How to Learn a New Language

Expand your horizons with foreign language resources at Duke University Libraries

Foreign Language books
Heather Martin, Duke's Librarian for African and African American Studies, got help learning French with Duke University Libraries resources. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

English is the most widely spoken language in the United States, but the number of Americans who speak other languages is gradually rising.

Recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that 21.7% of Americans now speak a language other than English at home with Spanish and Chinese dialects as the most common second languages.

Heidi Madden heads Duke University Libraries’ International and Area Studies department, a team of multilingual subject specialists who help patrons find materials in English and foreign languages. She recommends Transparent Language Online as a useful tool for learning a language.

Transparent Language Online is a self-paced interactive platform available to Duke community members when they access the service through the Duke University Libraries website and log in with their NetID.

 “You can create your own account, and it will keep track of where you are,” Madden said. “It has videos, stories and grammar exercises embedded in the platform. It also sends you a new word every day, which is nice.”

Transparent Language Online covers more than 100 languages including Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Haitian Creole and Hindi. There are two versions of Spanish, three variations of French and four types of Arabic.

Heidi Madden of Duke University Libraries' International and Area Studies department oversees the resources available to help community members learn new languages. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Martin, the Duke University Librarian for African and African American Studies, used Transparent Language Online to begin her education in French, a language she encounters researching topics related to Africa.

“It’s a great starting point,” Martin said. “And even if you’ve already got some experience in the language, there are tests you can go back and take to see where you are.”

Duke University Libraries also has foreign language lessons on CDs for nearly 20 languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Arabic and Vietnamese.

Another way to embrace a foreign language is to experience the culture associated with it.

To do that, Duke University Libraries offers Kanopy, Asian Film Online and Latin America in Film for streaming hundreds of foreign language films and documentaries.

“Being multilingual is one of the biggest joys of my life,” said Madden, who speaks German and French. “To look at the world and be able to read things from different places, and understand both sides, and not be dependent on one point of view is very enriching.”

Visit for foreign language resources.