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3 Hidden Gems I Used to Learn a New Language

Let me guess: you want to feel like a local when you travel, diversify your circle, or get ahead in the workplace. But you hate practicing because the only thing you remember from your French II class is how to count to ten and ask where the bathroom is. Or maybe you're a little more advanced, but your accent is hard for native speakers to understand and they assume you don't know the language anyway so you don't bother telling them otherwise.

Ultimately, it's easier to stick to what you know than to force yourself to find months' worth of time learning a language you won't even use every day.

I get it.

...but that's the comfort zone talking.

I took every opportunity in my scholastic career to learn Spanish and was able to achieve B2 fluency. But once I finished school, I started regressing because I found it difficult to practice. After some searching, I found some tools that allowed me to stay plugged in and continue to improve my skills:

1. Disney+

I'd always heard that watching shows and movies in a different language could help you learn, but when I tried English dubbing with foreign language subtitles (or vice versa) it took a lot of effort to try matching words in one language with those in the other. Maybe that was helping subconsciously, but it seemed counterintuitive that I'd just end up focusing on the parts I could already understand.

Family animation is my favorite TV genre, and one summer I found myself watching Disney's Zootopia over and over and over again - to the point where I could've recited to whole film almost word for word. That's when it clicked! The perfect storm for getting some practice in! I started watching the film with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles (instead of mixing Spanish and English), which improved my vocabulary more quickly than before. Trying this could work with any of your favorite programs, and it's a great way to make learning more engaging.

Get the family involved, too! When the kids ask to watch Frozen for the 85th time, try watching together in that new language!

*Keep in mind that subtitles aren't always an exact match, and read here for more info on how to get the best out of your TV-watching experience!

2. Busuu

We've all been there and done that with language software, but I like Busuu because of how comprehensive it is. You can download the mobile app and learn one language for free, or get access to all twelve for a flat yearly subscription fee. The interface is also supported by web browser.

You're able to customize a study plan and set reminders to practice on the days you'd like. Take a quick placement test, input your goals, and the app will calculate an approximate date by which you should achieve them.

I chose the paid plan because a study conducted by the University of South Carolina found that "22 hours of Busuu Premium are equivalent to a college semester of language learning and [that] all participants [improve] after learning with Busuu for 16 hours." That means, at 30 minutes a day, you could achieve basic proficiency in a brand new language in just under a month and a half! You also get access to community features and special bonuses that get you reading, writing, and speaking like a pro!

By completing the lessons, you can finish your studies with official certificates from McGraw-Hill. Win-win-win if you ask me.

3. iTalki

iTalki is a web-based platform that connects students and teachers in virtual classrooms. It works similarly to Fiverr or Task Rabbit in the sense that you can choose which of the 130+ language options you want to learn and review instructor profiles to find the best fit. You'll want to check reviews and watch introduction videos to learn more about each instructor's teaching style.

Stay within your budget by comparing rates. Many instructors charge by the half hour, by the hour, or provide discounted bundles for multiple lessons booked at once. You can find trial lessons for as little as $3 to decide whether or not you want to move forward!

The best part about iTalki is the interactivity. Receiving hassle-free instruction face to face has been the most effective way to practice my speaking skills. The setting is efficient and judgement-free. I found tutors for Spanish and American Sign Language who I now consider personal friends!

Cherry on top: by choosing for iTalki you're also supporting independent contractors. Signing up to become a language tutor might be something to consider for yourself if you're looking for an easy side hustle!

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