Learn a Foreign Language for Less

by Josh Nadeau
DIY Landscaping for Less photo

You can learn a new language in a number of ways, and plenty of them are affordable and fun, too! Try one of these ways to learn a foreign language on a budget.

In a market that’s only getting more and more globalized, learning a new language these days isn’t so much a hobby as a must-do if you want to keep ahead of the curve. But with the cost of courses, immersion programs and prestige language software, many would-be students give up before they even start.

Luckily, there are more than a few ways to learn a new language on a budget, and plenty of them are pretty fun, too! So sit back, relax and get ready to say “I love you” in dozens of new ways.

Gamify Your Language Learning

What’s proven to be a gold mine for startups and educational firms may be the key to your next language success: making it fun. There are plenty of (free!) apps out there that are going to help you practice whatever new tongue you’re hoping to master – of the bunch, Duolingo is easily the star. With a variety of activities to help you learn anything from Chinese to Klingon, the program (and price) is hard to beat.

For a bit more of a customizable experience, Memrise is a great place to look. While Duolingo has a more comprehensive approach, Memrise raises flashcard practice to an art. Additionally, users can create their own custom courses so as to make sure everything is as relevant to their needs as possible.

Another go-to is Readlang, which has an online library of texts to read in your target language. The feature that makes it stand out is the ability to click any word, get an instant written translation, and then have that word added to a list of flashcards to practice later. Add the browser plugin, and every word becomes clickable on any website you choose.

All three applications have upgrades available for a price, but their basic versions are free.

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Immerse Yourself in a New Language

While the apps mentioned above are a great start, if you end there then your knowledge won’t have the flexibility to really thrive in a foreign environment. One of the most important factors in picking up a new language, at least for proponents of the communicative method, is encountering it in natural environments.

In today’s media world this has become an easy task. Are you a Netflix subscriber? Then pick a TV show or movie you love and watch it all over again, but this time with subtitles or audio in your target language. This works great for the kids, too. If they’re into movies like Frozen, then they’ll be able to focus most of their attention on connecting the new words they’re hearing with a plot they probably already know by heart.

This isn’t a strategy limited to your favorite sitcoms. If there’s a children’s novel you’ve held close to your heart for decades, then that would be just as great a starting point for language learning. Children’s books have the added benefit of being written in simple language, meaning that you won’t have to be shuffling back and forth from your dictionary in order to enjoy Harry Potter or The Little Prince.

Chat from Home in a New Language

Once you’ve built a solid base using free apps and practiced with accessible resources like TV shows and books, you’re ready to start chatting with real native speakers in your target language. One-on-one language teaching is becoming quite the commodity these days, and hiring a private tutor or paying for an immersion experience can get pricey. Luckily, there are ways you can practice your language of choice without having to break the bank on either a program or a ticket abroad.

Some of the best (and most renewable) resources are going to be tourists coming from other countries – especially if you’re living in a city to which people love travelling. For casual conversations that will help boost your confidence, consider downloading an application like Couchsurfing. You can host people in your home, and the site allows you to filter for languages. Your guest will get a free place to stay and you’ll get practice – it’s a win-win situation.

For a more comprehensive experience, websites like Lingoo and iTalki offer long-term language exchanges between native speakers looking to learn each others’ tongues. Looking to speak Russian? Then you can be sure there’s a Yuri or Natasha out there wanting to brush up on their English. You can find them online, set aside an hour a week and spend half the session practicing each language. Each of these websites are free to sign up for, and there are more than enough people looking for a free, two-way exchange instead of paid lessons.

With all these options out there, there are no excuses to sit back and wait for opportunities to learn your next language. Whether it’s to communicate with the in-laws or to follow up on a New Year’s resolution, learning words in a new tongue has never been as accessible as it is today. Good luck, and happy learning!

Reviewed June 2023

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