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4 Easy And Free Tips For Learning Foreign Languages

The most difficult part of wandering is far and away trying to pick up a foreign language. Only a limited number of nouns and verbs are mime-able, charades style, so what does that leave you with if you need to say “tomorrow” or “work”? A frustrated shake of the head, a hapless smile and not [...]

The most difficult part of wandering is far and away trying to pick up a foreign language. Only a limited number of nouns and verbs are mime-able, charades style, so what does that leave you with if you need to say “tomorrow” or “work”? A frustrated shake of the head, a hapless smile and not much else.

I came to Chile roughly six weeks ago without knowing any Spanish. What some have called foolish, I’ve considered a proactive method of learning a new language. I take online classes and practice speaking every day, but seeing as I’m past my elementary-school-level development, my mind is no longer a sponge that soaks up scores of words a day. It’s taken much longer to cement word words to memory. And flashcards, although extremely helpful, can get tedious.

The sooner I can fully comprehend the language, the more doors will open. I’m floating in a pool of Spanish, but I want to make sure I can swim and not just stay afloat. During my time here, I’ve picked up a few (free) ways to learn Spanish beyond the classroom that have helped me tremendously.

1. Listen to Disney Songs on Youtube

Quite simply, translated versions of songs from movies like Aladdin or Pocahontas are perfect. The movies are geared towards children, meaning the words aren’t difficult, specialized or particularly fast, which is something any beginning student needs. Since the material is familiar, you are in a position to listen for words in the new language that you know in English. Plus, you can find videos with subtitles to help practice listening for words while also getting a feel for the native accent.

2. Go to a supermarket

Supermarkets are excellent places for trying out a new language

Supermarkets are excellent places for trying out a new language

Take some time to amble around a store, checking out the different words associated with different foods. You’ll have no trouble matching pictures to words. The food section is particularly useful since it will give you an upper hand in reading menus or requesting food at restaurants without a particular topping.

3. Change your computer/phone language

As soon as I changed my phone settings, I realized how quickly I was learning really useful words. “Reloj” must mean clock since it’s now below my time icon. “Tiempo” must mean weather because when I look up the daily temperature predictions, that word is in bold. My internet bar now displays “buscar”, so that must mean search. And, since I look at my phone quite frequently, the words seamlessly become second nature.

4. Read a Book

I love reading in my free time, and while I’m used to paging through A Brave New World or To Kill A Mockingbird I switch to easy Spanish book every other day. The local libraries have tons of options, even translations of popular English books, so if there is a book you’ve been meaning to read, try it out in Spanish. Kindle book version are really nice because if there is an unfamiliar word, you simply tap the word and it’s defined for you. By switching every day, I get to follow the adventures of El Gato con Botas but also sink my teeth into something more intellectually meaty.

Filed under: Language Learning, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Alyssandra Barnes is a recent journalism graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Drawn to discovery and adventure, she is currently living in Santiago, Chile to explore Latin American culture. Believing that fear should never be a limiting factor, Alyssandra likes to push herself in extreme sports, including scuba diving and skydiving. Read her blog at http://alyssandrabarnes.wordpress.com/. has written 3 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Tom G. October 9, 2013, 3:36 pm

    Very helpful suggestions! Seriously. The kind that make you say to yourself, “D’uh! Why didn’t I think of that?”

    I especially like changing the language on your phone. The word/picture association does become automatic. And I think I will start listening to my favorite songs in another language.

    Your article was very helpful. And unlike all the spam I get in my comments filter, you can tell I really did read your article by my comments! LOL!!

    TomG.
    Author, Dealing with the Dragon

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  • Andy October 13, 2013, 6:02 am

    #3 has been really helpful to me over the years. You won’t really become more fluent, but you will learn words in proper context.

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    • Wade Shepard October 13, 2013, 9:44 pm

      For sure. I’ve also found that twisting the things you do everyday into language learning endeavors is one of the best ways to practice — but real fluency comes from more formal, tiered type study and instruction (whether in class or a private instructor). I always find myself getting stuck at a plateau with languages right after I know enough to have conversations and get whatever I want. Getting beyond this hump takes a lot of time and effort.

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  • gar November 25, 2013, 11:53 am

    I’ve been struggling with learning Spanish for a couple of years now. I get by but that is about it. I can’t carry on any conversation more complex than the “Good morning. How are you” type.

    I have tried many different commercial language learning programs but haven’t found any of them to be very helpful. Formal classes are somewhat helpful but have not been the answer for me. I understand the need to learn proper verb conjugation but it seems to me that learning to conjugate verbs should come after actually learning rudimentary communication – basically learning a language the same way a baby does. Anyone know of a program like this?

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