World Languages

Find language-learning resources for any level. There is separate guide available for English Language Learners.


Language Learning

Why Learn Another Language?

There are many reasons to learn another language. They may include:

  • Having more job opportunities
  • Making friends
  • Understanding another culture (or your own) better
  • Sharpening your mental abilities
  • Becoming a more effective traveler


How Do We Learn Languages?

The human brain learns its first language naturally.

It’s possible to reach a high skill level in another language as an adult. It just takes a lot of practice and a willingness to make mistakes.


Language practice tips from Benny The Irish Polyglot:

Fluent in 3 Months Website Logo

Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening: The Four Basic Language Skills, and How to Practise Them by Benny Lewis

How to Get Over the Fear of Rejection by Shannon Kennedy


Listen, for your language sound skills:

Librivox, free public domain audiobooks whose copyright has expired (before 1923). Over 90 languages.


Internet Archive, via their Audio filter (icon looks like a stereo speaker).  Also copyright-expired but much more breadth and depth.  Books, music, radio programs, much more.


More about language skills via Films on Demand:

FOD logo

Writing “traces the evolution of writing from its pictograph and hieroglyph antecedents.” (1998, 53 min.)

Why Do We Talk? The Science of Speech “spotlights researchers who are unlocking the deepest secrets of speech.” (2009, 52 min.)


How Many Languages Are There?

Credo Logo

The Dictionary of Languages provides an essential reference to languages, people and nations.



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Speaking in Tongues: The History of Language explains how the world’s 6,000+ languages developed. (5 episodes, approx. 50 min. each)

American Sign Language

ASL encompasses a variety of North American sign dialects used natively by several hundred thousand people. It is officially recognized in at least 40 states as well as the Canadian province of Ontario.


Browse in the Library

ASL and Deaf Culture (HV 2300)


Dictionaries and Reference Video dictionary, phrases, fingerspelling, and ASL writing.

ASLU Logo ASL University: Dictionary with pictures and videos, learning resources.



Icon for EBSCO eBooksThe American Sign Language Handshape Dictionary (or DVD Stacks HV 2475 .T461 2007)

Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American Sign Language (or print Stacks HV 2474 .L53 2003)


Gallaudet dictionary of American Sign Language (print and DVD Stacks HV 2475 .G35 2005)

Idioms & phrases in American Sign Language (DVD Stacks HV 2474 .I356 2008)

Talking with your hands, listening with your eyes: a complete photographic guide to ASL (print Stacks HV 2474 .G73 2003)


History and Culture

EBSCO eBooks on Deaf Culture

Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II Inside Deaf Culture Reading Between the Signs: Intercultural Communication for Sign Language Interpreters

When learning ASL, as with any spoken language, it’s very important to understand that there is a distinct Deaf culture. Deaf culture is very different from mainstream American hearing culture.

Learning about Deaf history and culture will not only help you understand ASL, but also that American hearing culture carries its own expectations and assumptions you may not have been aware of before.


Handspeak: Culture Cultural and historical information as well as Deaf art and literature.


 Introduction to American deaf culture (print Stacks HV2545.H65 2013)

 Deaf American poetry: an anthology (print Stacks PS 591 .D4 D43 2009)

 The hidden treasure of Black ASL: its history and structure (print Stacks HV 2545 .H53 2011)

 Through deaf eyes: a photographic history of an American community (print Stacks HV 2530 .B39 2007)


Study and Practice


Credo ReferenceEasy Way Series: E-Z American Sign Language:”This heavily illustrated, self-teaching guide to ASL is useful both for the deaf and for those men and women who teach or work among deaf people.”


EBSCO eBooks Picture Yourself Learning American Sign Language, Level 1: An introductory ASL text focusing on culture and communicating with the whole body. No fingerspelling allowed here!


Films on DemandAmerican Sign Language: Greetings, The Alphabet, and More American Sign Language: Numbers, Money, and More



Deaf Chat Coffee: Washington State Meetups: Find local meetups to practice your ASL with real people–the best way to learn any language. A list of films either in ASL or containing significant amounts of ASL.



EBSCO eBooksAdvanced Sign Language Vocabulary

Language From the Body: Iconicity and Metaphor in American Sign Language



Chinese Flag


Standard Chinese, or Mandarin, is a standardized variety of Chinese, which is spoken by nearly 1 billion people worldwide and is an official language in 3 countries.


Dictionaries and Reference

Chinese dict. book coverMcGraw-Hill’s Chinese dictionary and guide to 20,000 essential words (print Stacks PL1455.H7957 2010)

Chinese Grammar Wiki A free collaborative grammar website with points from beginner level to advanced.

Learn Chinese Online: Grammar More beginning through advanced grammar lessons.

LINE Dictionary Chinese-English Enter words or draw characters. Includes example conversations and phrases. There’s also an app version.

MDBG English to Chinese Dictionary Look up words using Pinyin or characters. Also includes a translation feature and some practice activities. A dictionary plus a number of other activities. Dictionary has a feature for drawing characters with the mouse. Includes an app version.


Study and Practice

chinese proverbs Book Cover

Advanced Reader of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories: Reflections on Humanity (via eBook Collection)

Chinese Proverbs and Popular Sayings: With Observations on Culture and Language (via eBook Collection)

Documenting China: A Reader in Seminal Twentieth-century Texts (via eBook Collection)

China since 1949 (via World History in Context)

Chinese language in the library: Browse between PL1000 – 1999

Chinese literature in the library: Browse between PL2000 – 3299

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin lessons in life, love, and language (print Stacks DS779.43.F36 2010)

Mandarin Companion Graded Readers (print Stacks PL1115) The library owns the following titles in the Level 1 series: The country of the blind, The monkey’s paw, The secret garden, The sixty-year dream, and Sherlock Holmes and the case of the curly haired company. These readers are for beginning learners and are limited to 300 unique characters.

The Chairman’s Bao “The first simplified Chinese newspaper, written for those who are learning Mandarin.”

Day Day Up Chinese Lots of free elementary and intermediate online lessons including PDFs and audio of native speakers.

Learning Chinese: A Foundation Course in Mandarin A free online textbook and course materials from MIT.

Perapera Their Big List of Chinese Audiobooks, really only about ten books, contains classics and current favorites. Listening to stories engages your imagination. An Amazon affiliate.

Zhongwen Red Free lessons organized by type of vocabulary and a nice list of links.


French Flag


French is spoken by nearly 200 million people worldwide and is an official language in 29 countries.


Browse in the Library

Language (PC 2000)

Literature (PQ 1)


Comics and Graphic Novels (PN 6747 with other languages)


Dictionaries and Reference


Larousse Logo French-English dictionary, French definition dictionary, verb conjugator, encyclopedia, recipes, and more.




Forvo: French Pronunciation Dictionary Search and listen to words and phrases pronounced by native speakers.


English grammar for students of French (print Stacks PC 2099 .M67 2009)

501 French verbs (print Stacks PC 2271 .K378 2007)

Bilingual visual dictionary: French English (print Stacks PC 2640 .B55 2005)

Larousse dictionnaire français-anglais, anglais-français (print Stacks at PC 2640 .L32 2010)


History and Culture

France since 1945 (via World History in Context)

A Short History of French Literature (via eBook Collection)


FOD logo

Les Fêtes en France “explores five of the most significant French holidays: Pâques (Easter), Les Fêtes des Rois (Three Kings Day), Poisson d’Avril (April Fool’s Day), La Fête Nationale (The National Celebration, also known in English as Bastille Day), and Noël (Christmas).” (2011, 13 min.)


Study and Practice

All Levels


Test de Connaissance du Français

The TCF is an internationally-recognized skills test for foreign learners of French.

Information about the test through CIEP.

Free practice test questions through TV5Monde.


Other Resources for All Levels

italki Sign up for a free account to set up live conversation exchanges with language partners. You can also pay for online lessons with an experienced teacher.

FrenchPod101 Sign up for a free account. Fun lessons in various formats for all levels of learners.

Live Lingua French Free learning materials from the Foreign Service Institute, the Peace Corps, and the Defense Language Institute.

Mango Languages Log in using your Bellingham Public Library or Whatcom County Library System account. If you are a resident of Whatcom County you can sign up for a WCLS account online.



Busuu: French A language-learning app. Requires creating a free account in order to access the lessons.

Duolingo: French Another language-learning app. Best for learning vocabulary and some grammar.

Français interactif: A French program A free beginning French textbook from the University of Texas including grammar resources.



France-Amerique magazine cover



France-Amérique magazine

The library subscribes to this bilingual magazine for your reading practice.

Some culturally-related articles in English are available on the publisher’s website.



A Short Course in Reading French (via eBook Collection)

1001 pitfalls in French (print Stacks PC2129.E5 G74 1986)

 Better reading French (print Stacks PC2117.H485 2012)



Foreign Language News and Newspapers: French A list of links by Mark Szarko at MIT.

France 24 Read, watch, and listen to international news in French. Also has an app version.

LibriVox: French Audiobooks Listen to audiobooks in French read by volunteers. All books on this site are no longer under copyright.

Radio-Canada Read, watch, and listen to French-Canadian news.

Les expressions idiomatiques (print Stacks PC2689.C45 2008)


German Flag


German is spoken by about 200 million people worldwide and is an official language in 6 countries.


Dictionaries and Reference

Book CoverA Usage Dictionary: English-German & German-English (via eBook Collection)

501 German verbs (print Stacks PF3271 .S855 2008)

Bilingual visual dictionary: German English (print Stacks PF3640.B458 2005)

Cassell’s German-English, English-German dictionary (print Stacks PF3640.B453 2002)

Canoo Conjugates verbs and displays noun inflections.

Leo An online dictionary for German paired with multiple other languages.


Study and Practice

german language biography Book CoverGerman: Biography of a Language (via eBook Collection)

Neighbors and Neighborhoods: Living Together in the German-speaking World (via eBook Collection)

Topics, Questions, Keywords: A Handbook for Students of German (via eBook Collection)

Using German Synonyms (via eBook Collection)

Germany after Reunification (via World History in Context)

German language in the library: Browse between PF3001 – 5999

German literature in the library: Browse between PT1 – 4999

Projekt Gutenberg A German portal to the Project Gutenberg website. Read free public domain eBooks in German.

Lesekorb: Geschichten für Kinder German children’s stories.

Zeit Online A German news website.


Japanese Flag


Japanese is spoken by about 125 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language.


Dictionaries and Reference

501 Japanese verbs (print Stacks PL585 .L3 2008)

Bilingual visual dictionary: Japanese English (print Stacks PL676.J365 2011)

The key to kanji: a visual history of 1100 characters (print Stacks PL519.W55 2010)

Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC A free online Japanese dictionary. Search for words or for kanji.


Study and Practice

Japan, Historical Overview (via World History in Context)

Japanese language in the library: Browse between PL500 – 699

Japanese literature in the library: Browse between PL700 – 899

NHK World: English Read and watch Japanese news. Content in both English and Japanese (click the Language menu button to change). Also has a fun “Learn Japanese” page.


Spanish Flag


Spanish is spoken by about 500 million people worldwide and is an official language in 21 countries.


Dictionaries and Reference

3,000 locuciones verbales y combinaciones frecuentes (via eBook Collection)

Book CoverDiccionario de mexicanismos (via eBook Collection)

El español y su estructura (via eBook Collection)

New Guide to Phrasal Verbs: English to Spanish (via eBook Collection)

Pocket Business Spanish Dictionary (via eBook Collection)

501 Spanish verbs (print Stacks PC4271 .K38 2010)

Bilingual visual dictionary: Spanish English (print Stacks PC4640.B55 2005)

English grammar for students of Spanish (print Stacks PE1099.S65 2007)

The University of Chicago Spanish dictionary: Spanish-English, English-Spanish (print Stacks PC4640.U5 2003)

Vox compact Spanish and English dictionary (print Stacks PC4640.V67 2008)

SpanishDict Dictionary, translation, conjugation, flash cards, grammar, and more.

Spanish Grammar in Context Detailed grammar explanations using authentic video examples.


Study and Practice

COERRL: Spanish

Book CoverGrammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain (via eBook Collection)

Spanish As an International Language: Implications for Teachers and Learners (via eBook Collection)

Varieties of Spanish in the United States (via eBook Collection)

US Hispanic Newsstream (via ProQuest US Newsstream) Search for news articles in Spanish from several dozen news sources.

Spanish language in the library: Browse between PC4000 – 4999

Spanish literature in the library: Browse between PQ6000 – 8999

1001 pitfalls in Spanish (print Stacks PC4129.E5H65 1997)

Conjuguemos Verb conjugation, vocabulary, and grammar practice, plus flash cards and other activities. Teachers can use quizzes for class or design their own.