Learning a language means a lot of hard work for most of us. It can sometimes be difficult to maintain the requisite level of motivation needed to keep plugging away at that grammar book, or to keep trying to put yourself out there in awkward situations, trying to speak to people in a language you barely know. Not to mention the “plateau” period that many of us face wherein our progress is not as visible as we’d like, and despite our best efforts we feel as though we’re not progressing the way we did as beginners.
Language learning is hard, and not much is going to change that but contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t have to take out a loan to make it a reality. You don’t have to travel abroad to learn a foreign language and you don’t have to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in classes at your local university.
One of the primary goals of this blog is to promote products, services and techniques that are relatively inexpensive or free. It’s difficult these days to get something for nothing but the strangle hold that money seems to have on education – be it formal or informal – is criminal. We need to abandon the notion that products or methods that cost us an arm and a leg are the only ways to learn a language successfully.
What should I do?
Anyone who is serious about learning a language should use as many different methods as possible in order to find the ones that work best for them. If you’re sold to the idea of using computer programs that won’t cost you an arm or a leg, Livemocha, Duolingo and Memrise are free, fantastic, and available online. Duolingo and Memrise also come with mobile versions that are great to take with you wherever you go.
Check out my review of Memrise for more information on their product. The Pimsleur Approach, seems to have a much higher success rate among polyglots and beginners alike than does the more expensive yet more widely known Rosetta Stone. It isn’t cheap but it doesn’t cost as much as Rosetta and what’s most important here is that it works fairly well, at least as a foundation. It gets you speaking the language immediately – an invaluable trait for a language program to have, and one that many, such as Rosetta Stone, do not emphasize straight from the get go. It’s worth looking into, but still may not be cost effective for many of us, like myself, who operate on a tight budget.
Travel isn’t an option for many of us…
I don’t think that most of us would argue that getting up and going abroad isn’t the best way to learn a language. Total immersion has, by far, the highest chances of teaching you a language, quickly, and it’s pretty obvious why. Sure it’s hard, it’s scary, but it’s worth it. However, it’s also wildly expensive – especially for poor, young Americans like myself. A flight to just about anywhere and back would cost me thousands of dollars, and that’s just for the plane tickets. So unless you’re wealthy, or land a job overseas that makes up for your expenses, going abroad isn’t going to be easy. But that’s why we invented the next best thing; the internet!
…but Skype is!
I know it’s not the same as actually going abroad, but the internet has connected the world in fantastic ways, and a language learner on a budget would be a fool not to use it. Programs such as Skype that allow you to meet face to face with someone are the perfect means by which to work on your language with a native speaker or fellow learner, anywhere. In the age of mobile devices this becomes even easier as we can take our conversations with us! Skype is free anywhere internet is free, and its potential as a fun, effective learning method is awesome.
You can use Google Hangouts! I haven’t used this one yet, but many language chat channels already exist and are always open to newcomers. It functions much the same way as Skype does but can be synced with your Google account and appears to offer more of a sense of community. I’ve been thinking about starting a Languages Around the Globe hangout for a while now, and will look into this possibility in the next few weeks!
Language exchanges are the best way to learn a language for free, hands down. There’s always someone else looking to learn your language, and spending a little bit of time teaching as well as learning can be both rewarding as well as a ton of fun. It’s hard to get over the nerves that accompany face-to-face talking, but once you understand that most people aren’t going to be critical it becomes a lot more comfortable and a lot more entertaining! Sometimes the mistakes you make are the most valuable things you do when learning a new language.
Don’t forget about videos and podcasts!
Another great internet resource that won’t hurt your wallet is YouTube. We’ve actually gone and compiled a list of YouTube channels belonging to various polyglots, linguists and teachers that you can access via a page tab at the top of the site appropriately labeled “Favorite Video Channels and Podcasts.” Listening to your language is the most important thing you can be doing – and there are tons of wonderful podcasts and videos available for language learners that cost absolutely nothing. We’re always looking to expand our compilation page, so check back frequently if you don’t see a language you’re looking for, or contact me and I’ll try to find something for you!
And when all else fails: libraries!
Or maybe this should be your first stop. Libraries pretty much speak for themselves. A great big building full of free books is practically invaluable – especially to those of us looking for foreign literature with which to increase our reading skills and purely for entertainment. Libraries these days also tend to offer a lot of other valuable resources such as software and audio files. Many libraries are also networked, so if one doesn’t have something, another will.
Most people who say they want to learn a language someday cite time and money as the leading factors for not beginning a project. However with modern resources learning a language has never been as easy, or as cheap, as it is today. Time may still seem like an issue, but that’s a post for another week. If you’ve got the cash to blow on courses, travel or expensive products like Rosetta Stone, by all means these methods will undoubtedly help you learn – but for those of us who are not so fortunate hope is not lost!
What are some of your favorite ways to save money on language learning projects?
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