Language Learning

Six Ways to Learn a Language for Free

six ways to learn a language

Now would probably be an appropriate time to answer why Jo just graduated college in May and I did not. It’s because I am a Foreign Language Major drop-out.

I’ve taken a crap load of language classes in my day – enough to know that I didn’t need huge amounts of college debt for something I could do for free. Now I teach French, am taking a Portuguese class, and am learning German on my own and I haven’t paid a penny in the past year. I’ve racked up a ton of fun, free resources and strategies that I personally recommend:

1. CHANGE THE LANGUAGE OF EVERYTHING

Immersion this, immersion that. Basically what everyone in the language-learning realm means by this buzzword is that you need to use your language of choice as much as you’d use English.

Your phone? Yeah, put that sucker in French. Your internet browser? Camera? Facebook? Twitter? Those all can be put in another language and before you know it, you’ll be subconsciously clicking “J’aime” on Facebook instead of “Like.”

2. WATCH AND LEARN

Subtitled Movies:

The more you make learning a language less of a chore, the more likely you’ll stick with it, so “take a break” and watch some TV. Since American films and TV shows are pretty much played throughout the entire world, non-English speakers have two options when viewing: the original version with subtitles or the dubbed version. The next time you watch a movie, watch the dubbed version with English subtitles (or for over-achievers, with subtitles in the target language).

TV Shows: 

The best TV shows are the ones like La Plus Belle Voix (the French version of The Voice) that not only immerse you in French, but also show you the catchy, popular songs that a typical French person would know. Find cooking shows for cooking vocab, dating shows for dating vocab, or talk shows or comedians for expressions, idioms, and puns.

YouTube: 

 Swap scripted textbook dialogues for YouTubers in your target language. This way, you’ll pick up on how people actually speak in the day-to-day. The videos will be short and to the point, and you can almost always find a video about a certain grammar concept or vocabulary topic you’re struggling with.

It all depends on your language of choice, but my favorite French YouTube channels are Comme une Française or Cyprién, the DAADbon Student Life web series for German, or this list of the best Spanish YouTubers.  EasyLanguages is also a channel with interviews from the streets and you can choose from multiple languages.

3. TEST YOUR LYRICAL SKILLS

Before you know it you’ll be singing foreign songs by heart. Typing “Spanish songs” in Google will just be a nightmare trying to sift through the results. Try these instead:

PandoraIf you know one song you love in a foreign language, you can type that into Pandora and it’ll generate a list of songs like it.

8tracks: Find playlists in your target language. Just type something in like “House” and “German” and a list of playlists people have created fitting to that criteria will appear.

Whyd: You can use this site to find out what songs are popular in any city right now. I tend to use the Paris Whyd, ‘cuz I like to act like I’m from Paris, when I’m really just from Indiana.

International Radio Stations:  

I recommend tuning into the hit radio stations in foreign countries only after trying out the above sites, because, as you’ll probably find out, American Top 40 isn’t just popular in America.

4. PUT THAT DATA PLAN TO GOOD USE

DuoLingo & Memrise: More or less the same free app (or website). Quirky, colorful app design…not mention a free price. You choose your language and level and are given drills, games, and other exercises to practice. You can follow your friends and even challenge them on vocab and grammar.

*You can also use your other apps like Twitter to follow foreign language accounts that will help you learn something in 40 characters. You can also change the language of your Huffington Post app to catch up on news from a different country (it’s always interesting to compare their perspectives of world news).

5. MAKE IT A LOVE CONNECTION

A quote of mine once made it to the Foreign Language page of my Senior year yearbook. They asked, “Damon, which is harder: Spanish or French?” to which I responded, “French grammar is more difficult, however, French kissing on the other hand…is a whole lot easier.” Ahh, yeah, I still had it back then.

There’s nothing better than French kissing with a French person. Take it from me. If you have a foreign boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ll learn terms of endearment a lot more naturally and they’ll find it cute that you’re making mistakes and trying to speak their native language. Yeah, you may fight over a lot petty cultural differences (I once fought about how “Americans are too nice”), but on a positive note, you will learn a whole lot of new vocab that is a lil’ too naughty to be taught in textbooks (if you know what I mean). Oh là là.

Even having a foreign friend to text is super helpful. You can text each other in Spanglish or Franglais until you’re fluent and learn texting shorthand while you’re at it.

If you don’t have many friends, try out something virtual:

SharedTalk: People (Jo) think it’s weird that I used to go to chatrooms and find native speakers of other languages. I like to think if it as being inventive, but nooo. Luckily, Rosetta Stone created free foreign language chat rooms where you can connect with others who speak your target language and are learning yours.

iTalki: This is the so-called “social network” of language learning. You can find friends and “teachers” to chat with.It’s essential to surround yourself with other polyglots because people who don’t speak a second language don’t really get that you shouldn’t speak 100 miles an hour or use super slangy expressions that don’t exist in other languages (like, “Nevamind, whatevsies. I dunno whadda talk bout.“) .

6. GET A LIBRARY CARD

People seem to forget that you can really learn anything you want by picking up really anything at the library. They have podcasts, language computer software, books in your target language, and books about learning your target language – all for rent. If you get a book from the library, not only are you not spending money, but you’re also a bit pressured to study before it’s due date. That’s a good thing.

If you’ve got any other free ways you have learned a new language, don’t just leave us hangin’! Send us an email or share your best tips here!

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  • Corrine Huhnke

    Hi Damon and Jo! I am intent on learning french and have recently begun duolingo and have been watching some french movies. Id like to do something similar to the program you guys did in South America with Academia Columbus to get a running head start with immersing myself. Do you know of a French program either in Canada or France that I could do this with (some place with a youthful/ positive atmosphere?) Or would you recommend I learn some first and then try a program? Did you guys know any spanish before you went to South America? Thanks!

    • Honestly before going to a language school, we’d recommend at least learning the basics. You’ll get more of your money’s worth when you’re in the intermediate-beginner stage, as opposed to being a complete beginner. Besides, when starting a language, you have hundreds of websites, or phone applications to teach you the basics for free! But yes, afterwards you should definitely check out language schools – we love them!

  • Emily

    Thank you so much for this article! I am working on Portuguese and French right now (French because I love it and am studying it in school and Portuguese because I will be studying abroad in Brazil next year) 🙂 You guys are awesome!

    http://www.adventuresofanarthritic.com/

  • Emily

    This is rlly helpful thank you! If you’re learning Japanese or Chinese than Wanikani is really helpful for kanji and chinese characters 🙂

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