Life Hacking on the Homestead: Learn a Language

Please see the introduction to this series for my vain attempt to explain where I get off posting this on a self sufficiency blog.

A few of my thrifted reference books, a page from my German journal, today’s To Do List, a bundle of flashcards, and, yes, a Rammstein CD.

I have been learning German for free for months now and I have picked up enough tips and tricks on language learning that I could write a small book. Here’s the highlights:

Das Internet, baby. There are buttloads of websites that will teach your the language of your choice for free or cheap. Poke around, read reviews, try their free stuff on for size. When you find one you like, make a commitment to weekly lessons – almost every site offers the option to have the lessons e-mailed to you once a week to keep you on schedule.

Before I tell you which sites I use, let me say that given the linguistic differences and varying popularity of the various foreign languages out there not all sites are equal.  Also, a site that offers great tutoring in French may have crappy Spanish instruction because the instructor is less enthusiastic or lacks training. There are a lot of ways to approach language teaching and they aren’t all suited to each language – or each learner.

The bulk of my German language learning online has been through (No, really.)  Not all topics on are covered so thoroughly as this one, but nonetheless I think the site as a whole may be getting short shrift. At any rate, the German section is astounding. I have been rooting around in there for months and I have yet to hit bottom. I haven’t even delved into the forums yet. If you want a whole lot of quality instruction with a whole lot of available background information and great learning tips and German is your target language, I would wholeheartedly recommend

For edutainment I go to YouTube. There, I watch German-language children’s programs like Piggeldy und Frederick, as well as hilariously-produced language learning programs like The Angry Family.

When rote memorization and flashcards get old but I want to study something specific, I go to a non-profit site called Folks there create and post simple learning games that you can play and rate. A fair number of them seem to have been posted by German language teachers (because the reference chapters and page numbers in their game titles) that have been a big help to me on some of the stickier points of German. I passed my test on numbers, counting, and telling time with a 100% score just by playing games on this site. I did no other studying.

Your library is your friend. (Mine is my BFF.) They have scads of language resources, both physical and web-based. Mine even offers a completely free, interactive online program that teaches about two dozen languages. They have workbooks, DVDs, and CDs I can yard home in my car and they have more that I can download and use from home.

Use your tools! Barry Farber, author of the very helpful book How to learn any language: quickly, easily, inexpensively, enjoyably, and on your own says to use a multi-pronged attack. Books, audio, flashcards, immersion – whatever you can get your hands on, and all at once. Want to take two or three online courses all in the same language? Do! Listen to music in your target language every day. Translate a newspaper or magazine article daily (or weekly when you’re really new). If there’s a language club nearby, join up (they are usually free and involve a lot of food and coffee). Use target-language recipes. Keep a journal in your target language. Write your to-do list in your target language. (Except for the club, which isn’t an option for me because I live in the sticks, I do all these things. Daily. When I get a little better I will get an online pen-pal to amuse with my poor grammar and outrageous word choices.)

Savings: Thus far I have spent about ten bucks on learning German, and all of that was spent on a tower of books from the thrift store. (Score!) The German version of Rosetta Stone costs $500, as would a quarter of German classes from my local community college.

Viel Glück!

– Amanda

P.S. No article about language learning would be complete without these words: Merci Mlle Weingarten! I loved all four years of French I took in high school, and I am convinced that her instruction has helped me with my German.


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