How to learn a foreign language on a budget
While the benefits that come from learning a second language may in theory be priceless, many are put off by visions of shelling out huge amounts on expensive resources, tuition or immersion courses. The good news is that is it actually possible to learn on a budget. Here are a few tips for spending less and learning more:
Many new language learners now start with smartphone apps like Duolingo andMemrise which are free. These apps start you off with vocabulary and basic sentences in minutes, and their game-like interface is ideal for anyone whose last contact with a foreign language was a terrifying oral school exam.
But you should also make sure that you get plenty of natural input in your target language. Tune in to international radio stations on TuneIn Radio. I also love discovering a country’s pop scene by listening to pre-made playlists in your target language on Spotify. Listening to sentences that you don’t understand at all shouldn’t really count towards your strict study time, but it will promote your ease of adjusting to the sounds of the language.
Where to get materials for free
For real results, a step-by-step course will help you build up skills. If you like online learning, my best tip is to check out whether your target country’s international TV or radio channel offers a structured language course. These courses are produced by broadcasting professionals and offer well-designed courses going from beginner to advanced level. They feature multimedia materials and even soap operas from big names like Deutsche Welle, TV5 Monde and Russia Today. If you prefer materials aimed at English native speakers, the BBC’s GCSE Revision area Bitesize has some of the most effective online revision aids I have seen for Irish, Welsh, French, Spanish, and German.
But obviously not every learner prefers to be tied to the screen when studying on a budget. If you are looking for free offline materials, there are plenty of great places to find a bargain. Language does not change all that much over the course of a decade, so look for used materials. You can visit local charity shops and pick up phrasebooks, dictionaries and courses for next to nothing. If your target language is obscure, search on eBay for secondhand materials. And even your own shelves and those of friends and family may harbour some unknown treasures to help you out. My only dictionary in my first four years of studying English was my mother’s school one from the 1970s.
Don’t forget that pen and paper are also cheap and invaluable language learning tools. Use them to keep track of new words, write down new sentences in full and create your own flash cards. The theory of deliberate practice shows that it’s not your language learning talent that makes the difference, but the amount of time you spend in concentrated and deliberate practice.
It’s also a good idea to visit your local library and let them surprise you. Libraries have access to a large inter-library loan network, so they can get hold of most courses you want. They also have huge amounts of travel guides and phrasebooks to keep you inspired.
Share your goal with others
The internet has good enough resources to let you achieve a decent level in most languages from the comfort of your home, but for many of us, learning in isolation is difficult and boring.
Even if it’s scary to walk into a new room of language lovers, leave the house and connect with other learners right from the start. Making just one friend who shares your goal or interest in another language can make the difference between a fad that you drop after 12 weeks and a new habit for life.
You can find local conversation groups and language cafes in libraries and community centres. If you live near a university, the international student community is another hot spot for language exchanges and events. Many foreigners in your city will be happy to meet you and hold a language exchange, where you offer mutual support to each other by helping your partner learn your language.
Spend only where it pays off
If you do decide to take your language learning to further, consider investing in small group or one-to-one tuition. When you hire a language teacher, the money you spend should buy you unrivalled personal attention. The accountability that comes with lessons creates a boost of ongoing motivation that is almost impossible to find for free.
Most private tutors will offer you a free or cheap trial lesson. These don’t mean there is a hidden obligation to buy. Instead, a good tutor will want to learn as much as possible about you before charging you money. They are all different and what is simple and comfortable for one person might be difficult for the next. Read real users’ reviews online but also make “Try before you buy” your mantra.
Once you get started, it’s easy to get past the idea that studying a foreign language comes with a big financial burden. Remember to take your time and think of your new language as something you will be learning for life, not just for the next six months. There is only one way to fail at language learning, and that is to stop completely.