The market for language-learning resources is immense. Unfortunately, your wallet is not. Lucky for you, the most effective language-learning resources are 100% free. That's right, it's a good thing that you can't afford Rosetta Stone, because now you can focus your time on the really immersive and fun resources!
1. Use Duolingo to build basic vocabulary.
I love Duolingo because it's basically a videogame for language learning. There are other sites that do this (DigitalDialects.com, for example), but they don't make it quite as fun. Duolingo is great for building up vocabulary in an interesting and fun way. There are progress bars, coins to collect and spend and even speed challenges to complete. Plus, there's an app for your phone that will send you daily reminders to practice.
The only downside is that there's only so much you can do with it. Duolingo only has a set number of languages, and its "immersion" section is just a forum for translating articles. That's why Duolingo is best for things you would normally use flashcards or Quizlet to learn.
2. Join Italki for speaking skills and community feedback.
I'm sorry, but speaking is the single most important thing to learning a langauge. I know, I'm an introvert, and I get nervous before every Italki session, but you need to speak. Italki is like social media for language-learners. You could pay tutors if you wanted to, or you can find a "language partner" and do a free language exchange, where you trade languages lessons with someone. I'm learning Spanish, so I Skype a few friends in Spain and Peru who want to learn English. We talk in Spanish for half an hour and English for half an hour: that way we both get language lessons for free. You post on your profile how proficient you are in a language so that you can pair with people you'll be able to help and understand.
Additionally, the Italki forum might just be the single best place to make posts asking about certain language features that confuse you, like the subjunctive in Spanish or the difference between "hen" and "shi" in Mandarin. I've also found the forum a great place to find recommendations for books/songs/games in your target language. Heck, I even found a group of Spanish-speaking Dungeons and Dragons players!
3. Browse FluentIn3Months.com for endless tips, stories and resources.
Everything I've listed is covered and reviewed by different bloggers on FluentIn3Months.com (no, they don't actually mean you will be fluent in three months, nor do they claim so (the founder has a whole backstory as to why that's the title, which is detailed in his book). It's essentially Fresh U, but entirely dedicated to language learning. Its founder, Benny Lewis, is my favorite argument in favor of language learning because growing up he was not in a country that spoke the language he wanted to learn, not rich enough to travel and particularly horrible at language learning and not at all a prodigy. But well after he was grown-up and out of college with a full-time job, he mastered his first foreign language and he's mastered many since. He basically defies every self-fulfilling excuse you've ever used to justify your lack of progress with a language.
FluentIn3Months is a great place to get started on your language quest, especially if you've never had any classes in the language you want to learn. The sheer number of bloggers almost guarantees that you'll be able to find solutions to your problems, no matter what language you're having trouble with.
4. Learn songs to improve your accent and learn phrases.
When I sing along to British or country singers, I tend to imitate their accents. That's just something people naturally do to make the words rhyme. In fact, written poetry and rhyme-schemes helped historians figure out how ancient Latin sounded! Songs also feature lots of commonly-used idioms and phrases. As an added bonus, singers tend to enunciate more than everyday speakers, so it's easier to understand the lyrics.
But be careful with tonal languages like Mandarin: songs are great for most pronunciation, but the melody tends to drown out any tones you might hear in normal speech.
5. Set Youtube to your desired country.
All work and no play makes Jack a poor language learner. If you're not having fun, you're not actually going to learn anything. And if you do, you'll forget it within a week. So set your Youtube location to a country that speaks your target language, and your home page will show the biggest hits for that country. I personally love watching movie reviews and comedy sketches on Youtube. I was astonished to find just how many of those were being posted in Spanish! This is great for more advanced language learners because it's a great way to get a feel for how people really speak, since no one is slowing down or leaving out the slang for you.
6. Talk to a friend for fact-checking and learning slang.
You need to speak your target language. I don't know how much more I need to emphasize this. Native bilingual speakers are not always the biggest help for explaining nuances, since they tend to take many features of their language for granted. But at the same time, they're a great way to check the legitimacy of a dub, song or language-learning software. Once I was learning a few characters of simplified Chinese, copying them down exactly as they were shown in the picture. As it turns out, that was not how people actually write the characters — I was learning it all wrong! And I would never have known if I didn't have a bilingual speaker to point out the flaws. Additionally, most of the above resources don't include two very important things: slang and curse-words. Your friend, however, does.
This is the part where I get all sentimental and inspirational: do not be afraid to make mistakes! There is one reason and one reason only that language learning is hard: you feel like you can't communicate. You've been urged to improve your English speaking skills since you were born, and your voice has been one of the biggest parts of your life ever since. It's like learning how to walk all over again, and it's embarrassing to feel like a helpless little kid all over again. But consider this a lesson in humility, in perseverance, in self-confidence and in having fun while learning. You need ALL of those things to master a language, and this list is here to help you make those first steps.
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