Possible answer number one: absolutely nothing!
Possible answer number two: a small fortune
“Oink-oink” in Tagalog. And Spanish. And English.
source: Posturize on freedigitalphotos.net
OK, so that answer was kind of useless. Exactly how much have you spent on language learning, Stephanie?
A few people have asked me how much money I’ve spent learning languages, and my automatic response has always been “almost nothing”. Except that I started crunching the numbers and realized that I was kind of lying.
I absolutely think that it’s possible to learn a language without paying a cent. But I think that there’s another more important question at play here:
Right now, what do you have more of: time or money?
Every person’s situation is different. But no matter your personal circumstances, nearly everyone has a limit to both time and money. It’s a never-ending balancing act figuring out how best to spend both.
Let’s use me as a case study and take a look at my numbers over the past 15ish months.
1. courses and programs (books, software, audio, etc)
I didn’t need to buy any courses or programs when learning Spanish. Free resources – Destinos, FSI Basic Spanish, Duolingo, Notes in Spanish – are plentiful and of very high quality. Since I already spoke English and French, I felt pretty comfortable with my slightly messy and chaotic approach to learning Spanish.
With Spanish, I decided that I had more time than money to spend – especially since resources were so easy to find. Cost: $0
A year later, I started learning my second foreign language: Tagalog.
While there are lots of Tagalog-speakers all around the world, it’s not a very popular language for non-heritage speakers to learn. There are far fewer free resources and there’s nothing comprehensive that I can follow step-by-step. The idea of cobbling together a program based on what I could find online was overwhelming to me – especially since I had no idea if it would work. Tagalog’s grammar and sentence structure are pretty far out of my comfort zone.
With Tagalog, I decided that I had more money than time to spend – especially since there was no guarantee that I’d find appropriate resources. Cost: $85 for two courses (Tara Mag-Tagalog Tayo and Teach Yourself Complete Filipino)
I read a lot when learning a foreign language. I prefer novels, and I’m old-fashioned when it comes to books. I like being able to turn pages and feel the paper between my fingers. I don’t like reading novels on a screen.
In any decent-sized city, the public library will be able to provide you with books in most common foreign languages. I don’t live in a decent-sized city. I live in a village that’s part of a pretty good library system – so long as you only want to read in English.
I was able to request three Spanish novels through interlibrary loan, but two came up as missing and the third was only available for two weeks – no renewals allowed. I’m currently waiting for three Tagalog picture books from the Halifax Public Library. They’re the only three Tagalog-language books in the entire province. And they’ll take up to nine weeks to get to me.
I decided that buying books was worth the cost. I stopped buying books in English and instead started looking for well-priced books in Spanish (easy to do through Amazon or Chapters online) and Tagalog (easier said than done!). Once I move back to the Toronto area, I’ll stop buying new books and use the library and second-hand bookstores instead.
I’ve bought 15 Spanish books since May 2013. Cost: $154
I just ordered my first four picture books in Tagalog this month. Cost: $35
my upcoming italki tutoring sessions
My biggest gains in language learning have come from one-on-one conversations with a native speaker.
You don’t have to spend any money at all on Skype conversation practice. Free conversation exchanges are some of the most valuable and rewarding language learning experiences that you can have. You give your time in exchange for someone else’s time, and you both get to practice your target languages. Many of my language partners were also teachers, so I was getting a high quality conversation class in exchange for offering the same. Beautiful, right?
But there’s a time cost to language exchanges. Half of every conversation takes place in your first language, not your target language. There’s the hassle of scheduling a time that works for both of you. And sometimes – not often, but sometimes – language exchange partners just stop showing up.
If time is tight, then tutoring makes sense. The entire hour takes place in your target language, you can choose a time that’s convenient for you (and not feel guilty if you don’t have time for a week or two), and your tutor will almost always be there on time – after all, it’s his job.
Since I started taking classes on italki in July 2013, I’ve taken almost 130 sessions with various tutors. Most of those sessions were “free”, paid for with credits that I earned by teaching French classes. However, I did purchase credits three times – once when I was first starting out and unsure about teaching over Skype; and twice when I was already teaching over 40 contact hours per week at work and had to cut back on online teaching.
In other words, every time that I decided that I had more money than time, I purchased credits.
I’ve purchased italki credits three times in the past year. Cost: $300
One last look at the numbers:
It was very interesting for me to write this post, since I consider myself a frugal language learner. I generally tell people that I don’t spend much money at all on language learning.
Well, it turns out that that was a big fat lie! Please, pass the humble pie!
Kind of like this. Except made out of humble instead of apples.
(source: KEKO64 on freedigitalphotos.net)
Since I dove into language learning in May 2013, I have spent:
- $300 on tutoring (could have been avoided by doing language exchanges or teaching more)
- $189 on books (could have been avoided by not living in the middle of nowhere)
- $85 on Tagalog courses (could have been lowered by using only one course instead of two)
…for a grand total of $574. (Excuse me please while I go breathe into a paper bag.)
But here’s the thing…
That number could easily have been much much higher, just as it could easily have been zero.
Every time that I made a decision to spend money on language learning, it was because – at that particular moment – the time that I saved was worth more than the money that I spent.
Money is tight right now, so my language learning budget is set at zero for the foreseeable future. At this particular moment, money is worth much more than time, so my spending habits will change accordingly.
What do you have more of right now – time or money? The answer to that question will help you figure out how much you’ll spend on learning a language.
Ways to save money when learning a language:
- do more language exchanges and fewer tutoring sessions
- tutor your language online and use the credits to purchase tutoring hours
- look for meet-ups and free classes at libraries and community centres
- make friends who speak your target language.
- look for free resources online – forums and blogs are a great place to find reviews and recommendations for books, courses, videos and native materials
- look for second-hand books and language courses in stores or online
- use the library for picture books, novels and language courses
- swap and trade materials with other language learners
Beware these money pits when learning a language:
- Spending money on classes or tutors, but not doing anything on your own in between. An hour or two a week without any self-study in between is a waste of money. I’m speaking here as both a language learner and a language teacher: no one can teach you a language in an hour a week if that hour is spent reviewing basic greetings for four weeks in a row.
- Buying too many resources – which you then compare, research, dabble in, post questions in forums about, and order on your language bookshelf by colour and/or height. Spending too much time researching resources is a form of procrastination, and buying everything that Joelanguagelover2014 recommends on the internet is pretty much lighting a money bonfire. Pick one or two resources, start using them, and stop double-guessing your choices.
- Spending money on language classes that move too slowly for you or are too far below your level. You’ll be better off self-studying, doing language exchanges or working one-on-one with a tutor.
Please share your tips for saving money when learning a language!