If you’re inspired by the possibility of adventure, you might need to learn another language.  Whether you’re visiting for a day, a month or a year, it’s always helpful to learn some vocabulary and phrases that will allow you to communicate with all the wonderful people you will meet along your journey.  Even if you’re not going anywhere just yet, knowing a second language can be extremely helpful at home. The 2011 Census found that 21 percent of U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, and one out of five of those residents either spoke English “not well” or “not at all.”  Also, most employers absolutely love bilingual applicants.

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The tips below can help you master your new language without touching your wallet.

1.  Language Osmosis: Listen Passively to Podcasts/Radio in Other Languages

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In science, osmosis occurs when a substance passively moves into a cell — think of dirt absorbing water. This happens without the dirt doing much work, it just passively absorbs the water.

You can create a similar process with language. As millennials, everything we want to hear, see, and do is at our fingertips. You don’t even have to pay attention to what you hear, just make sure you are listening to something.

Clear out a few minutes each day to listen to something — anything — in your new lingo. Play a telenovela (I highly recommend La Reina del Sur) or a Bollywood movie while washing the dishes. Listen to a German podcast or turn on the news while driving. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is in the language you want to tackle.

As a language teacher told me, you cannot reproduce sounds you’ve never heard. Once you start hearing how native speakers pronounce their words, you can not only repeat them better but you will also better identify individual words. Will you be fluent after three podcasts? Not likely. But you might sound more like a native when you start flexing your new language skills.


2.  Apps on Apps on Apps

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Of course, there is an app to support learning a language. Duolingo, one of the most popular language learning apps, is totally free (no ads, no in-app purchases). It offers English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. A nice little birdie (literally) will remind you to practice each day and you can set your own pace for learning. You can test out of skills you already know and continually practice new ones. It’s easy to make it social by competing with friends and sharing your accomplishments.

If you really want to dive in and master the language, other apps like Mango and Busuu are more effective. Mango has more information about the structure of the language you are about to tackle. It’s also available for free through most public libraries. Busuu offers a social environment where you can chat live with native speakers and if you choose to make it more dynamic, you can with in-app purchases.  

3.  Read with a dictionary

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One of the best tools for picking up a language is reading. There’s just no way around it. Reading in your new language can be extremely effective in helping you pick up vocabulary while seeing how sentences are formed.

To get the most out of reading, always read with a bilingual dictionary nearby. Gone are the days of having to buy a physical dictionary. Use Wordreference.com or Google Translate if you’re focused on keeping the cost at $free.99.

You’ll also be able to learn the multiple meanings of a word and build context. If you are a visual person, keep a notebook of all the new terms you learn. For auditory learners, say new vocabulary out loud three to five times to make it stick. This definitely takes some patience, but you’d be surprised what you’ll pick up after just two or three paragraphs.


4.  Watch TV/Movies with Subtitles

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If you are like me and you feel empty inside without a daily helping of Netflix, incorporate it into your language learning routine! Most Netflix movies and shows have subtitles in at least Spanish, if not Portuguese and French as well. Turn on the subtitles next time you binge and you will be picking up vocabulary in no time at all. It’s the ultimate way to multitask productively. You won’t lose any time catching up on your shows and you’ll still get in your language practice.

Once you’re ready to kick it up a notch, reverse it: put the audio in your new language and watch with English subtitles. This is best to do with a show or movie you’ve already seen, that way you know the context and can match dialogue with the general story. Mastered that? Watch with both audio and subtitles in the new language. Super Saiyan: audio in your new language with no subtitles. Once you can watch a movie all the way through without subtitles, you’ve got it.


5.  Check with your library

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Public libraries are a gift from our taxes — take advantage!  Libraries have evolved to include a wealth of resources.  Online language learning programs, including Mango and even Rosetta Stone, are often offered for free. Yes, FREE. These programs are highly effective and usually cost upwards of $200 if you purchase them on your own. All you need is a card from your local public library and you can access these resources, which often have corresponding apps.

If you’re more of a face-to-face type of learner, some public libraries and community centers have language learning groups.  These are all structured a bit differently depending on the group and organizer. Usually, you’ll find learners of all levels in one group trying to improve their language skills. And if you’re lucky, your group will have a native speaker. Check sites like Meetup.com for language practice groups near you.


6.  Talking to people is free — Go do it!

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The absolute best way to get comfortable with a new language is to just dive in and start speaking. Having just one conversation a day with a native speaker will help you develop your skills sooner. Force yourself to talk to the security guard at your office who spent three years in Brazil or your coworker from Senegal. Flex your new skills!

If you mess up a word here or there, people will correct you. If you don’t know a word, someone will fill it in for you. Either way, you will learn how to apply all that you have learned from your new language. Don’t know what to talk about? Ask about food. Everyone eats and everyone knows what they like to eat.

No matter what method you use to acquire a new language, you’ll gain a new skill and a glimpse into how other people communicate. You would be surprised by how much your world can open up just by breaking down some basic communication barriers.

If you are traveling to a place where people speak a language other than your own, picking up a few words in that language can really save you. Places like Cozumel, Mexico with high tourist traffic tend to have bilingual staff and restaurant menus in English to cater to the yearly influx of American and European visitors. However, other countries like Argentina or Mozambique might not have such accommodations.

The amount you need to learn will largely depend on where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. If you’re straying a bit from the beaten path, picking up some of the native tongue will help you and your hosts. Even if you are visiting the country for three days, your life will be infinitely easier if you can say a few phrases, such as:

  • Basic greetings (hello, goodbye, please, thank you)
  • Three or four food items you love
  • Three or four food items you hate
  • All items you are allergic to
  • Finding the bathroom
  • Hailing a taxi

Learning those phrases will not only make your trip smoother and safer, but even if you mess up, people will generally appreciate your effort and work with you to identify what you need.  

If you’re planning to spend a bit more time in the country, it’s helpful to also learn numbers and directions in the native tongue. This will help when making any purchases and finding your way back to your lodging.  

What’s your favorite method for learning a new language? Let us know in the comments below!


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