Knowing a second language is more than a nice-to-have. Particularly in the cleared community, foreign language skills can mean more money and greater professional demand. And for telecommuters, it can mean living in Paris while working in New Orleans.
10 Free Ways to Learn a New Language
Never before in history has it been so easy to learn another language—or so cheap. Here are 10 free ways to learn a new language and improve your career.
1. Language Tandem
“The best free way to learn a language is to do a language tandem,” says Guy Arthur, a Germany-based American linguist who runs the Guy Arthur School of English. Tandem, he says, is when you find a partner whose language you want to learn, and you simply speak with them. “In return you will speak English with them in a separate session. This could be done in person or online.” Arthur suggests finding a partner through dedicated social media groups. Other resources include HelloTalk, MyLanguageExchange, and Bilingua.
“If you are starting from scratch, you could ask your partner to listen to you read and correct your pronunciation,” he says. “The best way to learn a language is to use it, and tandem learning is the best way to do that from home.”
The App Store is any would-be foreign language speaker’s best friend, and perhaps the most famous of all language apps is Duolingo, with its green owl ever poised to pester you into keeping your learning streak going one more day.
Rax Suen, a long term traveler and digital nomad who runs the remote work and travel website, NomadsUnveiled, says that Duolingo’s “streaks” gamification element is its secret weapon. “Language learning is very much about consistency,” he says. “Spending 15 minutes every day to practice is better than doing two hours in one day and not coming back to it until a week later.”
Duolingo is more than a game, however. As a matter of utility, the app’s lesson structures can help a traveler or would-be overseas telecommuter really shine. “I find that it is more skewed toward conversational words that you can quickly use day to day,” he says.
3. Foreign Service Institute Language Courses
Arguably the best foreign language courses in the world, the State Department Foreign Service Institute courses are available in the public domain, complete with full textbooks and audio lectures. Every language you can think of is represented, and some you’ve never heard of. They are available all over the web, but the best presentation I’ve found is at Live Lingua. Check them out here.
4. Defense Language Institute Courses
Not to be outdone by the State Department, the Defense Department has its own massively detailed suite of linguist courses. Similarly to the FSI courses, thousands of hours of audio and tens of thousands of textbook pages are free and available for download. You can find them at the Yojik Website, among other places.
Connor Kade, who runs Breakthrough Spanish, a Spanish language education business that promises to teach you the basics in five days, suggests a progression of online language resources to help prospective foreign language speakers gradually increase their proficiency and confidence. Step one, he says, are podcasts.
“First, build a foundation in the language using free podcasts like the Coffee Break Languages series,” he suggests, which includes episodes in Spanish, German, French, Swedish, and others.
Once you have the basics down, Kade suggests moving on to YouTube. While there are hundreds—if not thousands—of language video series that stream on the website, he encourages students to go one step further, by installing a plugin to unlock the site’s full language learning potential.
“Download the free Language Reactor plugin for Chrome,” says Kade. “This lets you watch any video with English or target language subtitles, hover over words for definitions, and export transcripts. That way you can quickly start watching content you’re genuinely interested in.”
7. Language Flash Cards
Flash cards are a powerful way of retaining large amounts of information, and learning another language is nothing if not an exercise in just that. No need to reach for the index cards, however, when you have a smartphone handy.
Anki is a free and open-source “spaced repetition software.” In other words: smart flashcards whose decks you can build over time. As Kade explains, “Its algorithm presents your cards to you just before you are likely to forget them. Save short phrases and parts of sentences you come across in context, then add them to your Anki deck.”
8. Sit on your Couch and Watch TV
Few self-improvement guides will include the words, “Grab a beer, stretch out on the couch, and watch some TV,” but one reason why you love ClearanceJobs is because that’s exactly how we like to do things. Netflix, Prime, Hulu—they’re filled with hundreds of foreign language films, as well as English-language movies with foreign language audio and subtitles. A big part of foreign language learning is immersion, and every little bit helps.
9. Listen to Foreign Language music
Every language in the world has its own music (and, particularly in pop music, it all sounds weirdly the same), and as it happens, Spotify has not only those songs, but thousands of playlists cultivated by foreign language speakers. Just to test things, I looked up French, Urdu, Romanian, Belarusian, and Lingala, and found countless playlists for each, in various genres. My music recommendations are now going to be a mess, but my loss is your gain. The best part is that music is so portable. In your car, on your run, on the plane, and at the grocery store. Learning by music is a multitasker’s dream come true.
10. Use Your Passport
If all else fails, learn a new language by doing what people have been doing for thousands of years: Clear you trip with your FSO and then go to another country, and survive. You’ve be surprised how fast you learn the word for “restroom” when it’s that or disaster. And depending on the language you seek to learn, you are a lot better off than you might think. About 40% of the words in your working vocabulary are identical in French and English. (Alexandre Dumas once observed that English is just French, pronounced badly!) The best part, though, is that with even the most rudimentary vocabulary and a little bit of courage, it is possible to strike up a conversation and give it a go. Success breeds success. If you can make friends on the other side of the world using a language other than your own, you can do anything.