How to Learn a Language When You Don't Have Much Money

Claire Handscombe

Have you looked at the price of Rosetta Stone, private tuition, or immersion courses abroad and discounted yourself from language learning? Don’t! Good as those may be (and certainly immersion courses in particular are very effective), there are cheaper ways to study a language.

1. Get free resources.

I know I harp on about these all the time, but there’s a reason for that: the BBC languages website is packed full of useful things, and so is Radio Lingua with its Coffee Break and One Minute podcasts, for every language from Catalan to Zulu. And there’s plenty of other good stuff out there, too.

2. Get a language partner.

Through or via the language centre at a local university, you may well be able to find someone who is learning English. (You could also try putting up a flyer in a café or a library to find someone.) Offer to meet up with them and speak English for half the time, and their language for the other half. It’s no substitute for tuition, and you’ll only really be wanting this when you’ve been learning in other ways for a while, but it’s excellent practice — plus, you might make a friend, and they might invite you to stay with them in their beachside flat when they go back to Spain!

3. Get work to pay

Could you sweet talk your boss into partly or fully funding a course?

Maybe you work for a Spanish or a Dutch bank, for example. If your company has a branch in, or link with, a particular country they may be happy to consider your request. An extra language is also an asset in sales — where relationships matter.

If you’re preparing to move abroad, you’d be wise to ask for lessons as part of the relocation package if they’re not automatically provided; if you’re an expat already, it’s still worth broaching the question.

4. Get someone who loves you to pay

Do you have a birthday or Christmas coming up? Set up an Amazon wish list and fill it with useful materials. (Suggestions for French can be found here for the US, and here for the UK.) Some tutors are happy to provide gift vouchers for lessons — you can ask for those. (You can put these on your “universal wish list” on Amazon too. Using one of these, you can add anything from any website to your list, send the link to family and friends, and it comes off the list when they have bought it. It’s magic.)

5. Get the government to pay

Yes, really. There’s a reason why evening courses in further education colleges are cheaper than private tuition. Some may offer concession rates for people who are not currently employed. (Way back in the older days, I seem to remember you could even get courses free in the UK, but that was before the dark days of relentless cuts.)

And I know that in Belgium — where I happen to live, if you’re wondering why I keep singling it out — there are often heavily subsidised courses available at your local “commune”. If you’re a job seeker, you’re even entitled to several hours of free tutoring.

6. Get private tuition cheaper

If you have some resources at your disposal, you might still want to consider having a private tutor. It’s generally true that you get what you pay for and a rate of, say, less than £30 an hour for London might indicate tutors don’t think of themselves as professionals.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be every week. The point of private tutoring is that it’s flexible and personalised to you, so many teachers will be happy with you having the occasional lesson to keep you ticking over and motivated. If you can only afford one lesson every six weeks, or even five a year, it’s still worth doing: knowing you will have the occasional check up and seeing it come towards you on the calendar will help keep you on the straight and narrow.

Also, many tutors now offer tuition by Skype, and since that involves no travelling time or expenses, that will often be cheaper. Better still, because of the no travelling thing, some will be happy for you to have a shorter lesson than the usual hour, which will further reduce the cost.

It doesn’t have to cost as much as you think.

Have you got any tips for saving money when it comes to language learning? Feel free to comment below and share them with us.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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