How to Learn a New Language (For Free)

How to Learn a New Language (For Free)

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We’d been living in a small Italian town for a little under half a year when I realized that I still had no idea how to have a simple conversation beyond, “Hi, how are you?”. I had been getting by in Italy with my experience being a Spanish speaker. I also kept telling myself that since I was only going to be here for a year, there was no point in really trying to learn a new language now.

Fast forward a few months and I learned that our assignment was going to be extended an additional two years. That was enough of a kick in the butt for me to know I wouldn’t be happy with myself if three years from now I was still on the struggle bus with Italian. Obviously, looking at my Italian phrase book every once in a while wasn’t cutting it. I needed a new plan. I decided to attack my learning plan from several angles.

There’s an App for That


Quit wasting your time on your phone playing Candy Crush and learn a new language instead. I love my daily dose of bite-sized lessons from Duolingo. You can earn points, trophies, and play against friends which makes learning a new language feel more like a game than work.

Because Duolingo is on your phone which is already attached to your body it’s really easy to remember to take 2 minutes and practice every day. If you want, they’ll even remind you so you don’t mess up your Duolingo streak! All my slightly OCD and competitive people, this app is for you if you want to learn a new language.

A screenshot of the Duolingo app
Snip from Duolingo

Duolingo uses a mix of learning techniques to help you learn a new language intuitively. They even have a feature that asks you to pronounce and repeat back phrases so you can practice your pronunciation. I couldn’t really ask for much more in a free app!

Google Translate

Honestly, how did people function before Google? When I first arrived in Italy, I probably would have been eating horse meat if not for this app. Thank you Google Translate. Add it to your phone and you can instantly translate text, voice, handwriting, and even conversations.

A screenshot of me using Google Translate
Using Google Translate camera feature to quickly translate products in Italian on the fly

Google Translate isn’t going to teach you how to learn a new language on its own. But it’s a great supplement to add to your learning plan whenever curiosity gets the best of you and you want to know how to say something in the moment.

Foreign Language Podcasts

One of the techniques that I think has really accelerated my progress with learning Italian is listening to the RadioLingua Podcast series, “Coffee Break Italian“. The Coffee Break podcast series is free to download and is dedicated to helping you learn a new language in French, Spanish, German, Italian, or Chinese. They also have a series that teaches children’s French and Spanish.

For any of you that read my post on my new obsession with podcasts and feel the same, you will love this podcast. The host, Mark is from Scottland and you will absolutely love his accent. I degress. Give it a go and from the very first episode, you will be speaking snippets of your new language.

Netflix n Chill in Another Language

Have you ever been told to watch children’s cartoons to help you learn a new language? Let’s face it, Peppa Pig’s voice is just as annoying in Italian as it is in English. Instead, I skip the cartoons and whatch shows I actually want to watch. I use the subtitles and language settings on Netflix to customize my learning experience.

When I was just getting started, I would watch in Italian with English subtitles. As my language skills improve, I keep the Italian language, but I switch the subtitles to Italian as well.

A screenshot of the Netflix series "Baby".
Learning another language open up a new world of Netflix binging.

I didn’t realize it at first, but living in Europe, my Netflix options are a little different than what was available when I was stateside. If you don’t see the language options you want based on where you are watching your Netflix from, you could always try a simple hack like a using a VPN. I use Private Internet Access.

MWR Library for Foreign Language Courses

Although our assignment is five hours from the nearest military installation, I can still access the MWR Library online. The online library has so many free resources dedicated to helping you learn a new language. Mango Language courses are an amazing free resource. Normally it’s $19.99 a month, but you can take unlimited classes in over 70 different languages for free with your MWR access.

Go to your local installation library to register. If you don’t have a MWR library near you, just contact and ask for help. If you’re not Army, (I’m sorry) contact your service’s library for next steps.

Chat with Fluent Speakers

Well this one is easy for me since I live in a small Italian town, I have fluent Italian speakers everywhere I turn. If you’re not living in a foreign location, you can still find fluent speakers with a little work.

Use to find other people who are interested in practicing, learning, or even teaching a language (for free!). You could also put your request out on The Book to see if there is anyone who would like to work with you. Our small military community is actually pretty diverse with plenty of spouses who might be happy to have someone to speak their native language with!

Although it’s not free, you could hire a tutor to get some one on one instruction. Even better, can you find someone who would be willing to work with you in exchange for you working with them in English? Something like a language learning swap?

Hit the Books

If you have the discipline, you can always go about learning a new language in the old school way. I like using a workbook as a supplement to all of the above ideas. Yes, you can rent books from the library obviously, but sometimes it’s nice to write notes in your book or keep it on hand for whenever you need it.

These 10 Minutes a Day books are great because they also come with digital downloads, stickers to label things around your house, and flashcards. A book like this will not teach you an entire language but it’s a good supplement or an intro to a language if you are going traveling/vacationing and want to communicate with locals.

For a quick business trip or vacation, I also appreciate Rick Steves’ handy phrase-books/dictionaries. They are tiny and you can throw them in your bag to study up so that you can shop, order your food, and take an Uber in the local language.

Recruit Someone to Learn with You

Your partner, a friend, your kids, really any warm body will do. Recruiting somebody to learn a new language with you will make it a little more fun and hopefully keep you motivated to be consistent and keep up with it.

My husband and I listen to the Coffee Break podcasts together I mentioned above on long car trips. It’s nice to have someone else who is also a beginner to practice with and review new words. Of course we’ve also turned it into a competition, of who can speak Italian better (Obviously it’s me).

Be Brave & Be Consistent

Last but not least, remember to be brave. Anytime you learn something new (a new language included) you’re bound to make mistakes. Learning a new language definitely is included in this theory. So go ahead and try! Stumble through it, no matter how horrible you sound, people will appreciate that you are trying.

When you’re out in the real world and practicing your new language, don’t be surprised if people recognize that you’re an English speaker and speak back to you in English. Don’t feel defeated, just keep speaking and trying. Be consistent even when you feel defeated or silly. Remember that the person you’re talking to might also be excited to practice English with you.

In bocca al lupo!

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