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12 hacks to learn a language for free

The language learning industry is a billion dollar industry. Many people live off it, including yours truly. And many more people invest insane amount of money in the study of mostly English, and, to a lesser extend, a few other languages, among which French.

Does that mean that you have to spend a lot of money to learn your target language? Absolutely not.

A few students have come to me and immediately asked “How much would it cost for me to learn French up to level B2?” or a similar question. Answering this question is very tricky, as it is perfectly possible to learn a language without spending a dime, but it is also possible to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars and still get poor results.

The success of your study doesn’t depend on how much money you spend, but on your ability to spend money and time in the most efficient manner.

Ready to start? Here are 12 options to learn a language for free.

I) At home

You don’t have to go anywhere to start your language learning journey. Good habits start at home.

1) Speak to yourself.

Yes, you’ll sound a little stupid but it really works. Speaking to yourself is a great way of reactivating the structures and vocabulary that you have learnt, as well as getting more confident with the phonetics, and the holy grail of language learning: getting to think in your target language. Here are some ideas:

  • Rehearse aloud the content of your previous study session (if possible, without looking at your notes): introduce yourself, speak about your hobbies, your work, or whichever topic you have studied recently.

  • Describe your actions as you do them. “It is the morning, I have breakfast. I open the fridge, I take the milk out, I close the fridge etc.”

  • Think aloud. This is rather for advanced students, as it can be frustrating to try and have an adult thinking with as much vocabulary as a 5 years old. But as soon as you can, you should totally give it a go. As soon as you get to think in your target language, even a little, your level will rocket.

2) Read aloud

Reading aloud in your target language will help you remember the vocabulary and grammar structures better, and train your pronunciation.

3) Learn vocabulary with flashcards/notebook

Learning vocabulary is quite a lonely activity per se. You can use flashcards, either physical cards or an app (more about those in part III), or an old school vocabulary notebook.

4) Learn vocabulary with the sticky notes technique

An interesting way of learning vocabulary is by sticking a note to each object with the name of the object in your target language. Reading the notes everyday will make you remember those words super fast without even noticing. If you are learning a language with several genders, such as French, don’t forget the article. Here, stick a note to your computer which reads “un ordinateur”.

II) Get out and practice!

As much as you can learn by staying at home on your own, nothing replaces human interactions when it comes to practicing a language.

Here is the catch though: not all location are created equal.

→ you live in a country where your target language is spoken? Awesome, you will have everything at hand.

→ you live in a big city? Great, you will have all you need

→ you live in a small city, or in a rural area? You may have to rely more on online methods (see part III below). You might not find so many resources close to you, unfortunately.

Here are a few things you can do, if your location allows it.

5) Go to the library (don’t buy expensive books!)

You can find many language learning books in your city’s library. Most of them will probably be somewhat old, and not look as enticing as the pricey new books from the bookstore. But old books are often as good as new ones. For example, the well-known Assimil method regularly produces new editions of their books, but the core of the method stays the same. It is true that languages evolve over time, and that nowadays speakers might not speak exactly like people used to speak 20 years ago. However, these little changes won’t really affect most learners’ study. They will only be really relevant to learners who are either very advanced or trying to adapt quickly in the country of their target language. To those, I would suggest to…

6) Find real people.

If you live in a big city, odds are that there are a polyglot café, language meetups and/or a friendly community of people who learn or speak your target language. Don’t be shy, go find them and have a chat. They will be delighted to find a new friend to share their culture or their passion for learning with. You might even find a language partner who wants to learn your mother language.

Chatterplot is a website which is designed to connect you to language partners who live close to your place. Depending on where you live, you may find many neighbours already, or only a few. Regardless, just register and start the speaking.

7) Find real life material.  

This is easy if you live in the country of your target language, a bit trickier - though not impossible - if you don’t.  

If you are a beginner, look for documents which contain a lot of visual elements, and not so much text, such as flyers. If you are an advanced student, everything is a potential study material for you. Choose something which you would want to read in your native language, such as a sports magazine, a cookbook, a science fiction movie - whatever fits your taste! Read them, watch them, enjoy them and see your language skills rocket without any effort on your side :)

By the way, the council of Europe recommends the use of real life documents (meaning documents which are intended for native speakers and not for the sake of learning the language) to teach and learn languages.

On my website, frenchlover.org, all exercises are based on real-life documents. They are available for free and you can (but don’t have to) book a lesson to discuss them with me.
 

III) Online

The best place to find language learning resources for free is most certainly the internet. Most language learning apps or websites are either completely free, or offer a very valuable free option. I mentioned a few of them in previous articles, such as duolingo, italki and Memrise.

So, what else can you do online to learn a language - without spending a cent ?

8) Find a language partner.

If you aren’t fortunate enough to find a language partner who lives next to you, you can sure find one online. Many websites offer to connect you with native speakers of your target language who are learning your mother tongue, such as italki or hellotalk. Whether you want a long term collaboration or a just quick chat, it is completely up to you, and to your partner(s).

The principle: keep it fair and equal, for example, spend 30 minutes speaking your target language, and then 30 minutes speaking your mother language. Find an arrangement which works for both of you.

Keeping a language partnership can cost a lot of time, and some organizational efforts.  Investing in lessons or tutoring with a native speaker, if your budget allows it, would give you a similar or a better result, in terms of language skills. But if you have time, a language partnership can be very rewarding, bringing you the language, the culture and a new friend all at once.

9) Train your writing skills.

Several websites give you the possibility to write texts in your target language, and have natives correct them, such as lang8  or the notebook feature in italki. Don’t forget to be nice and correct the writings of users who learn your mother language.

10) Learn vocabulary

Several smartphone apps and/or websites let you learn your vocabulary benefiting from the space repetition system. Concretely, those apps will calculate when you are most likely to forget a word, and show it to you again right before it happens.

I always recommend Memrise (more about Memrise in this article), but others, such as Quizlet or Anki are also good.

Duolingo is also based on the space repetition system. Read my specific article to make the most of duolingo.

11) Music and film

The internet is a great source of entertainment. You can find pretty much all existing music or movies online, which means, also a lot of music and movies in your target language. A good tool to access this kind of content is youtube, which I already mentioned among the best tools to learn a language online.

How to find relevant channels can be a bit tricky. I curate a list of favourite French youtube channels. For other languages, how about you ask your language partner to recommend you channels they like ?

12) Facebook pages and group

Facebook is an amazing resource for learning languages, as it is huge and multilingual. Follow pages and join groups not only *about* your target language but *in* your target language. I am sure that there are pages and groups in your target language about any hobby of yours. Just get in touch and start learning how to speak about your favourite activities in your target language, straight from your timeline.
 

Many resources are available for free, online or offline, to who knows where to find them. The variety of the offer, both free and paid, can feel very overwhelming sometimes. This is why I offer coaching lessons (you can book them from my italki profile). I will be happy to give you personal advice to help you study in the most efficient manner.

 
 

Need help on your French learning journey? Book a lesson with me now.

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