Since my previous post was a rant against cheapskates who are just looking for the cheapest language course, the title of this post may surprise you.
Since 2006, I have probably spent over S$ 6000 all in all on learning Mandarin. In my eyes, if you want to achieve something, it does make sense to invest in it. If you are not willing to commit a single dollar to your language learning, you are probably not really committed to make it a success. And you’re probably better off by not even starting.
But there are a lot of ways in which you can reduce your expense without compromising your learning experience. Based on my own experience, here are a number of Do’s and Don’ts for learning a language on a budget.
1. DO learn from other people’s experience.
Everyone has a different learning style, but if you are setting out to learn a language, it can help to ask people around you before you start. Did they feel the language was difficult? What did they need to spend most effort on? Which materials / lessons / online subscriptions were most helpful for them? How did they use those materials? Take their experiences in account before signing up or buying anything. A lot of books may look really fun, but may end up simply taking up space on your bookshelf without being of much help.
You can reach out to personal friends who have gone before you, or post questions on forums dedicated to the language you want to learn. We want our main site to become a place where you can find other people’s opinions on courses they took. It’s still in an early stage, but hopefully we’ll soon become a gathering place for feedback on courses.
2. DO select and buy good materials
一分钱，一分货: you get what you pay for. So even if you’re on a tight budget, do not pinch every penny when it comes to learning materials. The most expensive stuff isn’t necessarily the best, but don’t buy a book simply because it’s only S$ 20.00 while the book that came highly recommended is S$ 44.95. If the S$ 44.95 book is the best book, you should buy it. You’re going to spend lots of time using your learning materials, and you don’t want those hours to be wasted just to save an extra S$ 24.95.
3. DO – Find a language exchange partner
If you’re on a budget, finding a language exchange partner is a wonderful way to cut cost. You essentially can get a private tutor this way, and pay for it by being a private tutor in your native language in return. Language exchange is a good way to exercise and get speaking time, but I recommend you do get yourself formal materials, and depending on your learning style, join a class as well.
Native speakers can tell you where you make mistakes and teach you new expressions, but unless they are trained teachers, they may not be particularly good at explaining the language. So make sure you have your own “source of grammar”, whether it’s a book, an online course or classroom based lessons.
1. DO NOT Engage a private language tutor
Private language lessons can be great value for people with a high enough budget and a lack of time. If you’re on a budget, that probably doesn’t apply to you. To save your budget, you can engage in language exchange and get your one-on-one attention that way, and join a class or use an online method to get your dose of grammar.
2. DO NOT Look for the cheapest language course at all cost
Price is not the same thing as value. Just because something is cheap, it does not mean it is great value. If you join a very cheap language course and it turns out that the teacher is not qualified, you have just wasted your money on a course that is not going to help you to achieve your goal and become fluent in the language. You have to look beyond the dollar amount to determine the value you are getting.
Beside price, do take these factors into account as well:
- Ratings, comments and recommendations by previous students (soon on our main site)
- Is what is covered suitable for my own learning objectives (e.g. is it a conversational, written or all-round course)
- What is the class size (smaller class size means more attention — faster learning)
- What are the teachers credentials / qualifications (the more experience, the better)
You don’t necessarily need to sign up for the most expensive course either. But maybe you find a course that is really suitable, with very good referrals, at a slightly higher price than the very cheapest course. After you finish that course, you will speak the language better than if you had joined the very cheapest course.
And isn’t that what learning a language is all about in the end?