How to Learn a New Language at Home on a Budget

How to Learn a New Language at Home on a Budget

Did you know that one of my dreams is to become a polyglot? (Someone who has mastered multiple languages). It is not only a ‘cool’ thing and a great mind-booster, but it is also an invaluable ‘power’ that will prove very useful as I travel around the world.

There is actually a LOT of debate going on as to how many languages someone needs to be fluent in before being called a true polyglot. Some say at least 3 while most say at least 6 — personally, I think 6 is a good number for such an ‘esteemed’ title, so let’s go with that.

So as of this moment I can speak English and Tagalog fluently, and I also speak the dialect in my hometown in Batanes: “Ivatan”. If I don’t consider the political-correctness of things, I technically know a total of 3 languages; but since dialects are usually not considered languages since they are variants of the official one, then that means I only know 2. However, I can absolutely argue that Ivatan is not ‘mutually intelligible’ or similar to Tagalog so it IS a language of its own. Still and the same, let’s just say that I know and master 2 languages which means that I haven’t really reached my polyglot goals yet — it’s certainly a far cry from 6.

BUT… The good news is, I’m finally taking the steps into becoming one! Right now, I’m taking the first ‘stepping stone’ by learning the Dutch language! (After this, I’m eyeing Spanish, French, and Japanese.)

Languages Around the World

I’m actually learning Dutch through free formal classes here in Belgium and I just finished my first (very) basic 2-month session. I’m supposed to take the next one this August, but due to business and personal reasons I am going on a ‘break’ that would last a total of 4 months — which is NOT good. Why…? Because the most important thing about learning a new language is to maintain a level of consistency and repetition which I won’t surely be able to keep if I stop learning for several months. (A person really needs to practice and learn a new language every day until they reach the point of fluency!)

Given this fact, I’ve been learning Dutch on my own the past weeks so that I won’t forget and so that I can get a ‘head start’… and guess what? It’s going reaaaally good! I’m starting to understand more conversations and texts now, and I can also start a simple conversation with others.

This leads me to say with confidence that YOU can definitely do the same — there’s no need for you to take formal classes because you can just do it right inside the comfort of your home and without paying a lot of money (yes, you can do it for FREE!)

Besides, what you have to understand as early as now that it’s NOT HARD to learn a new language (well, okay… maybe it can be tough especially if it’s a language that involves foreign characters) but in my opinion, the most vexing feature about this kind of process is that it just takes LONG and it needs constant PRACTICE and APPLICATION.

There’s also another misconception that people often say when trying to learn a foreign language:

“I’m too old to learn… could have been better if I did it when I was young.”

This may be true too; but for the most part, it isn’t. You have to know the fact that everyone is naturally good with languages. Truth be told, studies have even showed that adults are better language learners than kids! Which makes sense of course, because we know more about grammar and a whole lot of other things as compared to the ‘youngsters’. Plus, if you ask me, we just tend to say this because the concept of time and interaction that is needed from us tends to elude us from taking the concrete action.

That’s why as long as you have a bit of spare time — dedicating at least an hour every day to learning the new language that you want — then I can assure you that your goal will be well within your reach! Add the fact that there exists TONS of useful resources online, so this becomes even more attainable.

Speaking of ‘resources’, I want to help you out in this ordeal; therefore through this article, I will be sharing with you the helpful sites and tips that I have come to know which would really help you figure out how to learn a new language at home and on a budget!
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How to Learn a New Language

#1 – Make Use of Free (or Affordable) Learning Applications & Resources

Learn Languages for Free

Let’s start with the FREE stuff! There are TONS of them out there that YOU should take advantage of, and I’m saving you from the trouble of researching by listing all of my favorites below:

  • Anki (App & Computer Software) – STYLE: Lessons
    This is a program that makes use of a psychological concept, spaced-repetition, wherein practices are spread out over time to ensure efficient memorization. It also makes use of flash cards to help you remember the words that best associate the images. In a way, it’s like a learning process that is similar to how you learned new words when you were a kid. (Everything is free except its iOS app version that’s priced at $25 or Php 1,100+).
    ..
  • Busuu (App & Website)  STYLE: Interaction & Lessons
    Functions the same way as Anki wherein it shows you flashcards to better train your mind in connecting actions or objects to words correctly. It also has a chat (audio and written) function that enables you to connect to native speakers — which is of course, very helpful. If you ever want to access the premium features of Busuu, you can always pay the monthly fee of $3.50 (Php 150+).
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  • Duolingo (App & Website) – STYLE: Game-Like Lessons
    Designed like a game and almost similar to Anki and Busuu, you will earn points here for every correct answer that you make in each lesson. You can even play against friends to see each others’ progress or to challenge one another day by day! Mind you, their approach is very effective because some universities in the U.S. have even started using their platform. (To date, they have 13 available language courses for everyone and they aim to add more!)
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  • LiveMocha (Website)  STYLE: Interaction & Lessons
    A free online language learning platform that has over 35 languages in store. It has helpful audio instructional materials and it even allows you to connect with native speakers for practice and interaction. It’s definitely worth checking out!
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  • Memrise (App & Website) – STYLE: Game-Like Lessons
    It works almost the same as Duolingo but what I like more about Memrise is that they have a variety of lessons for each language course. For example, if I feel like learning Dutch words about food and drinks, I can choose to study it for a particular day, with the other days dedicated for animals, verbs, etc. Rest assured, you can always take a lesson that progresses naturally.
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  • MindSnacks (App – iOS only) – STYLE: Games & Lessons
    Designed more as a true (addicting!) game experience, MindSnacks is great if you want to ‘quiz’ yourself. It has quests, various game modes, and even lessons! The games are actually what’s free but it’s the lessons that are paid; though with the price at $4.99 (Php 220+) I think it’s a really good deal. Otherwise, if you really don’t want to shell out any money, playing the games to test your brain should already be enough in my opinion. (Right now it only has games for Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Chinese, and Japanese.)
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On the other hand, if you have some cash to spare, below are the resources that you should check out. Though the free materials above are already immensely useful, it’s the paid stuff that often gives you that ‘extra mile’ if you want to learn more extensively! Rest assured, the famous ones are still affordable.

  • Babbel (App & Website) – STYLE: Game-Like Lessons
    Starting cost of at least $4.95 (Php 220+) per month, this works almost the same as the free app, Duolingo, so you will see a lot of debate online as to which of the two is best. Personally, I don’t see much of a difference between the two (except for how Babbel provides more information at the beginning courses) so I somehow opted for Duolingo which is free. Nevertheless, Babbel is still a good place to check since the initial learning style here could be more applicable to you than that of Duolingo, especially as a total beginner.
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  • Influent (Computer Software) – STYLE: Game
    If you are more into games when learning a new language, Influent can be a productive platform for you! At only $10 (Php 450+), you will be able to experience vocabulary acquisition through a 3D world experience in which actions and objects will be labeled accordingly. It will really help for association and recognition!
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  • Living Language (Website) – STYLE: Games and Lessons
    You have to pay to obtain the lessons and it has various pricing schemes, one of which is a 1-month access worth $39 (Php 1,700+). It first teaches you the essential words and phrases, and then advances to full sentences and conversations with extra functionalities like games and quizzes to practice your recall.
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  • Michel Thomas (App & Website) – STYLE: Audio Learning
    Since I want to focus more on my speaking abilities, this Michel Thomas method has been reaaaally good for me, thereby making it my favorite right now! Basically, it offers lessons in audio as if you have a real teacher with you in your room. The momentum of the lessons is also absolutely helpful since Michel ensures that the build-up of your knowledge is done in a step-by-step manner. Prices for the courses depend on the package that you avail: Introductory course is at $14.95 (Php 670+) whereas the Foundation and Advanced courses are priced each at $120 (Php 5,400+) to $135 (Php 6,000+).
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NOTE: I initially wanted to include Rosetta Stone in this list on how to learn a new language since it is one of the most popular programs worldwide, however… it’s just too expensive! (It’s around the $500 or Php 22,500 range). It has decent features of course like the speech recognition, teacher immersions, etc. but the way I see it, the summation of most of the programs I featured above can already surpass what Rosetta Stone can provide you. But of course if you can get a copy of Rosetta Stone’s software for free, then please make full use of it since it can be a very helpful supplement to your education!

TIP: I’ve been told that Fluencia is a great platform for learning Spanish, and it is! Check it out!


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#2 – Find a Language Partner or Find a Way to Talk to Native Speakers

Language Partner

One of the things that I discovered about learning a new language is that you really NEED to apply and practice the words, phrases, and sentences that you’ve learned by engaging in actual conversations with another person — may it be a native speaker, a fellow learner, or an individual who is already fluent in it.

Memorization and notes help a lot; that’s for sure! But without speaking the new language regularly, your learning can be inadequate. So since you’re trying to pursue how to learn a new language at home, if you don’t have nearby family members or friends that are masters of the language that you want to learn, don’t fret! There are a lot of platforms on the web that can connect you to the people that you need:

  • FREE
    • Couchsurfing
      Since the topic of this post is about how to learn a new language at home, the concept of couchsurfing totally applies! Just sign up to any couchsurfing-related website, build a profile, and (if you’re willing) accept several foreigners into your home for free — in exchange for your hospitality, you can require them to provide you FREE language lessons. It’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me!
    • Lang-8 (Website)
      This isn’t necessarily about speaking but it’s more about another kind of interaction: writing! Through this platform, you can have native speakers correct your work, and in return, you can help others by doing the same using your own language.
    • Rhino Spike (Website)
      A language community that lets its users connect and exchange foreign language audio files. Rhino Spike would absolutely help you a lot if you want, for instance, to hear a native speaker’s intonation when words are put into a sentence or a whole paragraph.
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  • PAID
    • italki (Website)
      This website gives you the option to add friends and chat with them in the language that you want to learn — it also offers FREE trials for most of their tutors. This actually used to be a platform where you can have the choice to get free or paid tutors (who are either native speakers or professionals), but it seems that now, they have focused on the ones who want to get paid. No worries though since it’s affordable to get ITC points (the currency that they use for tutor payments). It’s $10 (Php 450+) for every 100 ITC points which typically gives you an hour or so with a teacher that will converse and teach you.
    • NOTEVerbling is much like italki but I found out that their community isn’t so big and often times the tutors are a bit too high-priced; therefore, I find italki as the best choice at the moment.
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#3 – Watch Related Foreign Movies and TV Programs

Watch Foreign Movies

LISTENING is another important factor to learning a foreign language because you have to get used to how native speakers utter the words and sentences that you’re learning. You also have to acquaint yourself with the speed of their conversations so that you can gauge how much you have to learn in order to really master it all.

That’s why starting now, if for example you are learning Dutch like me, try to watch every movie or TV program that you like in Dutch with English subtitles OR English with Dutch subtitles. Trust me in this: it helps!
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#4 – Listen to Songs in the Language You’re Learning

Listen to Songs

In line with point #3, listening to songs is very effective too as it similarly stimulates your pronunciation and memory. In fact, I think it might just be the best memory trigger there is!

For one thing, I bet you’ve heard of LSS or the ‘Last Song Syndrome’ — therefore if there’s anything that you would ever want to get stuck in your head, it should be the most important information that you need which is in this case, the language that you are trying to learn.

To start, if you drive a car, download all the songs in the language you are learning and burn it into a CD so that you can play it whenever or wherever you are on the road. Otherwise, you can always download the songs to your iPod or mobile phone! If you have access to the internet though, then do take advantage of the music platform Spotify and the online radio TuneIn.
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#5 – Read As Many Books As You Can!

How to Learn a New Language

First and foremost, grab all the childrens books that you can find (you can either buy them in stores or borrow them in your local library). It might seem silly at first, but it’s one of the BEST ways for acquainting yourself with all the new words. Besides, learning a new language is just so similar to the process that you had to undergo when you were still learning as a child.

Once you get a feel of all the simple words, you can advance to simple novel books, and then eventually, to the more complex ones.

If I may also add a tip, buy a dictionary or download an app of it on your phone so that other than using it for the purpose of checking/reviewing words, you can also use it as a learning material wherein you make it a point to learn a few words everyday! (Remember: you have to constantly feed your mind and this is another powerful way to keep you on track with your goal).
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BONUS Tips!

  • I can’t stress this enough… but again: you really, really NEED to be consistent whenever you are learning a new language. So! Every day, make sure to set aside at least an hour of your time to your studies.
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  • Keep a journal to take note of all the words that you need to take note of; BUT don’t just write, write, write… USE IT. Speak it. Talk to yourself if you have to!
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  • Once you have learned the basic words, try changing your computer, phone, and software language settings into the one that you have to study for.
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  • Make use of post-it notes to label any objects in your home in the foreign language that you desire. It’s very effective when you have a hard time remembering a certain thing.
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  • Constantly quiz yourself. Repeat lessons if you must. You will know for yourself the topics or areas that you are not so good in; therefore, take the initiative to improve yourself on that.
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OVERALL

Learn a New Language


Learning a new language doesn’t have to be expensive nor be a difficult task because clearly, you can do it for FREE and you can do it at home! I’m on my way to ‘fluency’ with these methods, while others have already succeeded numerous times through these platforms, too — needless to say, you can go through the same way of studying and succeed in it as well!

All in all, I just hope that this helps you and I wish you all the best of luck! Wish me the same, too!

(Though if you really don’t aim to be a master of several languages, these recommendations would already aid you in understanding the basic phrases of a language that will help you out a LOT in your travels. Don’t you think?)

How about you?

  • What languages are you fluent in?
  • What foreign languages do you want to learn?
  • Do you have other helpful tips that are not mentioned in this article on how to learn a new language? Please share it with us through the comments section below!

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40 comments

  1. Thank you for the links !
    I'm French and I'm trying to learn Italian and Russian (and improving my English) but with work it's complicated to find time to do it... But your article gave me the motivation to continue learning langages ! :)

    Reply
    1. I'm happy to hear that! Good luck in learning those new languages :D

      Reply
  2. I used Duolingo before but I switched to Memrise because it has more languages than Duolingo. Also the games are a bit harder and more challenging. I'm learning ASL, French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese. :D

    Reply
  3. Very comprehensive list you have here! :)

    I use duolingo to learn Spanish and French. So far, I've been learning a lot. :)

    Might need to watch movies in those languages, though. For better immersion.

    Reply
  4. Thanks so much! I'm now learning japanese on Memrise and it's so helpful. Hopefully i'll be more fluent by the time i go to Japan next March.

    Reply
    1. I'm happy to hear that! Enjoy your trip to Japan, Kristen!

      Reply
  5. =) Wonderful suggestions and tips. And thanks for the links, too!

    Reply
    1. You're welcome! Hope it helps you :)

      Reply
  6. Nu heb ik zin om een andere taal te leren! Ik ken ook maar 2 talen, Nederlands en Engels. Eigenlijk ook wel wat Duits. Maar ik zou erg graag Spaans of Italiaans leren. Ik heb ooit een cursus gedaan, maar je moet het inderdaad elke dag consequent bijhouden. Leuke blog trouwens! Ik volg je nu.

    There's your daily dose of Dutch haha ;) Great blog post!

    Reply
    1. Amai, dat is heel lang!

      Awesome, Joyce! Thank you for that. Like I've said I'm still on my Level 1 Dutch, BUT I actually understood what you tried to say! YAY! (I did Google Translate afterwards to be sure about it, woohoo! Yay me haha). I'm actually better at reading now, rather than formulating sentences and speaking the language. Anyhow, that's great to hear. I actually want to learn Spanish next (since it's similar to my mother tongue) or German (since it's somehow similar to Dutch).

      Reply
  7. Beautifully researched and presented list Aileen. I have been learning Spanish for the last year now whilst travelling Latin America and it can be a slow and frustrating process but I continue to persevere. I 100% endorse the Michel Thomas method and encourage everyone to check it out for whatever language they learn.

    Reply
    1. That's great! And yes, I totally LOVE Michel Thomas method as well. It's really helpful!

      Reply
  8. Such a great, helpful post! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Glad to be of help :)

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  9. This is so helpful! Great job Aileen! I'm doing more of #3 now and it's pretty fun to learn that way! You have to talk Dutch to me when we see each other ;-)

    Reply
    1. I'm happy to hear that Lois! :D Indeed #3 is one of my favorites since I'm also a movie addict so it works haha! And yes, I definitely will! And you have to talk French to me :P

      Reply

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