Want to save a whole suitcase full of money on language learning?
It’s easy to get bummed out by the perceived expense of learning a language.
With native resources and free courses just a click away, language learning by no means needs to be an expensive endeavor.
So whether you’re learning a language for work, school or just for fun, let’s see how you can get yourself to proficiency and beyond—all for free or on a budget!
Why Free Language Resources?
Most of us need no reason to try out something for free. But for those doubters out there—the ones who think you simply always get what you pay for—listen up!
For one thing, free online resources make it incredibly easy to try out a new language to see if you like it. Moreover, many free resources are competitive in quality to courses and media you have to pay for. Can’t decide between learning Spanish or Chinese? Well, don’t drop any money on it yet. Explore what you can without spending a penny, and then you can invest your hard-earned cash when you commit later.
Even if you’re already set on learning a particular language, you can always use free resources to take on the basics. Free resources that are intended for learners (as opposed to native-level media) are really great for beginners. Once you have a working knowledge of common words and grammar, you can go ahead and drop money on an intermediate or advanced course.
This way, you’re taking full advantage of what the world has to offer, and you can spend money where it counts and when you can afford it. This means saving money for target language movies, in-person courses or tutors when you reach an intermediate or advanced level.
Another flexible learning option that consolidates native material in an efficient way to make sure you get the most bang for your buck is FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
So let’s get into it—here’s how to start learning a language for free!
Price Hack Your Education! The 4 Best Free Language Learning Tools
1. Blogs and Websites All About Language Learning
What Can Blogs and Websites Do for You?
Blogs and other websites that specialize in language learning can provide you guidance and community as you embark on your language learning journey. If they’re specific to a particular language, you’ll get practical advice on vocabulary, master the ins and outs of grammar, and learn important cultural information. If the site consists of general content about language learning, you’ll get more of those crucial learning tips and tricks that’ll help you reach your goal—productivity hacks, memory advice and a lot more.
Many language-specific blogs and websites have a word-of-the-day feature, which can be invaluable to the beginning language learner. I learned plenty of Spanish from Spanish Dict’s word of the day—the sentences give you context, and all it takes to seal it all in is to enter them into your SRS!
Resources for Language Blogs and Websites
For examples of language-specific blogs and websites, check out:
- About.com’s excellent language pages: Take advantage of beginner’s courses, vocabulary and cultural articles.
- FluentU’s language-specific blogs: These discuss specific learning techniques for a wide variety of languages. You can find blogs for Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, English (and Business English), Italian, Arabic, Russian, Korean and Portuguese.
- SpanishDict’s resources: Top-of-the-line Spanish-specific blog and word-of-the-day feature.
If you haven’t decided which language to learn, or if you could just use some general learning advice, try:
- Lindsay Does Languages: Lindsay Dow chronicles her experiences traveling and learning a ton of different languages. Benefit from her experiments, and try something out!
- FluentU’s language learning blog, where you can find useful language learning tips and techniques!
- The Language Dojo: This blog focuses on intense language immersion. Build your own language environment with advice on how to use native resources.
Want to find more? Run a quick Google search or prowl through the links and guest posts on these blogs and websites to find who else is talking about language learning.
2. Superb Language Learning Courses
What Can Free Courses Do for You?
Of course, language courses are often the first resource that comes to mind when we think of learning a language. If you’re a beginner or a lower-intermediate learner, try tackling this one first!
Language courses, whether paid or free, generally teach you basic grammar and vocabulary on a level-by-level basis. You start at the bare basics and move your way up as you work hard through set lessons. Nowadays, plenty of online courses are game-ified, meaning that they use points and levels like video games to keep you motivated and learning. Language learning games are great when the going gets tough and it’s hard to keep plodding through material every day.
Finally, starting a language course makes setting learning goals very easy. You can work through three game levels every day, for example, or commit to watching three lectures of an online class every week.
Resources for Online Language Courses
Free language courses and games are easy to find and use. Whether you prefer game-ified learning or traditional study, there’s something out there that fits your needs!
- Duolingo and Memrise both take advantage of video-game-like features, such as levels and points systems. They also both take advantage of spaced repetition to help you remember vocabulary. Compete with your friends and have fun studying!
- The BBC’s language resources and Alison both offer more traditional online language courses. Both provide great content and are made and adapted for individual online learners.
- Take a look at iTunes U or Coursera to replicate that authentic classroom experience. Download and watch lectures of real recorded classes!
Let’s take a moment here to pause and chat about Coursera, because there’s more there for language learning than you might have thought.
Not only does this educational website maintain a whole language learning section in its online catalogue, but you can even explore classes on other topics that are taught in your target language. That means you could learn about anything that interests you under the sun, from literature and film to science and technology, while picking up new language lessons along the way.
Plus, the courses offered on Coursera are run by professors from world-renowned institutions, and it’s even possible to earn a certificate from many of the courses.
The course offerings tend to vary—that’s just the nature of online education these days—but you can click right here to check out their current course offerings.
3. High-quality Native Podcasts with Transcripts
What Can Podcasts and Transcripts Do for You?
I’m not talking about podcasts made for learners—although those are great learning tools, too! No, I’m talking native-level podcasts made by native speakers of your target language. The fast-spoken and real language (not textbook!) can help move you beyond the intermediate stage, but native podcasts can be fun even for beginners. Even if you don’t understand, keep listening!
Why transcripts, then? Many professional podcasts include transcripts for accessibility reasons, but they’re insanely useful for learners, too. Because many learning materials are text-heavy, many learners, especially beginners and intermediates, can read far better than they can understand audio. So, why not marry the two to gain the most progress?
Read the transcript while you listen to the podcasts to reinforce how words and sentences sound when they’re spoken and not simply written down. As you practice, you’ll find that plain listening without reading becomes easier and easier!
Resources for Native Podcasts with Transcripts
Podcasts can be tough to find, and, unfortunately, not all of them have transcripts. This is where you’ll want to take advantage of language-learning communities to get a good podcast collection going.
- A language learners’ forum and UniLang are forums that can help you hunt down the ideal podcast. Make an account, and ask fellow learners for native podcast/transcript recommendations for your target language. Many learners use transcripts, so they’ll be able to guide you!
- iTunes: Use this common app to your advantage. You can change the default region to a country that speaks your target language. The highlighted podcasts will now be more likely to be in the language you want. Then, go to the podcast’s website and hunt around to see if they provide transcripts.
- If you happen to be learning French, or just as an example of what you’re looking for in any language, check out France Culture’s interview transcripts.
- Slow German is an example of a podcast made for learners but entirely in the target language (slowed down!) with transcripts. The language is slowed down for easier comprehension—and there are others out there just like it for other languages! Search “slow [language] podcast” and see what you can come up with.
4. Golden Oldies: Public Domain Textbooks
Why Use Ancient Textbooks?
Old textbooks (I’m talking 20th and late-19th centuries here) are a magnificent untapped resource. They have both strengths and shortcomings, but hey, they’re free, so why not try them out? In terms of exercises and helpful glossaries, modern textbooks often fail to match the oldies in quality. Old textbooks harp on grammar like no other resource, and doing the exercises will ensure you have a deep knowledge of conjugations or noun cases. Another great feature of these old textbooks is that they often have nice beginner-level texts in them so you can practice reading.
That being said, these textbooks are definitely dated and they’re quite dry if you’re used to the colorful, engaging textbooks of today. The language is old-fashioned, but this isn’t as big of an issue as some might say. The language itself is still going to be the same language as today, so while you might have some antiquated word use at the beginning, this is an easy fix as you progress. In fact, it may not be an issue at all if you pair old textbooks with some of the other resources listed here!
Resources for Public Domain Textbooks
Because these babies are in the public domain, finding them only takes a little bit of digging:
- Google Books is your best resource here: A quick search will give you a variety of choices.
Learning a new language doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
So many resources out there are free and easy to use.
Take advantage of everything to make the most of your language learning adventure!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.