In preparation for our upcoming travels in Central and South America, I’ve taken up studying Spanish. I’ve always loved learning languages — I have some German, French, and Russian under my belt — but I’ve never mastered one.
When I travel (especially long-term), it’s important to me to be able to communicate with people in their native language. So I’m determined to make Spanish the first language I conquer.
Luckily for me, there are tons of free resources out there to aid me on my mission. Here are 10 of my favorites.
Meetup.com will connect you with local, in-person events that match your interests. Find a meetup in your area where you can converse with native speakers and other students learning the language. If there’s not a meetup for your language of choice, start one. If you’re feeling shy, just remember that everyone else that goes to your meetup is in the same boat.
Language learning software and books can be ridiculously expensive. Fortunately for us cheap, green students, there are libraries. Head to your local library and browse their selection of software, textbooks, videos, and, if you’re more advanced, novels. If your library doesn’t have what you want, see if you can request what you seek through an interlibary loan. My best find so far: a Pimsleur audio course.
iTunes offers a multitude of free language learning podcasts. They vary in quality, so give them a listen before you download all of the episodes. My personal favorite is Coffee Break Spanish (by Radio Lingua Network), which I listen to every day on the bus. They focus on Spain Spanish, but it’s still been helpful for me because they cover a lot of grammar. They also have materials for Spanish, French, Italian, German, Irish, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Polish, and Russian.
4.Craigslist or Freecycle
I recommend checking out Craigslist and Freecycle before buying just about anything new, but they’re especially great for finding used textbooks and software for free or cheap. You might want to subscribe to an RSS feed on Craigslist, since free finds tend to get snatched up quickly.
There are tons of websites out there offering free language tools — some of which actually are free, many of which are scammy. Here are some compilations of the best genuinely free online language learning tools.
- Money Saving Expert’s The Top Websites: Learn a new language for free
- TechCrunch’s review of Babbel
- Get Rich Slowly’s Word2Word: Free Online Language Tools
photo credit: clurr
This one might seem obvious, but many language learners are shy about trying out their language skills on their friends. If you have friends who have studied the language or are native speakers, ask if them if they’ll practice with you. Don’t be shy. I regularly badger Elizabeth, who studied Spanish in high school and college, into speaking Spanish with me.
7. Neighborhoods, Restaurants, & Stores
Is there a Russian grocery store in your city? Or a German restaurant? A Spanish bar? Check them out, and you can practice your language and learn about the foods in the region you’ll visit. If you’re not comfortable striking up a conversation with a native speaker, you can practice just by ordering a meal or asking which aisle the cookies are on. Every little bit helps and will give you confidence in your speaking skills.
8. Language Buddy
You can find native speaker pen pal online, or meet up with one in person. Post on Craigslist that you’re looking for a language buddy who’s trying to improve his or her English, or ask your friends if they know anyone. When you meet in person, you can spend half the time talking in English and the other half speaking the language you’re learning. Everyone wins. As always, when you’re meeting someone you don’t know, meet in a public place.
9. Embassies & Consulates
If you’re lucky enough to live in a city that houses embassies where your chosen language is spoken, give them a call and see if they offer language courses. Some do, for a fee, and others have cultural events and occasional classes for free. Check out this list of embassies in the US to get started.
Often forgotten as a path to fluency, volunteering is a great way to give back to the community and master a new language at the same time. Use Idealist or Volunteer Match to find a non-profit organization or church that serves the community whose language you’re studying. If you can’t find a listed opportunity at the organization you’re interested in, call the non-profit directly and ask how you can get involved.