Foreign service institute language book
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Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Language Program Review

Languages: 40+ languages, including popular languages like French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Thai, Hebrew, Hindi, Swahili, etc. and many rarely spoken languages.

Format: audio-based teaching with textbook.

Download audio & PDF textbook for free from:


A thread from forum started with the question “What are your favorite language programs?” This question has received 340 responses from 140 people. In those responses, 61 people said they liked Assimil (the highest number), followed by 52 people who said they liked Pimsleur, 35 said they liked Michel Thomas, 26 said they liked Teach Yourself. All of these courses are paid courses. FSI, surprisingly, stands at the fifth place with 25 “likes”.

As you can see, many people consider FSI as their favorite program, it can be yours too.

Below are some pages taken from the Hebrew Basic Course

Foreign Service Institute language program manual book cover

The cover

FSI Free Language lesson Preface

The preface (click on the image for larger image size)

FSI Free Language Program lesson

The top part of a page from unit 1


The courses originated from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) (US Department of State) training program for US’s diplomats and soldiers 30 to 40 years ago.

The primary purpose of these courses is as written below:

“This course is written primarily for use in an intensive language program of twenty or more hours per week; but it can also be for other situations, such as a language program in which one or more part-time students attend class for three to six hours per week, or for individual study with the aid of recorded tapes.”

-Korean Basic Course introduction-

“While this course is designed for classroom use, special attention has been given both in the text and in the tape recordings to make it as useful as possible for self-instructional use”.

-Vietnamese Familiarization Course preface-

Nowadays, theses courses are given to the public.


The goal of theFSI courses is to help its learners speak automatically. FSI emphasizes the importance of thorough remembering and understanding.

A typical lesson from the Basic Courses contains four major parts:

  1. Basic dialogue
  • One or, occasionally, more dialogues are introduced
  1. Notes on dialogues and grammar notes
  • Explanations of the language used
  • Grammatical points related to the dialogue(s)
  1. Drills
  1. Exercises

The most important learning activities in FSI courses are the drills. Drills were designed to help learners to speak automatically without hesitating.

(For the details about the method and activities in a lesson, read from page 1 to page 5 of the Korean Basic Course textbook, the method used in the Korean Basic Course is the same method used in other languages)

The content of lessons

Below are the lesson titles of the Korean Basic Course (may be a little different at other languages courses)

Volume 1

  1. Greetings
  2. Finding one’s way around
  3. Finding one’s way around (continued)
  4. Shopping
  5. Shopping (continued)
  6. Time
  7. Time (continued)
  8. Talking about one’s work
  9. Going to the movies
  10. Going around the town
  11. Going around the town (continued)
  12. Eating and drinking
  13. Eating and drinking (continued)
  14. Talking about one’s life and family
  15. Talking about one’s life and family (continued)
  16. Telephoning
  17. Telephoning (continued)
  18. Talking about weather

Volume 2:

  1. At Seoul station information
  2. At Seoul station information (continued)
  3. At the ticket window
  4. On the train
  5. At taejon inn
  6. At taejon inn (continued)
  7. Room service
  8. Giving Errands to the Inn Maid
  9. Reading signs
  10. Reading signs (continued)
  11. Going out for a drive
  12. At the service station
  13. Haircut
  14. Visiting the patient at the hospital
  15. Visiting the patient at the hospital (continued)
  16. Invitation
  17. Invitation (continued)
  18. Invitation (continued)
  19. Educational system
  20. Educational system (continued)
  21. Discussing one’s occupation
  22. Discussing one’s occupation (continued)
  23. Going out to the countryside
  24. Going out to the countryside (continued)
  25. Society and social life
  26. Society and social life (continued)
  27. Military service
  28. Military service (continued)
  29. Government and politics

Although the exact content of a language course is different with one another, all course content was designed to fit best to American diplomats who live in foreign countries. It is a benefit for any English speakers who wants to learn the language used in daily situations.


  1. Drills are effective to help memorize all the words/ phrases taught. Thus, help us to use what we have learned in real life conversations.
  2. Good for pronunciation
  • Listen and repeats a lot which helps to produce a more natural accent
  1. Improved listening skills
  • Native speakers in the audio spoke witheach other at a normal pace. They did not slower the pace down to make it easier for learners. Because of this, learners may struggle first, but after that, they will be prepared for real life conversations.
  1. Lessons are well structured. It helps find our way through the book easily.


1. A lot of drills may make you bored

2. Pronunciation reform

  • Some languages, such as German, have gone through pronunciation reform, thus some word pronunciations in the book are not modern pronunciations.

3. Some words used in the courses are outdated now

  • For example, In Vietnamese course FSI teaches the phrase “Ông mạnh giỏi không?” for “How are you?” However, today Vietnamese people ask “Ông khỏe không?”

4. The courses are not intended for self-study, some lessons may go too fast for beginners.


FSI is a good tool to improve all of our skills, especially listening and speaking skills. However, because its primary purpose is not for self-study and some of its lessons are outdated, do not use FSI as a sole learning source. It should be combined with other more modern materials.

In addition, to success with FSI, learners have to be highly discipline to endure all the boring repeated drills.


1. Professor Alexander Arguelles has a useful review on the program

Watch it on Youtube

2. All available languages:

Amharic, Arabic, Bulgarian, Cambodian, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Chinyanja, Czech, Finnish, French, Fula, German, Greek, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Igbo, Italian, Japanese, Kirundi, Kituba, Korean, Lao, Lingala, Luganda, Moré, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Shona, Sinhala, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Twi, Vietnamese, Yoruba.

3. Information on all types of FSI courses

There are three main program types: the Basic, the Programmatic and the START Course

The Basic Courses are the most comprehensive.

For the detailed information about the differences between these courses, please read the preface page in each course’s textbook.

*Also if you have accessed the links posted at the beginning of this review, you might see that some languages have courses published by the Defense Language Institute (DLI). DLI courses are similar to FSI, both of them emphasize “overlearning” and are centered around drills. However, DLI courses were designed primarily for military staffs and may include some military words and phrases, which is not very useful for typical learners.

4. Buy CDs and printed books from Amazon

If you don’t want to spend time downloading the audio files or printing the textbooks, you may want to buy the audio CDs and paperback textbooks from this Amazon page.

The price ranges from $50 to $150, depending on the material’s level and the language taught.


Download Link 1  Download Link 2  Buy from Amazon




I tried my best to give you the information as detailed and exact as I could (for I understand that if you choose a wrong program, it will cost you more time, money and energy to achieve your learning goal). Despite that there might be points that I need to be more specific, or points that I was wrong. If you know the program well, please help me, as well as other learners, by giving your opinions about the program in the comment section below.

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About the Author

Posted by

A Vietnamese. An English Learner. A Language Lover. I enjoy learning languages. I believe that self-study can be a lot more effective than class study (if you learn in an effective way) My favorite quote: “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution.” - Aristotle *To write the content for this website, besides my own experience in language learning, I collected and synthesized the experiences of other highly effective language learners.


  1. Fearchar

    I think your comment about German is mistaken: the reform was of orthography. The pronunciation even of officially used Hochdeutsch (let alone dialects or the related minority languages) is highly variable in the German-speaking world, and none of the countries involved would be prepared to accept a restriction on it, or indeed regard it as feasible.

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