I began teaching myself Spanish last year, but having a busy lifestyle and no immediate need for the skill allowed me to take a casual approach to the endeavor. The process of finding the resources and tools to accomplish my goal has taught me a few things that can help other self learners.
To keep costs low, you can start with books and multimedia at your local library. There are also free internet resources such as:
You can also subscribe to free language podcasts such as:
Chinese Learn Online
Coffee Break Spanish
To get your feet wet, start with the podcasts as hearing a language can give you a foundation to work with. You can also purchase language sets with CDs and books online and at book stores, but be careful of their braggadocios claims and the total number of words or phrases for the cost of the kit. $20 is affordable, but if you only get a few dozen words, you are wasting your money and time.
Podcasts should be hosted by someone that natively speaks your language. Some podcasters didn’t clearly speak my language, and I spent nearly as much time trying to discern the explanations as the new words and phrases. This seemed to frustrate the process, but these same sources can be advantageous later in the learning process helping to improve your dialect.
You will find that many languages have anchor points that allow you to grasp, then build upon words you already know. These cognates, or words that are the same or similar between two languages, can provide a sense of familiarity that can reduce the seeming daunting task of learning another language. Many cultures don’t have words to represent new ideas or concepts and will adopt the originators word. For example, in Japanese dessert can be (dayZA’tow) deza-to, which, when heard, sounds like the English word.
The same is true of your native tongue. United States English is a hodgepodge of many languages and with Hollywood we have years of exposure from varying cultures. Spanish, for example, is sprinkled in many of our western movies from the golden age to the modern screen. You may find that you already know more than you think as you begin putting the pieces together.
As your vocabulary grows to a few dozen words, take advantage of available television channels that are broadcast in the language you’re learning. Again, Spanish is advantageous in the US as we have PBS V-me over the air, and depending on where you live you may have radio, satellite, or other broadcast stations airing Spanish programs. With services like Netflix, HULU, and Crackle, you can also watch movies and shows in their native language.
Watching childrens programs and cartoons that are designed to help them learn and improve their language skills, can help you as well. Over time you will begin to grasp the words, phrases, and strengthen your language skills. Eventually the full programming will become more understandable and you may find yourself renting or buying foreign films and not needing the subtitles.
Finally, share your new skill with friends and family. You might be surprised at who knows the language and can help make practice more fun. Don’t be shy at restaurants and other venues, as the waitstaff are unlikely to be anything less than supportive of your attempts to use the language.
Learning a language starts with vocabulary, transitions to grammar and context, and finally will bring you closer to the cultures from which they sprang. Language acquisition will help you see the world, not only in a new way, but from a new perspective. So be prepared for the paradigm shift, it can be a little disorienting, but will enrich you immensely.