Five Unlikely Treasure Troves of Foreign Language Texts

With language learning, you know how important it is to read, listen to, and watch stuff in your new language. And you no doubt have your go-to sources where you get your texts from. *cough YouTube and Amazon cough*

But there are plenty of other sources of foreign language texts, which I’m willing to bet you’re not fully appreciating.

Here are five places to keep your eyes open.

1. Grocery Stores

I live in Florida, home to the best supermarket chain ever: Publix. (Aficionados of Wegmans and Harris Teeter may disagree, but I have to go with my local guys.)

I live across the street from a Publix, in fact. And today I noticed they had put up a new section:

Ignore the Chinese food at the bottom.

Ignore the Chinese food at the bottom.

This isn’t exactly a huge section, but since I’m studying German, I’d be selling myself short if I didn’t take some time to read the labels. Some of the labels were in English, but some were definitely in Deutsch. Right now I’m looking at a bag of Dallmayr coffee I bought that’s boasting it’s “eine Spitzenmischung feinster Arabica-Hochlandkaffees”–“a premium blend of the finest highland coffees.”

If your local Publix or Kroger or Safeway doesn’t have foods labelled in your language, try heading down to an ethnic grocery store and checking out the selection there.

2. Commercials and Ads

When I was in language school, some of the first authentic texts I was exposed to were print advertisements. Well before we read the articles in newspapers and magazines, we studied the ads. Ever since then, I’ve kind of taken it for granted that ads and commercials are good sources for foreign language texts, even though they’re not often brought up.

Here’s an example of something that might benefit someone studying Spanish. It’s a Coca-Cola Light commercial:

A few reasons why commercials and ads are beneficial:

  • They use relatively simple, natural language.
  • They have a visual component accompanying the words.
  • They often announce sales, with details on prices and dates, which helps you learn numbers, times, and days of the week.
  • Commercials are often overacted, which helps you infer meaning.

3. Instructions and Safety Info

I just got back home from a work trip in Texas. On the flight from Dallas to Orlando, the flight attendants were scaring children and me with their safety briefing. (If a water landing is an unlikely event, then why do all the seats float? I’m bringing my own life jacket next time.)

So I pulled out the safety information card and saw this:


Yes, I managed to get not one, but two fingers in this shot. #MasterPhotographer

Those are the same ideas in nine different languages. This safety card is like the Rosetta Stone, but with exit row instructions. If you didn’t know what a Flugbegleiter was, you could peek up at the English and tell right away that it’s a flight attendant.

Additionally, manufacturing companies are becoming increasingly global. Since their products are being shipped all over the world, their instruction booklets need to be in multiple languages. Rarely do I buy an appliance anymore whose booklet isn’t in at least English, French, Spanish, and one or two Asian languages.

4. Ethnic Restaurants

A few weeks ago, I ate at a place in Oviedo, Florida called Kimchi Korean Restaurant. No, I’m not studying Korean. I simply enjoy eating food like this:


What’s the Korean word for “Lip Smacking”?

On the wall, there was a sign with Korean writing:


I texted that picture to my Korean-American friend. He texted back: “The second one says, ‘Don’t order this.'”

But anyway, the point is, ethnic restaurants will have plenty of linguistic artifacts scattered around. You may even get a chance to practice ordering with your server.

5. Tourist Areas

Quiz time!

Question: What’s white, full of tourists, and definitely not in Germany?

Answer: The Alamo.

Okay, that was a lousy quiz. But when I was at the Alamo last year, I picked up this brochure:


That’s a pamphlet, written in German, telling the story of “Das Alamo.” The same one was available in almost a dozen different languages.

Tourist places are always going to be full of multilingual maps, advertisements, and brochures.

You know what else they’re always going to be full of? Tourists.

Theme parks, landmarks, hotels, and national parks have people who speak the language you’re learning. You can strike up conversation or simply eavesdrop.

Wrapping Up

The main takeaway is that even if you’re not immersed in the language you’re learning, there’s a good chance it’s closer than you think. Food labels, ads, writing on the wall–these are all things we overlook and take for granted. Keep your eyes open and you’ll find your new language all around you. Take any opportunity to appreciate it in a natural context.

  • Emma Sibley

    Love these ideas. Have done a few, but never even thought of watching adverts! I’m going to try it out.

    • Ron G.

      Definitely give the adverts a try! They’re all over YouTube, and of course on streaming channels.

      I tried to find some Russian commercials for you on ReadLang, but only saw some music videos. I think you’ll have better luck with searching on YT/Google than I would. 😉

      • Kerstin

        And you get the added hilarity of adverts from the 80s and 90s, with the double-added bonus of understanding in-jokes your new foreign friends might make.

        Example: Ich habe gar keine Auto, Signorina…

  • Jorge Sivit

    Hey, really good ideas!

    I already read instruction booklets and use commercials and ads.
    I have to pay more attention to food labels!

    I often use commercials and ads with my students. Their language is natural and, since they are targeted at a certain culture, it’s a good way to learn about it.

    • Ron G.

      Commercials are great. When I lived in Germany and was just getting started with Deutsch, those were the snippets of radio I could reasonably understand. Same for when i moved back to Florida and tackled Spanish for a while. DJ chatter, news, and even song lyrics were tough, but commercials were for the most part comprehensible.

      Any other unconventional sources I missed that you like to use?

      • Jorge Sivit

        Where did you live in Germany? I lived in Berlin for almost four years (2003-2006). I had a great time there and absolutely love the German language.

        Something I use a lot with my students—and I know you didn’t forget; it’s just to obvious to fit in the Unlikely Treasure Troves of Foreign Language Texts—are newspaper articles. With the particularity that here, in Japan, I use mostly articles from Spanish newspapers speaking about some aspect of the Japanese culture (Japanese culture is a big trend in Spain right now, so there are plenty of them). This way my students already feel familiar with the content of the article and can deduce unknown words easier. Plus, they can learn expressions that they need to speak about their lives.

        I do something similar to learn Japanese: I’m often invited to give talks about Spain and its culture, so I read texts about Spain in Japanese to learn the natural expressions that I need. I think any learner can profit from it. We can’t predict the content of the conversations we’ll have, but if it’s our first conversation with a native speaker of the language we are learning, there is a big chance that we’ll talk about where we come from, our culture and our customs.

        • Ron G.

          I lived in Stuttgart for a little over two years, from 2010 to 2013. It was a great experience and reignited my passion in learning new languages. My son was young at the time, and while we did get to do some traveling around Europe, I didn’t get a chance to make it to Berlin. I keep telling myself that it’s still there. :)

          That’s a great idea with the newspaper articles. I’m definitely going to give that a try. Thanks!

  • Red/

    Really interesting the idea to start learning with something realistic like advertisements instead of unnatural dialogues to learn a language.
    It’s no been so long that I started to collect instructions from food boxes with translation in other languages.
    I also asked to keep with me a paper placemat in which there was printed the story of a restaurant where I ate with the translation in other four languages. So I did homework when I came back home.
    I have heard of someone saying that you can search websites like Ikea -for instance- in your target language to compare with the same version available in your own language.

    • Ron G.

      Really great idea with the paper placemat. I like that because you have some…I don’t know how to put it exactly, but the placemat means something to you. You associate it with the restaurant, its food, and the person who gave it to you. I have to think all of that context helps the language on the placemat feel “real to you.

      Also, thanks for the tip on the Ikea search. I’ll have to give that a try.

  • Dorothy Eubanks

    I have also picked up to go menus at McDonalds and other restaurants in languages other than English!

    • Ron G.

      Yes! Perfect. Thanks for the tip–I’m going to keep my eye out for an opportunity to do that.

  • Natalie

    I’ve used a few of these–the tourist areas one especially! (I got the Russian version of the brochure for the Anne Frank house when I was in Amsterdam.) I have to say though, my Publix doesn’t have a foreign section! Totally not fair that you get the better Publix. 😉

    • Ron G.

      Man, Publix is letting us down here. Usually, the “ethnic” section consists of Old El Paso and Kikkoman, but around Orlando a British section is mandatory. PG Tips ftw.

  • Kerstin

    100% agree on these, Ron. When I was a kid, the back of the cornflakes box was always the fascinating place and I remember getting stupidly excited the first time I recognised that my t-shirt speaks Spanish (“100% Algodón). The safety demonstration on some international flights is even more exciting, sometimes you get it in like Turkish and Russian and whatever other languages you may be flying to. I think I’ve seen it in Spanish in the USA, and many times in German on any Lufthansa flight. I LOVE finding a bit of extra language in everyday life.

    And I vow to go to the Polish shop TODAY.

    • Ron G.

      LOL@t-shirt speaking Spanish. That’s awesome. I guess my Jägermeister t-shirt spricht Deutsch. Or college guy. Not sure.

  • Jeremy Clark

    I always check to see if instructions or warnings that come with anything I buy are in one of my languages. Even if it’s not a language I’m working on right now, I sometimes can’t help myself. The laundromat I used to frequent had instructions printed on the inside of the lids of the washing machines in English, French, and Spanish. I’d sometimes stand in front of an open machine and try to break down the meaning of each word in French in Spanish using the English as a base.

    I did the brochure thing, too. We stopped by the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta a few years ago and when reading the English brochure I noticed it said they offered brochures in dozens of languages. So I went to the receptionist and asked for a Japanese one (should have gotten a Chinese one for later!). I ended up reading the whole thing front to back by the end of the trip.

  • Nina

    I think that these kind of things are the most interesting little things in my language learning. I sell Avon, and in the description of the product there are always texts in English, and then in French. Also, I love to listen to the advertisements on the French radio. 😀

    • Ron G.

      That’s perfect. :) Ads are the best. They’re usually the first things I can start to understand in a new language.