5 Ways to Learn a Language
You’re ready to hit the trails and soak up all the cultures the world has to offer…but you have no clue how to say please, no thanks, or can I have a steaming cup of strong coffee straight up. You slide into a mild panic about being overcharged for your hotel room or thinking you’re ordering kidney beans only to end up with a steaming platter of sautéed kidneys. True story. It happened to me in China — me and my Pimsleur dictionary. It’s not the dictionary’s fault, though. Its job is to cough up words for me, not show me how to use them. Still, lunch that day was a very illuminating experience!
The best way to avoid these kinds of situations is to tune up your language skills or at least get the basics down before you step on the plane. Here are some places you can get language lessons, from free to pricey.
A great place to start is at Livemocha. This online language paradise offers you a community of foreign language speakers, a wealth of online lessons and a great introductory quiz that lets you know what level you’re at and what class would fit you the best. I love it.
You can sign up for the free service, log in and start doing lessons immediately. The service relies on other members to check your work and, in exchange, you proof the work of other learners. You can also record audio and get feedback from a native speaker. The paid service offers more in-depth courses.
Another choice spot for language acquisition is the BBC. They offer a host of language lessons you can use online or download them for use at home. They also send out weekly emails and updates in the language of your choice. Sign up for French or German classes and start receiving podcasts and weekly lessons for three months. The website also has additional materials, such as news sources and crossword puzzles.
Want to brush up by yourself sans the Web, but still in the low-budget range? Grab some Pimsleur books and CDs. Not just good for dictionaries, this company has some of the best and easiest to use software around. Grab a set, load it onto your iPod, and get talking. The lessons start with the simplest phrases and work up to more complex ones. Each lesson also incorporates a review of the previous lesson. You might be able to find these at your local library. If not, you can buy these for around $20 to $25 new.
A more costly do-it-yourself way is the Rosetta Stone. This system is super pricey at $220 per packaged set, but noted as wickedly awesome and amazingly effective according to people who have tried it. Based on immersion techniques, Rosetta Stone abandons rote memorization and tedious grammar drills in favor of teaching students how to use the language in real-life settings. Worth checking out if you can.
Groups and Events
For more face-to-face interactions, you can always find a local Meetup group in your area. In Seattle, for instance, I found groups for German, Indonesian, French and Spanish. Places like San Francisco and New York City offer a broader range of language groups, including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Arabic. Or you can start your own group. You never know who else is around wanting to learn the same language.
Yahoo groups, Facebook, and Twitter all offer different pages and sources in foreign language along with a chance to interact with native speakers in the language of your choice. Maybe you can swap language lessons with someone. You teach them English and they teach you French or Chinese. Ask around and see what you find.
Otherwise, your local community college, small language schools in your community, or Berlitz are great choices for gaining a few language skills before you take off.
So dust off the old books, fire up your neurons and get studying. The world is awaiting your arrival.