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5 Tips for Language Learning on a Budget Posted by on Sep 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

You don’t have to be a billionaire to learn new languages. You don’t even have to be a millionaire.

Travel is expensive, there’s no real way around that. Paying for transport, be it planes, trains or buses; accommodation, food, laundry, not to mention the ticket price of any sights or attractions…it’s basically paying all the costs of living in the most expensive way possible. Now, sure, it’s completely possible to travel cheap, but I can dumpster dive and sleep under a bridge at home, no need to hitchhike across the continent for that. The fact is: if you want to do it halfway comfortably, travel is an expensive pastime.

Luckily, there’s another pastime we all love: language learning. It can also be expensive, especially if you combine it with traveling – but it doesn’t need to. Here are my five tips for language learning on a budget:

1. Talk is cheap
As I’ve always maintained, speaking is the best way to learn, and that only costs you your own lungpower. It might also occasionally cost you your dignity, as all language learners are probably aware, but I’m sure you can get that back somehow. But don’t look too far for language partners – with Skype you can connect to people anywhere in the world, and if you do a little manual hunting, you don’t even need to pay anyone to hook you up.

2. Get last year’s textbook
This is an old college trick of mine. Thanks to the mafia-like university textbook industry which charges hundreds of dollars for a single book without batting an eye, I quickly learned to get used books from last year (or even just last semester). They’re a fraction of the cost and even if the quizzes have different questions you can always photocopy a classmate’s. The same applies to language books – if you want a workbook or a textbook to self-teach, don’t get the newest one. In fact you can probably go way back. French hasn’t changed THAT much since the 1980s. Just make sure nobody’s already written in all the answers. And if they’ve done it in pencil, invest in a big eraser. You’ll still come out ahead.

3. Don’t get a textbook at all
We have the internet, remember?! Why do you even need a textbook or workbook? Do you know how many sites out there offer language quizzes and workbook pages for free? Many. And a lot of apps, too, that don’t cost much of anything. If you want to get your grammar going, you can stay paperless and still bone up.

4. Radio’s not dead yet
Listening comprehension is a critical skill – not much use being able to speak if you can’t understand what the other person’s saying. You can do what I do and change the Netflix settings so it’s dubbed into another language, but that costs money. You know what doesn’t cost money? Radio! If you’re already in a foreign country (or an area with a strong bilingual presence, such as the Southwestern USA), just tune your car stereo to the local talk radio station and get those brain cells working. If you’re not in a foreign country, once again I have to insist you take a look at this “internet” thing, it’s really something. You can find and listen to almost any radio station you want from anywhere in the world – or grab a podcast. There are lots that help you learn languages, for free!

5. Stop buying things on a whim
Sometimes I find myself buying stuff as a kind of procrastination. Surely if I buy this book and that piece of hardware, I’ll be better! But the reality is, most things just take work, the kind you pay for with sweat, not cash. No need to keep delaying the work by shopping your way to happiness – just get out there and do it!

Honestly, language learning was never an expensive hobby so you probably didn’t even need my help in keeping frugal. Still, it’s always good to remind yourself not to let money burn holes in your pocket, even if you’re only exercising your brain.

What about you? What tips do you have to avoid bankrupting yourself by language learning?

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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.

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