Free FSI Language Courses – Are They Good?
October 13, 2019
Hello everyone. Thank you for tuning in
to the langfocus channel. My name is Paul Today’s topic is the FSI free courses
that are available online. So what is the FSI? That is
the “Foreign Service Institute”. And that is where American diplomats or foreign
service workers do their intensive language
training before they are placed abroad. Now, why does that matter to us, to language learners? Well, it’s because the FSI materials,
at least the older FSI materials, that they use for their intensive language study
are available in the public domain. And you can get them on the internet for free. So that’s very relevant to us. Anything that’s free
makes us pay a closer attention, doesn’t it? Well, you can also get them in hard copy format. You can get some repackaged versions like this. This one is called “Mastering Hebrew”
but this is actually the FSI Hebrew course. Just some some entrepreneur
repackage them and decided to sell it. I also have this one: “Mastering French” and
I have this one which is called just “Saudi Arabic”. That’s the Saudi Arabic course from the FSI. So you can buy them in hard copy format
if you’re willing to spend the money. If you want free one, if you want to try them, then
they’re public domain, you can find them on the internet. And I’ll give you a link where you can find them later. So let’s talk a little bit about the pros
and cons of these FSI materials. First of all: the pros. The first thing is: they’re free.
So how can you go wrong with free materials. Even if they suck, then you stop using them
and you have lost nothing. Right? So you can download them, try them out, see how
it goes. They’re free. What more could you ask for? The second thing is that they are quite dense courses. There is quite a lot of material that you can use,
that you can get through. The Hebrew one is about five hundred and fifty pages. The French one well this is
only one quarter of it right here in this. In this volume, this is 250 pages.
Altogether, it’s nine hundred or a thousand pages. And the Arabic one is 250 pages.
So that’s quite a lot of material for you to use. And there’s hours and hours of audio to go with it.
So it’s just a lot that you can use. If you do work through that material, you’ll gain
a good working knowledge of the language. That will probably also be very good for your sentence
level of fluency because they just drilled the hell out of you. There are so many drills in these courses. There are question-and-answer drill,
substitution drills, transformation drills. Just drills drills drills.
Not all the time, but a lot of the time. And it really helps you just spit out the sentences
more quickly. It really helps improve your fluency. And to produce sentences on the go when you need to. So you don’t have to spend as much
thinking time to produce your sentences. After finishing the FSI Hebrew course,
there was a huge jump in my fluency,
I could produce sentence as much more rapidly. I actually studied with the FSI course
between two trips to the Middle East. On the first trip, I couldn’t really
produce sentences very quickly. And on my second trip there, after using the FSI course,
everybody told me “Wow, you speak like a native speaker”. I guess they’re flattering me a little bit. But basically, doing so many drills helped me to speak fluently. And without a lot of pausing and hesitation. They’re also good because the language presented
is based on everyday common situation. Things like meeting someone for the first time,
ordering a ticket at the station, inviting someone out. That kind of thing. Talking about the weather. Those are the way they introduced the language
at the beginning of the lessons. And then, after that, they expand upon that,
by drilling the hell out of you but… They introduced the language,
using those common situation. So everything you learn is quite useful and relevant
and it’s thematically based in each chapter. So, that helps you remember
all of the new material you’re learning. Now, for the cons or the bad. These courses are mind-numbingly boring.
At least, some of them and at least at times. They can be really really drill-intensive and I remember
sitting there in the middle of these courses, sometimes just counting down the minutes and okay,
10 more minutes, 10 more minutes, I’m almost done. And just praying for the end
because they really are boring. You need to be motivated yourself.
These courses will not motivate you. They’re really dry a lot of the time
and you just have to … push through them and that requires you to bring
your own motivation to the table. Another downside is that the audio materials
are just not that high quality. Because they were produced in the 1960s
and 70s quite a long time ago. And the new CDs that you might get are
still based on those original master tapes. So sometimes they’re not clear they’re a bit fuzzy
and they’re just not really… they’re not really as good of a model as a digital audio
recording would be, a modern recording. So… So I would recommend that if you do use these FSI
materials, you get some other more modern digitally
recorded audio materials, so that you can copy the pronunciation
of a native speaker clearly, right? Another downside is that these courses are not really
made to be used as standalone materials, they’re made to be a manual for a classroom course
that is taught by an instructor. An instructor in these courses
is supposed to give you extra activities, that help you get more interactive experience
and, sometimes, in some of the books, you can see notes to the instructor, like please do this,
please prepare an activity for this purpose
and that kind of thing. But, obviously, those activities are not in the book.
They were up to the instructor of the classroom course. So this book don’t come with a classroom course,
you have to get that experience, that extra component that the teacher would be
responsible for, you have to get that on your own. So really, you need to just get experience communicating
and interacting with native speakers. You need to take some lessons, you need to talk
with friends to speak that language,
just do that in addition to these courses. So, in conclusion, most people find these FSI courses
really just too boring, too drill-intensive. But I do marginally recommend them for people
who are just having trouble with fluency and having trouble with sentence structure, people
who take a long time to think about their sentences
and piece them together. If you want to gain that automaticity, that fluency,
then you want to just practice with some drills. These are really good for drills. That’s basically
the main thing I recommend them for. If you want to just be able to spit out
sentences more quickly, then, by all means, try these out,
check out their drills. But bring your own motivation to the table
because these courses are boring. And also just be prepared for some unclear audio. Don’t expect 2015 level audio quality
because you won’t get it. So supplement with some other audio
that you can model your pronunciation after. Thank you for tuning in to the langfocus channel.
Have a good night. Talk to you later.