Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “language”

FSI Language Courses

FSI Language CoursesĀ  – http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php

If main URL is down, also try:

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What does Serbo-Croatian sound like?
  • What does modern Hebrew sound like?
  • What does Sinhala sound like?


Pretty much a plain vanilla presentation of language courses originally developed by the Foreign Service Institute of the State Department. As these courses were created by federal government employees, the courses became part of the Public Domain, freely reusable by anyone. This website has no connection to the federal government. It’s run by a nonprofit that wants to provide access to these course which were held in high esteem when they were created are still useful today.

Each course consists of a student workbook (usually hundreds of pages) in PDF format and a number of tapes in MP3 format. The audio tapes appear to be purely in the language being studied. You won’t get any benefit from the tapes alone except for getting a sense of how that particular language sounds.

The workbook varies in detail from course to course, but usually tries to teach the written language along with the spoken language and later units of the course will have reading passages. Suggestions for teaching the language in a classroom setting will also be offered.

Several dozen courses are offered. Representative ones are:

  • Arabic
  • Cantonese
  • Greek
  • Polish
  • Serbo-Croatian
  • Vietnamese
  • Yoruba

Defense Language Institute Products

Defense Language Institute Products –http://www.dliflc.edu/resources/products/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What would a complaint about working conditions sound in Egyptian Arabic?
  • What does Argentine Spanish sound like?
  • Where can I find the Filipino legend Chocolates Hills of Bohol Island?


As the website says, this is a listing of products of the Defense Language Institute that covers both culture and language for a number of countries. Some of the products (i.e. Cultural Orientations) have been covered elsewhere. Unless otherwise noted, all products are freely available.

One particularly intriguing product to me is Phone Conversations. Here’s the description from the website, “This site contains over 300 casual phone conversations in non-standard dialect and lesson plans with support materials for classroom use.” For example, the Spanish section allows you to listen to phone calls in Spanish from Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina and a few other countries. You have to have some command of the target language for this to be worthwhile, but it does show differences in culture as well as dialect.

Probably of greater interest to writers is “Legends and Folktales” which offer illustrated narrations of local folktales. Clicking on “Legends and Folktales” brings up a dotted world map. Mousing over the dot shows the country name. Clicking on the dot shows the legend. Some of the legends, such as Russia’s “Legend of the Firebird” can be played either in English or in the native language. This site would seem to be fruitful for people trying to establish a character’s ethnicity.

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