May 26, 2018

How to Learn Any Language for Cheap

On a girls’ getaway to Beirut, the Arabic highway signs proved challenging. My saving grace however, was the fact that French is also widely spoken throughout Lebanon. Between their bilingual street signage and my vague memories of high school foreign language class, I managed to get where I was going. Years later when my husband and I returned to the Middle East on a long-term vacation, we considered ourselves fortunate that he was armed with an introductory knowledge of written Arabic. This knowledge helped us successfully navigate the bus system throughout the Kingdom of Jordan.

Budget-conscious travelers will be relieved to know that it’s possible to up your linguistic game affordably. Here’s how to learn any language for a relatively minor cash outlay.

Corporate Education:

My husband’s Arabic class was provided for free by his employer prior to retirement. Many companies offer language training to employees, especially if their business needs require a great deal of interface time with a particular cultural group. Check with your HR department to see what educational benefits you may be entitled to. If “the man” is willing to pick up the tab for you to learn any language, why not take him up on his offer?

Immersion Opportunities:

When we lived in Lake Garda in Italy, friends of ours passed on the DODDS education system and opted instead to place their boys in local Italian schools. Others utilized local playgroups to give their toddlers a language advantage. Me? I maximized my time at the grocery store. Since the Italian language happens to be written in an alphabet I’m familiar with, reading the food labels on produce bins and the backs of tomato sauce cans proved a fast way to pick up basic vocabulary. The folks at on the other hand, favor traffic signs in order to learn any language on the fly.

Auditory Materials:

Listening to language files while carpooling or commuting is an efficient use of highway or train time. Find a brand whose methodologies work for you, and start absorbing knowledge during underutilized blocks of time. In addition to your time to and from work, there’s also wait time in doctors’ offices, and down time while your kids finish up with sport team practice sessions. Consider borrowing such materials from the library if pennies are dear. This is probably one of the most flexible and affordable learning strategies out there. If you’re wondering how to learn any language without having to dish out for the trip of a lifetime first, auditory materials are a great starting point. Especially when you can pair them with matching written resources.


Whether you are viewing academic language videos on a tablet device, or activating the language feature when you watch DVDs, subtitles are a great way to beef up your language processing speed and learn conversational vocabulary. It works if you already know the language the actors are speaking, as well as the other way around. Since movie translations are available in practically any country, this is a “learn any language” strategy you can use around the world.

Phrase Books:

You may pick up an old-fashioned paper copy, or choose to download the phrase translations to your smartphone. Either way, you’ll have commonly-needed questions and answers on tap to use during your travels. Restrooms, menus, pharmacy orders and even hospital visits in a foreign country will all be less stressful. One of the best ways to learn any language will always be direct field experience. Phrase books may not provide you with conjugation specifics, but they will give you mad street skills in a hurry.


Chances are, you’ll find someone who’d be just as happy to know more of your language as well. Team up and barter tutoring sessions with each other for a win-win outcome. If teaching language isn’t your thing, offer another skill or service they may find useful.

These are my top tips for how to learn any language as affordably as possible. You can use them at home, on the fly in your destination country, or as part of a longer-term expat experience. Knowing how to communicate with the people you’ll be meeting will make all the difference in your travel adventures.

Photo Credit: Shirokazan