Learning Languages on a Budget

I’ve been learning languages since I was a little girl. I’ll be forty next month (yippee!) so that’s at least 30 years. My parents enjoy learning languages too. Once my dad and I ordered a mail-order Esperanto course to tackle together. The Esperanto didn’t stick – we didn’t have many chances to use it…However my passion for learning languages has.

Over the years I’ve tried many different ways to learn including sitting in classrooms and living abroad. Many of the different techniques I’ve tried have involved a significant investment in time and money.

While language learning is still important to me, I now have a full-time job and a family. As a result I have less time and disposable income to invest in it now.

Fortunately, there are so many resources available nowadays for learning languages in an affordable and convenient way.

Here are my favourite ways to keep learning on a budget:

Joining a local conversation group

If you live in or near a big city there are language conversation groups for most common languages. The best ones focus on the “target” language and culture only. They include native speakers who are happy to be involved to grow their social network, share their culture and perhaps get a few free drinks. Meetup is a great place to start finding these groups. This is also a good way to find people who might be interested in a 1-2-1 conversation exchange…(my next tip)

Finding a language exchange partner

I’ve done this in every city I’ve lived in, sometimes through placing an advert at a local university or online noticeboard like Gumtree or Craigs List. It’s easier than ever to do this online with a number of sites, such as www.conversationexchange.com which will match you up to somebody who speaks the language you want to learn and also wants to learn your native language. It’s completely free and is a way of practising speaking regularly in an informal way.

Affordable online lessons

If you have less time on your hands and want to maximise your chances to speak the language then it’s more affordable than ever to find a private tutor. If you don’t need your teacher to be very experienced or qualified and are just looking for somebody you can practise speaking with then this will be even cheaper. Italki has different types of teachers available – proper professional tutors, who charge a premium rate, and “community teachers”. You can look at their reviews before trying them out and most offer a free or discounted trial. As it’s all online you save money and time on travel.

Theres is also the opportunity to create a side hustle teaching people on the Italki platform – at the least you could cover the cost of your own lessons.

Podcasts

This is one of my favourite ways to learn. The podcasts I listen to fall into three types:

  • Podcasts specifically for learners of a particular language: many are free but offer paid for supplementary materials like worksheets. When learning Spanish I used to enjoy Notes in Spanish which was presented by a English husband and Spanish wife. There are also many news podcasts with easy or slow versions of the news.
  • Podcasts for learners of English (presented in the language I am learning): For Japanese, Hapa Eikaiwa is a great example. It’s intended to be for Japanese people learning English. However, as there are translations and explanations in Japanese you can still benefit if you are English-speaking and learning Japanese.
  • Podcasts about learning languages, such as The Fluent Show and The Actual Fluency Podcast.

YouTube

You Tube is one of my guilty pleasures. I love the fact that it allows people to be creative without needing to get past the traditional “gatekeepers”. I also enjoy watching channels grow, their confidence develop and the effect this has on their lives. If I feel like immersing myself in my target language, but don’t feel like thinking too hard, then YouTube is my go to. Not only can I watch content in whatever random subject area I’m interested in at the time but it will also recommend other similar content.

Netflix

If you have a Netflix subscription you can find content that is made in your target language. You can also watch content in your native language but with subtitles in your target language. This is perfect if you are watching TV with somebody who is not learning that language (like your children). If you are learning a language with another script, this is a great way to get in some extra reading. For a great step-by-step guide to how to do this, see this post by Lindsay Does Languages.

Getting feedback on your writing on an online forum

It’s so easy when learning a language to follow the least path of resistance and slip into purely passive learning. Passive learning is where you are taking something in and consolidating your existing knowledge. Active learning is where you are creating your own “content” in the language – i.e. speaking or writing. For most people, active learning is harder going, but is more effective at improving your language skills. If you find that you can understand everything someone is saying, but then can’t express yourself then you probably need to focus on active learning more.

If I’m tired I’ll gravitate towards watching You Tube or Netflix in my target language or listening to a podcast. However, if I really want to “level up” then I’ll use a tool like Lang-8 to practise my writing skills. Lang-8 an online platform that allows you to write content (literally anything!) and then native speakers will correct it for free, often within minutes. You could get feedback on something sensible you actually need to use in real life, like a CV, or just write a couple of sentences about your day. It’s completely free and flexible so you can jump on anytime you have a few minutes.

Tapping into free training at work

If you work for a large organisation then the odds are that there will be some kind of supported language learning opportunity. From my experience these are often not advertised very well. It could be that your company offers free or subsidised classes or a subscription to a language learning service such as Rosetta Stone. I’d recommend checking with your training or HR department.

Using your library membership

Local libraries often have either language learning books or systems or books in other languages. If your membership allows you access to the Press Reader app then you can also download foreign-language magazines or newspapers. As an example, if I search publications by language, there are 3054 in English, 570 in French, 42 in Japanese and 1 in Xhosa. This is great because you can focus on the areas you are interested in (e.g. cooking, fashion, gardening).

Language apps

Apps like Memrise are perfect for learning vocab or doing grammar drills when you have a few minutes spare. There is a fee for a premium service, but you can still access content for free. Memrise has shifted from community-generated content to more standardised language courses but still allows you to access any courses you held before the shift. It often has 50% discounts and is constantly introducing new features such as TicToc style videos of real-life language use.

Learning platforms

Some general learning platforms that offer courses in everything from business skills to graphic design also have language learning content. Udemy is a great example of this. I am currently taking one of their Japanese courses for an exam that I am studying towards. As this is a blog about learning a language on a budget I should highlight that the price of these courses is normally quite high (about £100 a course) but they very frequently have special offers. The course I am doing at the moment contains a lot of content and only cost me about £10.

With all of these methods, the fact that they are either free or very affordable makes it easier to dip in and out without the guilt you might feel if committing to an expensive in-person class. When trying to embed new habits, a new trick that I use is the “two-second rule”. If I’m struggling to make time for something that my sensible side wants to do every day, I will just commit to doing it for two minutes. Any of the usual excuses that you would have against working to two minutes then melt away. More times than not, I’ll get into the flow and do it for longer – OR I’ll get some insight into why I was resisting doing it.

I hope this list was useful and would love to hear what affordable resources other people have enjoyed using.

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