A BBC Production America Hasn't Ripped Off Yet
The BBC are so selfless. They offer us Americans the addictively hapless crew at The Office, and never complain when we totally rip it off. They give us the deliciously candid fashion criticism of What Not To Wear, even though we copy it outright. (Not that we didn't have a history of this behavior: Three's Company, that beloved American classic, comes straight from Britain's Man About the House.) But there's one wildly successful project BBC's putting out there that is theirs and theirs alone.
BBC Languages is the BBC's extensive set of online resources for learning a number of languages. It's amazing to me that all of these materials are just sitting there, for the taking. To start, if French, German, Spanish, or Italian is your language of choice, take a quiz to measure what level you should begin with. Then jump into a wide variety of language learning tools: interactive courses, often with video and audio, TV shows with related activities, audio guides, and more. It doesn't stop at these four languages, either: Portuguese, Greek, Urdu, and Mandarin Chinese are broadly covered, and you can even learn crucial phrases like "Where's the toilet, please?" in Belarusian and Luxembourgish -- come on, you know you've always wanted to.
What's impressive about this set is that it's not just basic grammar and vocab. There are slang guides, info on using the languages in the workplace, and monthly audio magazines with articles on the various countries' culture and news. They've even got a "Your Say" section, where other students share their common mistakes, learning tips, and blogs from abroad, and tips on improving at languages in general.
Granted, taking these courses over the computer is not going to make you a fluent speaker. But to get the basics of a whole slew of languages, free is a lot cheaper than taking a class or hopping on a plane. There is a lot of learning to be had on these pages. And, of course, you can put all this learning to use on their site, too. After all, they do offer the BBC news in 33 languages. And if English is the language you're trying to learn, they've got that covered thoroughly, too, in their Learning English pages. See? Boundless generosity.
But it's not like we Americans don't give back, albeit in a most surreal way: if you happen to be a speaker of Chinese using the BBC's site to learn English, you'll have a very unlikely instructor.
Photo by nofrills.