Tips on Learning Languages Frugally
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The following is a contribution from my good blogging friend, Pauline, from Reach Financial Independence. If you’re interested in contributing to Frugal Rules please consult our guidelines and contact us.
While English is widely spread, learning languages is always useful. If you are traveling, the experience you will have from being able to share with locals in their native language can be much more interesting than a basic English dialog. At school (in France), we had to take English and a second language all the way through high school. I enjoyed the lessons greatly, but some of my classmates, with the same teachers and classes, didn’t graduate with any English. Some regret it bitterly to this day, now that they have come to realize how it can affect their relationships with foreigners, and their businesses. Here are a few ideas to help you pick up a language if you would like to learn one. This is an important point – you need to be motivated, or your efforts will not pay.
There are plenty of websites with tutorials for every language. About.com has beginners-themed courses that offer instruction in how to count, conjugate verbs and start a basic conversation. I like the ones where you can click on the word and hear the pronunciation. Freerice is another great resource, you learn new words in a foreign language, and every time you get the answer right, 10 grains of rice are donated to fight hunger!
Check your Community Center
Many offer very cheap language classes for adults. The local community college can also have courses available. Being in a small group can keep you motivated. Since you will usually pay for a whole semester in advance, make sure you can attend the class.
I remember making online friends in the early 2000s when instant messaging was booming and the world suddenly opened to my screen. Even if my English was not perfect, it was a great way to practice my writing, learn a bit of slang, and typical expressions from other countries.
I keep a few of those friendships to this day. The language you start communicating with someone in will be the language you will keep talking to them in. Obviously, do not start in English. I met a guy in Barcelona and we used to speak English together. When I was in El Salvador, I stumbled upon him, and as I was with a Spanish-speaking friend, I talked to him in Spanish. He had, after all, been living for years in Barcelona. Yet he had a hard time picturing me talking to him in Spanish!
Many people say that the moment you know that you mastered a language is when you are able to laugh with natives, understand a joke, or the specific humor related to politics or regional situations. By reading a lot about current events in a language, you will know what people are talking about and be able to follow the buzz. Most magazines have online publications. Start small, or you can lose your motivation if the vocabulary is too hard. Comics, travel magazines, cooking recipes are a great place to start. I studied business so I knew most of the financial lingo in English, and started to read personal finance blogs around 2007. I believe they have helped me a great deal with my English.
Many libraries have a foreign books section. Some even have audio books. I am not a big fan of those because I have a hard time dedicating a special slot of my day to focus on them. I have heard of people having great results playing it in their cars while driving, or on their MP3 players when running.
I am a big fan of Couchsurfing and for years I have received people from all over the world at my place. Since they get to stay for free, they are always happy to talk to me in their mother tongue, be patient when I struggle back to answer, and teach me a thing or two.
I also attended language meetings organized by Couchsurfing members. Every table gathers to speak a different language over drinks, you meet new people and it is a really fun experience. All for the price of a beer.
You can also try craigslist for language exchange. You give a foreign student one hour of English conversation, and then he returns the favor in his language.
Get an E-Teacher
A private tutor is usually very expensive. Just like virtual assistants, a new business for online languages tutors has boomed. The costs to learn Spanish over Skype with a tutor from Ecuador or Colombia will be about half the price of a US-based tutor.
Ok, traveling is maybe not the most frugal thing in the world. But say you are about to pay a private teacher $25 per week for a one-hour lesson, that is $1300 a year. I have been a language tutor, and for many students, learning French was like going to the gym. They started super motivated and dropped it after two months. Chances are you will not learn much. A ticket to Mexico is way cheaper, and if you really immerse yourself, by doing some volunteering in a small community (not Cancún), or Couchsurf and stay with locals, you will learn a lot and come back even more motivated to keep learning some more. This is how I picked up most of my language skills.
The key is to never revert back to English. Keep going. Make mistakes. Sign, point, draw. Do NOT speak English. Have a small conversation book and point it up if people do not understand your pronunciation. Then repeat what they said. It will come eventually. It has led me to quite a few strange situations, like eating liver for breakfast when I was pretty sure I would get butter cookies in Morocco, but I can assure you that I learned the word for liver straight after!
Think again about the gym analogy. How many people buy brand new gear and a one-year membership to attend the gym twice? If you have gone through all the free online resources, made foreign friends, and are still super motivated to learn a language, then hire a tutor, attend a class, and invest some money in yourself and your passion. Until then, you can achieve great results and keep your spending low.
The above is a guest post from Pauline Paquin, a French girl who has recently started to blog over at Reach Financial Independence. Born and raised in Paris, Pauline blogs about how she has been traveling the world for the past 10 years, while trying to build wealth and achieve financial independence, and how you can follow your dreams and reach your goals too. You can follow Pauline on Twitter @RFIndependence.
Editors note: Pauline offers some great ways to learn different languages and frugally at that. Knowing a good bit of German myself, I can attest to the necessity of speaking with others in order to strengthen your grasp of and confidence with whatever language you’re learning.
Photo courtesy of: Andrew C