8 Free Tools to Help You Learn a New Language
From expanding your dating pool to helping you more money and increasing your job opportunities, learning a foreign language has numerous benefits. You can communicate better when you travel, make new friends locally, keep your brain active and better understand the world around you.
Some jobs will pay you to learn a foreign language, and in many professions you may earn more if you are bilingual, including working for the government, practicing law and teaching or tutoring. Regardless of your job, recent research shows that learning a second language could help you earn about 2% more each year -- which could add up to nearly $70,000 by retirement, thanks to compound interest.
Ready to start learning a new language? Enrolling in an intensive short-term program can be expensive and hard to fit into your schedule if you're already in the workforce. The intensive, eight-week summer courses offered at Beloit College cost just under $8,000. Immersion experiences are a great way to learn the language like a native speaker, but you might not have the time to spend a summer in another country. And if you're not sure which language you want to learn or aren’t sure you'll stick with it long term, you probably don't want to sink hundreds or thousands of dollars into home-study courses that will gather dust.
Fortunately, you can learn a new language without leaving your desk chair or sofa. Here are some of the best resources to help you learn a foreign language for free.
1. Live Mocha
With a free Live Mocha account, you get access to lessons in more than 35 languages. After you finish the lessons, submit your work for personalized feedback from other community members, including teachers, native speakers and language experts.
Besides encouragement to continue, this feedback may include information about the culture, extra exercises and mini lessons as well as speaking tips. When you master the content in the free section, you can choose to pay a small fee to access premium materials, or earn points by helping review other members’ work.
2. Learn a Language
Learn a Language offers more than 1,400 free interactive flashcards to help you explore 19 languages and learn the most important vocabulary. The flashcards include 350 verbs plus slang, greetings and survival expressions so that you can make a great first impression when you put your new skills to use.
Want to learn a more obscure language? MyLanguages might be the place to start; the site offers free content for a whopping 95 languages. For each one, you’ll find pages dedicated to the language's alphabet, numbers, useful phrases, common topics, grammar, audio clips and a dictionary.
When I ventured overseas to work abroad, I wanted to learn the language at my own pace and convenience. I found a free podcast I listened to while working out, cooking, sitting in my office and cleaning the house.
While a lot of these podcasts are tied back to a paid subscription, beginners can get a lot of value from the free content alone. A quick search in iTunes will help you find language-learning podcasts and general content one, in your target language.
Benny Lewis, who's well known for his ability to become conversationally fluent in three months, recommends free language-learning podcasts from Innovative Language. For more options, check out this list of 10 podcasts, featuring both language-specific podcasts and those of interest to any language learner, from The Guardian.
5. Public Libraries
OK, you will have to go out of your house initially, but it's a small price to pay for getting to use pricey language-learning materials for free for two or three weeks at a time.
Your public library probably has shelves of tangible materials including print books, audio CDs and DVDs. Granted, a small-town library won't have as much to offer as one in a metropolitan area, but you're not out of luck just yet. You can usually access the catalog for the whole library district and request materials through interlibrary loan. In addition, more libraries are beginning to offer online access to audio books and materials, including language-learning programs like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. Ask a librarian to help you register with the online catalog so you can download audio files to your computer or mobile device.
Study on the go with these language-learning apps for your smartphone or tablet.
Duolingo helps you learn one of 13 languages on your own or with friends. The team behind the app is working to add new languages as well, with seven currently in "hatching" mode.
This app is gamification at its best, since you’re working to complete levels and win competitions, making it very addictive. But that's not necessarily a bad thing; a study shows that just 34 hours of studying with Duolingo is equivalent to an 11-week university classroom course.
Memrise has nine languages plus computer and engineering courses. It has a fun garden-like theme; words you're still learning are accompanied by a green stem, while those you've mastered have a fully blossomed flower.
Choose from a variety of courses in your target language, and then earn points as you work your way through the exercises. Accounts are free, though for a small monthly fee, you can get a premium account which analyzes your performance and provides extra exercises.
Busuu says it has the world's largest social network for learning a language, with some 50 million users worldwide learning 12 languages through interactive exercises. As you'd expect, their premium account offers a few additional features for a modest monthly fee. For languages the app hasn’t yet covered, there's a forum for native speakers and learners to chat.
Your Turn: What are your favorite free or low-cost resources for learning a new language?
Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, International Living, Hawaii Parent and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.