If you want to learn to speak a foreign language, I have good news. The best way to do it is also the least expensive method – it’s free.
I went to Israel many years ago barely speaking a word of Hebrew. It wasn’t hard to exchange foreign currency, but besides that I was struggling. I immediately recognized that this was a problem since I was about to start a master’s degree program over there.
I didn’t have any money and I needed to learn the language “chic chac” (which in Hebrew means “quickly”).
I volunteered to work for an after-school program for Russian children who were recent immigrants to Israel. Those kids didn’t know a word of English, and since my “Roosky” was rusty I knew the only way we’d communicate would be in Hebrew. I was floored by the kids’ ability to pick up the language so quickly, and they inspired me. And you know what?
It worked! I spent less and less time with my gringo friends and more time with the Russian kids. Working with those kids turned out to be the best way to learn the language fast.
Within a few short months I was able to have a pretty thorough conversation in Hebrew. Granted, I had to go much further in order to be prepared for the master’s program. But the foundation I built by working with the kids was priceless. (Ultimately, I abandoned the master’s program, started my career and became the happy Pilgrim you see before you.)
How You Can Apply This:
If you are going to a foreign country for a few months, find a way to do volunteer work with kids. You want kids old enough to speak but young enough not to have learned English by watching the TV. You don’t need to make this your full-time gig. I suggest you volunteer three or four times a week, one or two hours at a time. That should do the trick.
If you don’t have the luxury of going to some exotic country for a long period of time, look for a heavy concentration of natives from that country in your own community. Find out what schools the kids from that community attend and try to volunteer (but make sure you teach anything other than English).
Have you learned a foreign language in an unusual way? How did you do it? Have you used this technique to learn something other than a language?