Saturday, September 20, 2014

Learn a Language for Free

It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of knowing foreign languages when you travel. True, many people around the world speak English today, especially many in the tourist business. But there is no substitute for being able to get around in a foreign country using a foreign language. It enables you to feel more at ease, to get off the beaten path, to get to know the locals.

The problem is that learning a foreign language, even to a "Schlafzimmer" level, requires considerable work and often even more expense. This is especially true the older you get, since young people often pick up other languages relatively easily. After all, we all learned English once, some of us when we were children.

There is a Website called Memrise ( that provides resources for learning a number of languages for free, including English. The courses are online, so you can work at your own pace. I am just starting to explore the site, having done part of the Basic Russian course and the start of the advanced German vocabulary course.

Be warned, the basic Russian course starts with the alphabet, which I thought I knew but discovered I don't know perfectly. I did better on the small part of the German vocabulary course I attempted, with 100 per cent accuracy, but suspect if I were to work on it longer I would start making mistakes.

The difficulty for some of us is that studying new languages may cause us to forget the ones we already know. Getting into a cab last night I mangled my address in French so badly that the driver said "English, please." Once when I had spent several weeks in Italy speaking only Italian, I found I was beginning to have trouble understanding English. I'm not sure what the cure for this is.

Memrise has a social element, which I have yet to explore, and naturally you can have access to more courses if you pay a monthly fee. Still, even the free part of the site seems to have a lot to offer.


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