One of the hardest things to find while learning a language is free materials for studying and practising it. To help with this, I have listed five sites which are good places to find reading materials in many languages and genres.
The collections here are not only free to use, but you can modify them for your own purposes, like using them in your own language course you might be creating.
For the list, I tried to find sites that contain books in many languages, not just a single one or a few. There are plenty of sites specializing in language specific literature, which can be explored in later posts.
The most obvious entry in this list is Project Gutenberg, and if you have done any searching for free books online, you are sure to have heard of it. Johannes Gutenberg was a German blacksmith, printer, and publisher who invented a means of mechanical printing using movable type blocks in 1439. This started off the Printing Revolution, paving the way for the future of mass printing of books.
Project Gutenberg pays tribute to him by utilizing the second printing revolution, the digital one. Thousands of books that are now public domain because their copyrights expired have been scanned and stored in a massive database, free for everyone to use.
This database was the first provider of free electronic books. Michael Hart founded the project in 1971, and he is credited with being the creator of electronic books, or ebooks.
Here you can find a huge assortment of free texts. Of importance to language learners is that not only are their books in other languages, but also text on other languages, like grammar guides, dictionaries, and histories.
The site itself is in the form of a wiki, so while very functional, it lacks any real attractive interface, being mostly texts with links, indexes, and a search engine.
There is a warning I give to the site, and public domain books in general. Since most of the books are out of copyright, that means they are very old, so the language used in them may be a bit old-fashioned and more formal than the reader might be used to.
Children’s Books Online
This project started in 1996 with just a few books and a single person. It is a volunteer-driven online library of illustrated books, aimed at children. Each book has its pages presented in the form of images, to keep the charm of the original children’s book.
The books in English are divided into different levels, from pre-readers to adult readers, so a language learner can find a level that suits them for practising English.
There is also a large set of books that have been translated into multiple languages, in the hopes of giving children all around the world the chance to read the stories. They are asking for translators to help with the project, so here is a place you might want to help out with your language skills.
The site is not pretty or sophisticated, but don’t let that turn you away. This is a goldmine of basic level stories, whether you are a child or not.
There are over fifty genres in over twenty five languages, including multilingual, to select from. The audio versions come in a few formats, including iTunes podcasts, and the eBooks also come in a few formats, including basic text.
The site is really pretty and easy to use. All the books have covers, not just text links, so browsing is fun. These are books that entered into the public domain, with the majority of them coming from Project Gutenberg and recorded by Librivox.org. For that reason, they have the same caveat as Project Gutenberg: the language used in the books is going to be dated.
You will find classics like Sherlock Holmes, La Divina Commedia, Beowulf, Märchen, Don Quijote, and L’Art d’être grand-père. Of special interest is the LibriVox Language Learning Collection.
“The Language Learning Collections contain readings from various language learning books, grammars, primers, phrase books, dictionaries, readers and even other works which contain information on various languages, recount experiences of language learning and encountering new languages or provide guides for correct pronunciation, writing or discourse in a language.”
Many Books is another collection of public domain books which have passed out of copyright. Most of the books come from Project Gutenberg, but other sources are also used to fill out the selection. The site is also easier to navigate and cleaner to look at than Project Gutenberg, with books in over 30 languages. There are also a number of audio books, recorded by Librivox.org.
What separates this out further from Project Gutenberg is listings for new titles in the collection, recommended books, and popular downloads. There is also a review system, so you can see what others thought about the books.
The annoying thing about this site is a popup / drop down box that wants you to subscribe to get updates. No matter how often you close it, the box will reappear.
The Internet Archive
This is not a site for the timid, though, because while it is little more than a search engine, the quality of the results vary greatly. In many cases, you can get basic scans of books in PDF format, which you can download or (possibly) read online, but the text file of them are likely to be full of errors and, in some cases, completely useless, since there isn’t anyone trying to check the scans.
The archive is more like a warehouse in which people shoved all the stuff they had in their attics, but you can find a lot of resources if you take the time to weed through it all. That is the reason I list this last and not first, because while it is extensive, it is also the hardest to access.
I hope that this list helps you find materials to aid in your studying. Please let me know if you have found other repositories like these, so I can share them with others.