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I have a confession: I am secretly envious of all of you who are bilingual and multilingual. Yes, I’m Chinese (my grandparents are from mainland China), but my Mandarin is quite poor. Having grown up in the States, I took up Spanish as a second language, but since I rarely used it, most of it has long been forgotten. Lately, I’ve been trying to improve and practice my Mandarin speaking skills. And that’s when I found that there are tons of language learning resources that are available online and on your smartphone (and many of them are free).

Language Learning Resources

I first heard about Living Language when I downloaded one of their audiobooks from the Singapore Overdrive Library (please refer to this previous post). Living Language has tons of free resources on their site (I especially like their language lab flash cards). But to get full access to their entire online products, you’ll need to purchase a membership (from US$179). This will then give you access to their “live e-tutoring”, which is said to be one of their strongest components.

Their price is less expensive than Rosetta Stone (now on sale at $229 USD; U.P. is $500 USD for the full set of courses), but if you’re just starting out like me, you might want to check out all the free resources and trial memberships from other sites first (such as Fluenz and Skritter; the latter is specifically designed for learning how to write Chinese and Japanese characters) before settling on buying a membership.

A good place to start is by downloading free audiobooks from the Overdrive Library. Each audiobook approaches language learning in a slightly different way. I can’t comment on which method works best since how we learn differs from one individual to another.

The top 3 languages spoken in the world are 1. Mandarin 2. Spanish and 3. English (in that order). Many of you already know how to speak Mandarin and English, but if you are interested in learning other languages such as Spanish, Portuguese (6th most spoken language), or German (11th), then you could use Duolingo and learn these languages for free! Duolingo provides absolutely free language lessons through their app. Their lessons includes a variety of speaking, listening, translation, and multiple choice challenges. As of August 2015, 13 language courses were available to the public in English. Unfortunately for me, Mandarin Chinese is not one of them, but I have been using their app to relearn Spanish.

Prior to starting the lessons, you have the option to take an assessment test. Depending on your score, you might be able to skip to more advance lessons. Having taken Spanish many, many years ago in secondary school, I was only able to obtain a fluency score of 2% on the assessment test so I had to start from the beginning. As I progressed through the introductory lessons, I started to remember more Spanish words and phrases. And within a short amount of time, I was able to reach 10% fluency.

Unfortunately, there are fewer free online resources and websites that offer Malay and Tamil lessons (iLanguages has some resources such as flashcards in Malay, while 101 Languages has flashcards in both Malay and Tamil, but both sites are still quite limited). Hindi, which is offered by both Living Language and Rosetta Stone, is easier to find as it is more widely spoken. There are also no audiobooks on learning Malay or Tamil from the Singapore Overdrive Library.

However, as the Duolingo community is rapidly growing (currently they have more than 10 million users). And having just received a $45 million investment from Google, I suspect Duolingo will be adding many more new languages to their free platform in the near future.

In Summary

We live in an amazing time where we have access to tons of free resources, giving us the opportunity for continual learning and personal growth. These tools were once only available to the rich, but now anyone who has a smartphone can become a polyglot. There are simply no more excuses for me; everything I need in order to improve my Mandarin speaking skills are within my reach. And all I need to do now is “jia you”! What new language would you like to learn?


As of Nov 2017, Duolingo started offering Mandarin Chinese! Hooray!! You can find an updated review article here.

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