How to Learn a New Language at Home on a Budget (Or for Free!)

by Personal Development50 comments

You probably love watching famous foreign Netflix shows such as the Korean drama ‘Squid Game’ or the Spanish flix ‘Money Heist‘, and now… you have the insatiable urge to learn (or maybe relearn) their local language for fun. (How to learn a new language).

No matter what your reason may be — for the simple purpose of filling up your time with something fun, gearing yourself up for future travel trips, or for something more serious such as communicating better in a new country abroad — learning a new language is something that will be well worth your time.

How to Learn a New Language: Languages Around the World

I know 4 languages to date (English, Tagalog, Ivatan, and Dutch) and I’m on my way to learning my 5th one, which is Spanish. Apart from the languages that I grew up with, the latter two are those that I learned through formal classes — but mostly through informal ones… and by informal, I’m referring to FREE language apps, conversing with bilingual friends, and binging on foreign TV shows.

This leads me to say with confidence that YOU can definitely do the same — there’s really 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. In fact, you can do it for FREE.

Besides, what you have to understand as early as now is that it’s NOT HARD to learn a new language (but okay… 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.

It helps to note that 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.

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You have to know the fact that everyone is naturally good with languages. Truth be told, studies have even shown 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 compared to ‘youngsters’. Plus, if you ask me, we just tend to say this because the concept of time and interaction needed from us tends to elude us from taking concrete action.

That’s why as long as you have a bit of spare time — such as dedicating at least an hour every day to learning the new language that you want — I can assure you that your goal will be well within your reach! Add the fact that there exist 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!

How to Learn a New Language

1. Make Use of Learning Applications & Resources

10 Best Translation Apps for Travel Abroad to Bridge Language Barriers (2021)

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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.

Let’s start with the FREE stuff.

Free Applications

  • Anki (App & Desktop 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.
    • Its Android and desktop applications are free except for its iOS app version that’s priced at $25.
  • Busuu (App & Desktop Software)  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 premium features of Busuu, you can always pay the monthly fee of $3.50.
  • Drops (App) – STYLE: Game-Like Lessons
    A strong contender for both Duolingo and Babbel, you will likely love Drops for its fun and minimal design! With over 35 languages in store that is more “gamified” and non-traditional, you can enjoy lessons for FREE for 5 minutes daily.
    • Upon registration, you can enjoy Drops’ premium features for FREE for 7 days; after that, it offers 3 packages — $10/month for a monthly package, $3/month for a yearly package, or a one-time payment of $160 for lifetime access.
  • Duolingo (App & Website) – STYLE: Traditional and Game-Like Lessons
    Still in the spirit of ‘gaming’, 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 36 available language courses for everyone and they aim to add more! They even have ‘Stories‘, which are basically mini stories or dialogue that will challenge your reading and listening comprehension.
    • For added benefits such as no ads and others, you can pay for Duolingo Plus at about $7 per month.
  • Hello Lingo (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!
  • 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.
    • For $9 monthly, you can access more of their ‘pro’ features.
  • 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.

Cheap Paid Applications

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, these ones are still affordable.

  • Babbel (App & Website) – STYLE: Game-Like Lessons
    Starting cost of at least $4.95 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.
  • 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, 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!
  • 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. 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.
  • Michel Thomas (App & Website) – STYLE: Audio Learning
    Since I want to focus more on my speaking abilities, this Michel Thomas method has been really 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 whereas the Foundation and Advanced courses are priced each at $120 to $135.

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 $500).

It has decent features of course like 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!

Now, of course, it comes as a no-brainer that you can opt to take formal language classes. So go search through your local schools to check if they offer online classes or private one-on-one sessions with language tutors (or if you’re from the Philippines like me, check out / otherwise, you can inquire with Alliance.PH that specializes in French or Instituto Cervantes for Spanish).

Other international websites that offer great language tutor listings are Preply, Rype, and Tutoroo.

2. Find a Language Partner & Talk to Native Speakers

Make Conversation

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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.
  • 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). To date, it’s $10 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.

3. Watch Foreign Movies & TV Programs

Watch Foreign Shows: Learn a New Language

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LISTENING is another important factor when learning a foreign language because you have to get used to how native speakers utter or pronounce the words and sentences that you’re learning. You also have to acquaint yourself with the intonation and 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 on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon in Dutch with English subtitles — OR in English with Dutch subtitles. Trust me in this: it helps!

4. Listen to Songs in the Language You’re Learning

Listen to Foreign Music

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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 you are trying to learn.

To start, if you drive your car every day, download all the songs in the language you are learning so that you can play them whenever or wherever you are on the road. If you have access to the internet though, do take advantage of the music platform Spotify and the online radio TuneIn.

It also helps to sing foreign music, so don’t be shy and belt out a song or two through some good ol’ karaoke session!

5. Read as Many Books as You Can

Best Travel Books

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First and foremost, grab all the children’s books 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 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 or reviewing words, you can also use it as a learning material wherein you make it a point to learn a few words every day!

Remember: you have to constantly feed your mind and this is another powerful way to keep you on track with your goal.

» BONUS Tips on How to Learn a New Language

  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lastly, be patient. It will take some time so don’t be too hard on yourself!

• • •

How to Learn a New Language at Home on a Budget


Learning a new language doesn’t have to be expensive nor a difficult task because clearly, you can do it for FREE and even at home!

I’m on my way to ‘fluency’ with these methods, while others have already succeeded numerous times through these platforms — 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.

RELATED READ: Top Translation Apps for Travel

• • •

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TAGS: Languages

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Hey there! I am Aileen Adalid.
At 21, I quit my corporate job in the Philippines to pursue my dreams. Today, I am a successful digital nomad (online entrepreneur, travel writer, & vlogger) living a sustainable travel lifestyle.

My mission? To show you how it is absolutely possible to create a life of travel no matter the odds — and I will help you achieve that through my detailed travel hacks, guides, resources, tips, and MORE!

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  1. Naina

    Hi Aileen!

    I am learning Spanish, though I have enrolled for weekend classes but yes I do get your point of being consistent in practice. I missed 2 batches of 3rd level and then I forgot all I had learned in 2 levels! So, starting today, I am going to revise last 2 levels and practice them well before I start my level 3. Great tips and resources. Thank you!

    • Aileen

      Thanks Naina! Indeed, consistency is veeeery important because we really need to pack our brains and train it to remember all of what we’ve learned. Anyhow, I wish you all the best in your Spanish lessons! ♥

  2. Michael Huxley

    Wow, seriously comprehensive post, love it! I wish I could be a polyglot too but my mind just isn’t wired that way. I’ve tried for years to become fluent in a number of languages but I can never seem to get past the whole basic conversation phase.

    • Aileen

      Hey Michael, I’m glad to hear that you like it! As for your frustrations, I can understand since I’ve had some friends who had those problems too — me as well when I first tried to learn French years ago! HAHA!

  3. Chef Rafi

    Wonderful post as usual! You do amazing work! But you do speak 3 languages. Ivatan is not even close to Tagalog – it would be like calling French a dialect of Polish. I hope one day to make an Ivatan video for my show (uved).

    • Aileen

      Aw, thank you Chef Rafi :) I’m very happy to hear that! And I’m also glad that you agree haha. But I guess officially, I still only know 2. (I just checked your channel by the way and it’s awesome! And yes, UVED! Ah… I miss it!)

      • Chef Rafi

        Thanks! Maybe one day we can cook uved virtually together for my Ivatan episode!

        • Aileen

          Oooh… that will be lovely! I’m definitely up for that! :D

        • Chef Rafi

          Hi Aileen! What do you think of this recipe? Would you be able to collaborate with us on it for the Ivatan version? Any changes/suggestions welcome:

          Hope you had a great weekend!

        • Aileen

          Hey Chef Rafi, oooh… so you mean to say that I just speak out the words? Anyhow, can you e-mail me about this? My email is aileen[a]

          I’d love to talk about it over email. Thank you so much!

  4. Pippa

    This is such a cool post! My goal is to become a polygot too (though I only speak one language so I’m still a long way off). There are so many free resources out there online there really isn’t any excuse not to learn at home. My fiancé and I are learning Spanish – but we’re creating our own sort of Spanglish language as we go. :)
    I haven’t found listening to Spanish music very helpful yet, but I do love doing it still. There’s something so peaceful about not being able to understand the lyrics – its therapeutic somehow.
    Good luck on your language learning journey!!

    • Aileen

      Thank you Pippa! Haha and yeah, we’re both a long way off. But it’s fine ;) We have time to make it happen still haha! Now that you mention it, yes, Spanish! Learning that should be a bit easier for me since my mother tongue is almost similar to it. Anyhow, I wish you all the luck in learning it! Maybe one day we’ll meet somewhere and speak Spanish to one another. ;)

  5. Mikyu Maglasang

    Like you, I can speak Tagalog/Filipino and English fluently, and also my native tongue, Bisaya. But I’ve always wanted to learn how to speak & write in Japanese! I’m pretty sure it would be easier for me as I’ve been watching anime/JDramas since I was a kid. My only challenge is Kanji — with thousands and thousands of characters, I’m intimidated to even start learning it. Hahaha. I’ve tried learning French since it’s easier and it uses the alphabet, but I stopped because I wanted to go back to Japenese — or I just didn’t have enough time. There are disadvantages to self-teaching. I guess what would really work for me is classroom training. :))

    • Aileen

      Ah, I love Japanese too and much like you, I’ve watched a lot of anime shows in my life (though I guess I never really paid attention much to the language so I still find it hard to understand phrases). Anyhow, I’ve heard of how others struggle with the Kanji as well; but I’ve heard of some who just concentrated on speaking it so that they could at least converse with the Japanese. Yet surely, there are disadvantages to self-teaching as you say so, but I also think that it depends on the person since I’ve had some friends who had great experiences by just doing it themselves through audio guides and online resources and tutors. (I think it works for me too). While others, find it best to fit with a classroom training — maybe indeed it will be better for you! :) Hope all goes well in your Japanese studies Mikyu! I wish you all the best!

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