Are you familiar with the word “miser”? I realized the other day that when it comes to learning a new language, I happily bear that title – a miser, a penny pincher, a stingy old goat. I see no reason to spend much money on learning a new language. There are so many free (or cheap) resources to provide the information necessary to learn a new language that paying a lot of money for a program doesn’t make sense to me. The only advantage I see with the expensive language programs is that they provide structure. But the problem is that it’s a one-size-fits-all structure that may or may not suit your needs through various learning stages. And you often pay a lot for that feeling of structure as well. Here are a few examples of what I’ve found online:
- Rosetta Stone: Perhaps the most popular program is Rosetta Stone. At $479 for the complete package (Spanish), it’s a hefty investment for seeking structure.
- Language101.com: This website is even more expensive than Rosetta Stone, at $527 for the complete package (Spanish), while belittling Rosetta Stone for trying to teach people like children.
- Pimsleur Complete: Pimsleur has been around for decades, and does provide a factually proven (if somewhat bland) method of teaching. Their package price for Spanish still comes in at $345.
- Bueno Entonces: The least expensive program I could find was from Bueno Entonces, arriving at $147 for the complete Spanish package. However, their selection appears to be limited to the Spanish language only.
So is it necessary to spend hundreds of dollars to learn a new language? Perhaps – for those who need the structure and have difficulty with self-teaching and intrinsic motivation. Personally, I find the structure of language programs to be constrictive, especially now that I understand the language learning process as a whole. Without trying to be harsh, I’ll be honest and say that the majority of the vocabulary phrases and words taught in the early stages of some programs and textbooks are completely useless. Valuable time could be better invested in the early stages by learning different vocabulary and grammar that would improve motivation tremendously (for a bit more help with this, see Creating a Language Framework). With that desired freedom in mind, I offer 6 free (or cheap) language learning resources.
- The Internet. Duh (right?). You can find pretty much anything on the internet (including these resources – which didn’t cost you anything). With a few minutes time it’s easy to find a half-dozen or more websites that truly offer language information for free. Use search terms like “learn <language name> for free” and “<language name> <grammar point>”. Examples could be “learn french for free” or “Japanese pronouns.” As you start learning from these free websites, you will discover where their strengths and weaknesses are and you can use this information to your benefit, i.e. Website A is great for sentence structure study, but Website B has a tremendous vocabulary list. Don’t feel pigeon-holed by one site – explore and use them all.
- Pocket Dictionary. This is crucial. This is one item I actually recommend spending money for – but at about $10-$15, the investment is only 2%-10% of what a program would cost. When first learning, you don’t need a massive comprehensive dictionary. A simply pocket dictionary is still going to have several thousand of the most common words anyway. Spend the few dollars on this all-important item, then make sure you know how to find what you’re looking for (it can be tricky in some languages to find the dictionary form of some words, but it’s never very difficult to discover the pattern – use resource number 1. in this list if you need help with this).
- Thrift Stores. The next time you’re at Goodwill or the Salvation Army looking for maroon bell-bottoms, take a look at the book, video and music sections. Thrift stores often have great second-hand resources for only a few dollars that can greatly enhance language study. Old textbooks, dictionaries, foreign films, or even popular books translated in other languages often appear at very reasonable prices. While perhaps not your first choice for language learning, it’s still worth taking a peek to see what they have.
- People. Asking natives (or those fluent in the language you’re learning) can be a great free resource as well. In fact, they are often the very best resource for clarifying areas you find troublesome. I can’t even begin to count the numerous benefits associated with speaking to a live person. Pronunciation, feedback, corrections, idioms, colloquialisms…the list goes on. Whenever you get a chance, SPEAK TO NATIVES.
- Media. The media are also a great resource because current media portray culture along with language. Programs can become outdated – the media are fresh. People acclimate (and by this I mean natives who leave their home country to visit yours will often adopt your culture, making it somewhat difficult to learn theirs without extra effort) – the media do not. The media are readily available, while living resources have their own schedules and priorities. Here are a few avenues of media that can be used without reservations:
- Television. If you can find programs in your new language try to watch some of them. Use your pocket dictionary for help. You won’t get much at first, but it will help to train your ear and you will begin to notice common phrases, words, and patterns of speech. Look these up to expand your vocabulary and improve your grammar.
- Movies. Movies are great, especially DVDs which provide other languages and subtitles. If you can find a movie you’ve already seen, watching it in your new language will help you understand a lot more quickly (because you’re already familiar with characters, plot, etc.). Also, don’t forget your pocket dictionary.
- Radio/Music. This isn’t always an option, but using the radio or music can also provide a great deal of language and culture with the added benefit that they are easily transportable. You can listen in your car, while you jog, or other activities where psychological engagement is low. It helps a lot with familiarity, even if you can’t “study” (strictly speaking) while listening.
- Books. A book written entirely in another language, such as a novel, can do wonders for language improvement. Novels, for example, create a mental movie which helps substantially for new word association and contextual significance. Non-fiction books surrounding a particular topic can also be beneficial simply because they cater to your interests. Textbooks can be helpful (because of the structure), but they’re not going to be as beneficial as selecting a topic that genuinely interests you.
- The Internet. This media resource is so huge it deserved its own section above. Just remember it can be used for pretty much anything you need it for (linguistically speaking). You can find audio, movies, text, downloads, and eStores (for the things you can’t find online).
With these resources available the only thing you need is structure. You need to know what to study first and where to focus your efforts. For that, I offer another inexpensive resource. I warn you that I’m biased, but after 7 languages I feel confident that the structure provided is what every self-taught language learner needs:
6. The Pocketbook Guide to Learning Languages.
Currently, The Pocketbook Guide to Learning Languages is scheduled to be released early 2012. My goal with this book is to provide an inexpensive resource to help structure early stages of study for self-taught language learners. I’ve combined years of language experience with linguistic and media research and I’m pleased to make this information available to you. It covers the language learning process, principles of motivation, strategies to incorporate media in language study, and a lot of other information worth much more than the price of the book itself. If you are considering (or have already begun) learning a new language, it really needs to be one of your primary resources, regardless of the language you are learning. It works on principles, guiding you to fluency by providing a structure solid enough to follow, yet flexible enough to be suited to your specific needs.
What other resources have you found helpful while learning a new language? Please share in the comments box below!