about various social and controversial issues
Doroobcast – Intellectual series, includes things like poetry reading and short stories
RTVE Emisión en Árabe
Imtidad Cultural Podcast – Literary Podcast
Fouad Sindhi – Saudi Arabian’s journal blog
Saudi Gamer – about video games

Chinese (Mandarin)
反波 Antiwave – various current affairs topics

Radyo an Gernewegva

Funkhaus Europa Radio Forum – a nice Croatian news podcast which is updated every day with the duration of about 25 minutes.


Detektor – A show where the host verifies the validity of statements or affirmations presented by politicians or news hosts.

RNW Nieuwslijn – 30 minute news segments in Dutch that is updated many times per day.
De Grote Marc en Ramon Show!

Inside Europe – An hour a week, news from Europe

RMC – Le Journal du Jour – great news podcast
Yabla French – video podcast of authentic native materials aimed towards learners
La Revue de Presque – a really funny podcast with interviewing ‘politicians’ about recent news, except it’s just one man, pretending to be all these famous people. Even if you can’t understand the content the accents are enough to make you laugh. (P.S. They have a real interview at the beginning before the comedy show).
Chocolat is a bilingual French/Japanese podcast talking about interesting issues.
Tout un Monde – Dives into all different cultures and places, covering a different country/culture each episode
A Livre Ouvert – literature and authors
Le Poudcast – Pierre and Nico being outrageous and hilarious
Radio-Canada Baladodifusion – Here is link to the Radio-Canada website which lists about a dozen French language podcasts
CBC Podcast – C’est la Vie – podcast about life in French speaking Canada which ends each episode with the popular segment “Word of the Week” which often describes interesting differences between French in Canada and elsewhere.

Gaelic (Scottish)
Letter to Gaelic Learners – for more advanced learners
Spòrs Na Seachdain – Sports
Gaelcast – podcasting in Gàidhlig

Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten – Slowly spoken news in German with complete text
Sprachbar – a few minutes a week, a funny text about the different aspects of the German language with complete text.
Woher sollen wir das wissen? – Each episode dedicates itself to a certain question. Therefore the radio hosts call people and institutions that are somehow connected to the matter in question.
Wie war der Tag, Liebling? – two people talk about the most astounding or funniest thing they have come across that day
Radio Tatort – Krimis
Quarks & Co. – Fantastic science video podcast from WDR. I couldn’t recommend this one enough!
Das Philosophische Radio
Gans und Gar
Schlaflos in München
Der Podcast der Duden-Sprachberatung
SWR1 – Leute
Die Sendung mit der Maus
WDR – Hörspiel
Die Gefühlskonserve
Mopeten.tv – This is a short regular online motorcycle show in German. They travel the countryside, meet other motorcyclists, and have tips and tricks for motorcyclists.

Fumetti – podcast of comic books dramatised for Italian radio
24 Mattino
Essere e Benessere
Finestre sull’arte
Gastronauta, Il
L’Altra Europa
Laterza’s Podcast Page
Mr. Kilowatt
Questa casa non è un albergo
R101 Podcasts
Radio Deejay Podcasts

The Last Wave – An audio drama about the end of the world and the last survivors. The episodes are a few minutes long and pretty interesting.
Nippon Voiceblog – Each podcast is about a Japanese tradition and comes with a transcript.
LoveCosme– A woman talking about her sexual experiences.
Chocolat is a bilingual French/Japanese podcast talking about interesting issues.
Radio Sakamoto – Ryuichi Sakamoto’s podcast, includes interesting music!
Kanji koohii forum – Extensive list ranked by difficulty and usefulness

judy!! 님의 팟캐스트 – A diary about her life, travel etc. Some transcripts here.
Languageholic and Lifeholic a woman tackles, talks about and teaches English, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Italian and Japanese – while speaking in Korean most the time.
선현우의 Language Talk – Hyunwoo Sun makes video podcasts mostly about languages, breakdancing and Korea.

Waatea Podcasts – Episodes from the urban Maori Radio station Waatea, in Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland)

Nrk.no – Norwegian public radio podcast

Radio Javan – Includes Iranican Live, a bilingual radio show by some young Iranian-American free spirits. Also, Radio Javan has several music shows, if you’re someone who can’t get enough of Persian pop and dance music, here is your source.
VOA Video Podcasts – Daily news podcasts
Farsi For you

Polskie Radio – A Polish political discussion podcast updated daily with transcripts on the website, duration roughly 15 minutes

Café Brasil – awesome podcast about varied topics tied in with Brazilian music
DW Learning By Ear – series is intended for Portuguese speaking Africa and covers a myriad of topics such as health, society, politics, urban exodus, migration, computers, African history, African folktales and soccer/futebol.
EscribaCafe – cool historical mystery podcast, there are also video podcasts
Radiofobia – humorous
PapoTech – about technology, apparently they have a rural São Paulo accent
Papo na Estante – great literature podast

Svobodanews.ru – News updated 24 hours a day in one hour blocks every hour. perfect Russian, perfect coverage and discussions with word by word transcripts on the website
Эхо москвы – An old russian radio station. They also have transcripts.
Ruvr – (a public broadcasting service) has a lot of audio files
The Big Podcast – fast fun and lively show about various current interest topics. Seems like it’s often NSFW

Ciencia Para Escuchar – great scientific podcasts; please note the theatrically recorded biographies of famous scientists ‘Ciencia y genios’
Hablando en Plata – daily short podcast about common mistakes people make in Spanish
Etcétera – hilarious discussions of two Argentine guys
Radio Raza describe themselves as Musical-Historical-Cultural-Humorous quite funny guys from Mexico
Sobrexpuestos Critical and informative podcast from Mexico (website seems to be down)
En La Historia – Another Mexican podcast, covers some very interesting history topics, writers, legends etc (website seems to be down)
Acércate al Quijote – Anecdotes and curiosities about the Spanish classic by Cervantes
El Vestuario – Football from Spain
Radio El Espectador – La venganza será terrible – Humorous Uruguayan show
Audios – Sound archive of Argentine rock, lots of interviews. Other podcasts also on rock.com.ar
Viajero del mundo – quite interesting, spoken in a nice and slow Castillian Spanish. Good for beginners and travel buffs.
Kafelog – a funny podcast on technology. “Caffeine in podcast form”
Radio Ciudad del Mar – Cienfuegos, Cuba. Sporadic, varied, the overall flavour kind of like waking up in the 50s.
Un Idioma Sin Fronteras – Daily interviews with authors, useful to find out about books in Spanish.

Alltinget – a questions and answers program with experts in many fields
Bokcirkeln i kulturradion – book podcast
Klartext – news in easy Swedish
Språket – podcast about languages

Funkhaus Europa – Köln Rayosu
Cultural Interviews with Turkish-speaking Executives – videos
TRT – news, viedos, radio and podcasts in Turkish

Māori – Rauemi / Resources

Must see!
TOKU REO!! This is a great show teaching the language. Full videos now available.
Kotahi Mano Kaika – Awesome website about reviving Maori in the home. Has very cool resources to help the self learner get started, such as printable signs to put in your kitchen, free phrase books with audio and much more:)
Waatea Podcasts – Episodes from the urban Maori Radio station Waatea, in Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland)
Maori TV online videos
Te Whaneke main site – Videos, dictionary, iphone app, podcasts

Dictionaries & Encyclopaedias
Ngata Dictionary
Te Aka Dictionary
(I mostly use those top two)
He Pātaka Kupu monolingual Māori language dictionary
Maori placenames Map + audio
Scientific Dictionary
Williams Dictionary 1957
Te Ara Encyclopedia – in te reo
Maori language Wikipedia
Maori Language on Eng Wikipedia

Courses, Grammar, Phrases
Te Whaneke online course – 15 video modules
Two video series – used in Universities, although using it with a textbook would help a lot, it’s also a great series to practise your comprehension with
He Kupu o te Rā – Māori word of the day plus basic grammar resource
Word Frequency List Top 1000 – Choose alphabetical or frequency order
Te Whaneke main site – Videos, dictionary, iphone app, podcasts
Kotahi Mano Kaika – Awesome website about reviving Maori in the home. Has very cool resources to help the self learner get started, such as printable signs to put in your kitchen, free phrase books with audio and much more 🙂
Proficiency test information – includes a link to a site where you can find a handbook with some example questions
Short test your Maori
Korero Maori – Phrases, cultural information
Maorilanguage.net – Phrases with audio
Radio NZ Greetings – good comprehensive list of greetings with audio

Texts & Stories
Upoko Pakaru – wonderful blog about the Māori language by a teacher of te reo. Great place to learn colloquial language and phrases.
Kā Puna Karikari a Rākaihautū – Talking books, rollover glossaries and comprehension quizzes.
Tērā Ia Ngā Tai – Talking books and rollover glossaries.
He Puia, He Iwi – 3 stories narrated in Maori/English and one with additional Hawaiian.
International Digital Children’s Library: Maori – 8 books so far, I rec “Cry Baby Moon” it’s beautiful 🙂
Myths and Legends – Bilingual text Māori/English
Māori Newspapers online
Waiata (songs) + sometimes audio or video
Te Wharekura – Series of miscellaneous and single-topic books for intermediate and advanced learners of te reo Māori.
The Maori Messenger –  Ko te Karere Maori – Archive of a bilingual newspaper 1849 – 1860
Kōkiri – bi-monthly magazine celebrating Māori achievement, all issues have at least 15% Māori language and August-September is entirely in Te Reo.
Te Ao Hou – bilingual magazine published from 1952 to 1976

Waatea Podcasts – Episodes from the urban Maori Radio station Waatea, in Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland)
Maori Radio – Listen Online to many stations (I love Atiawa Toa)
Makorea – an audiobook!!! Ok it’s short, seems to be a collection of stories perhaps. I don’t understand everything so not sure if it’s just exerpts, but I do understand that it says it’s a story about battle, pain, luck and love, recounted by Menu Maui
Whanau – Audio soap opera with transcript, follows the life of an urban Māori family. (no translation) Character profiles in English
Many MANY interviews in te reo Radio NZ website

Games & Interactive
Interactives – For kids. Topics include the wharenui, the marae, hangi, hui, Matariki, taiaha, legends and numeracy.
Te Ao Hurihuri – Talking book, winter and summer night sky charts, a lunar planting and fishing guide, song lyrics, and a music mixer.

Toku Reo This is a great show teaching the language. Full videos now available
Te Karere Maori news
Maori TV online videos Includes such greats as “Meke my Waka” (like pimp my ride but in Maori) and “Kia Ora Hola” (series about school trip to Chile) as well as “Te Kaea” (news) and much more. Maori language shows are subtitled in English.
Ako – programme in te reo teaching te reo
Manu Korero – school speeches in Maori
Merchant of Venice excerpts – Clips from the Māori translation of Shakespeare’s ” The Merchant of Venice” man I would love to see this
Maori waiata (songs)
Erica’s Journey – a great introduction to learning Maori and the history of the language through the eyes of a girl wanting to learn it
Matariki @ Auck City Libraries – Matariki / Maori New Year narration
Hatupatu and Kurangaituku – Maori Legend Animation
NZ On Screen – Episodes & Excerpts aired on NZ TV. I particularly recommend Mataku! It’s like a bilingual supernatural “Twilight Zone” type show.
Te Moemoea – “The Dream” Drama totally in te reo Maori
Te Urewera – Bilingual episode looking at the unique spiritual relationship between the Tuhoe people and the birds and bush in Te Urewera National Park

How to get a good working Maori keyboard

More links

Macrons to copy