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Learn a second language on the cheap


One of my relatives believed the Russians planned to take over the United States in the 1950’s, so she decided to learn their language.

She took all the classes offered and then to further her skill, she volunteered at a local Russian community center.

That worked for her. And she learned to make the best piroshky.

Now, though the fear of another country running our government has diminished, speaking and understanding Spanish, Korean, Japanese or any other language benefits us in many ways.

For me, knowing Spanish helps me communicate with many of my service providers.

When you’re in the market to change careers or better your current one, a second language improves your job prospects.

Studies show that while learning another tongue, you develop better mental health and stave off dementia. The process helps you get comfortable with other cultures. And when you’re fluent, you feel successful.

If you want to learn another language, you don’t have to buy expensive books, audio tapes or take costly classes. Try some or all of these methods instead.

Download a smartphone app

With everything you need installed on your iPhone or Android, you can get started learning whenever you have some down time like when you’re commuting on public transportation or waiting for a doctor’s appointment.

You always have the “class” with you so you can devote as much time as you want to the lessons.

Many, including all of the ones I’m going to discuss here, are free.

Duolingo says spending 34 hours working within their system equals one university semester.

Voted iPhone’s App of the Year and Google’s Best of the Best, both in 2013, Duolingo encourages you to set goals for yourself while playing learning games.

Fun and whimsical, MindSnacks is designed for kids. What better way to tackle another tongue than as a child might. Solve puzzles to become proficient.

Memrise teaches more than 200 different languages as well as other subjects like math, history and geography. You can even join a study group composed of other Memrise users.

Brainscape offers students customizable “smart” flashcards to expedite their learning of a new language. Besides phone apps, you can try different websites.

Learn online

Sites such as Livemocha encourage studying another tongue with native speakers, teachers, language experts and others in a community setting.

You finish a lesson, submit it to the group who reviews it and gives you feedback. After a few practice sessions, you can take part in a conversation with the others, all at no cost.

At Babbel the initial lessons in any language are free. The site teaches by listening and writing and if you want to continue, a three-month subscription runs $26.85.

Open Culture has compiled a list with links of free courses and audio books that teach other languages.

You might also consider listening to podcasts like those in the “Coffee Break” series.

Hearing the language spoken works better for some students than seeing it in print plus you have a better idea of how the words sound. Not everyone wants to spend all their time in front of a screen.

Go offline

Invest in materials by shopping for dictionaries, phrase books and written courses at secondhand bookstores or library book sales. You can also check out what you need from your county or city library system and work at your own pace.

If you feel more at ease in a face-to-face situation, take a language class at a community college.

Look for ones listed as non-credit, community education or continuing education and you may find one for as low as $100 a quarter.
This is a great place to find like-minded individuals to practice your new language with.

Build on your new skills

Once you’ve developed a foundation with your new language, add to your knowledge by doing the following:

  • Watch movies in this language.
  • Volunteer where your new tongue is spoken.
  • Find someone to converse with.
  • Ask a native speaker to tutor you (try high school students, they always need a little extra cash).
  • Read newspapers online.
  • Listen to international stations on TuneIn Radio.
  • Peruse blogs and newsgroups to learn the language’s slang and colloquialisms.
  • Adopt a pen pal in the country where the language is spoken.

Remember not all tongues are equal. Anyone will have a harder time conquering Arabic than Spanish.

You might want to choose an easier language for your first foray and then graduate to something a little more difficult. Select a language you will use in some way to make it worth your while.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

When I was young my family took a trip to Mexico. My mother, who taught Spanish, made sure she had her sentences constructed perfectly before speaking to a native so she didn’t say much.

My father talked frequently, but only in verb infinitives. Even so, the Mexican people understood him and he was able to get exactly what he wanted.

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