Fun & Free: Learn A Language

language lessons

Language lessons are relatively cheap and a great way to bond.

Sometimes the stock market increases 15% year over year. Sometimes we bump up interest rates because growth and inflation and moving too quickly. And sometimes ordinary people buy unaffordable houses with strange loan products because the home is guaranteed to double in value (in a short, short time). That sometime is not today. While the country's fiscal vitality is showing signs of a perk up (except for a certain symbolic flagship auto manufacturer, that is), us ordinary Toms are having a tough go of it.

Rather than cry in our Mad Dog 20/20, we can make our own fun. We don't have to drop ducats on theater tickets, surf-and-turf specials, trips to St. Bartholomew's or season passes to Six Flags to have a great time on a date. You can get creative and do something much better. This time around, learn a language together.

I know, I know learning a language is hard. But, like most things, it's much easier with support and a practice partner. I've long been weary of people who claim an implicit superiority because they're multilingual (or multilateral, for that matter), but there's something pretty impressive being able to converse in another language. Due to the plastic (elastic, spandex-ic) nature of the brain, picking up a new language has great long-term impact on learning, reasoning and maintaining lucidity as we age. Good things. Plus, after picking up a little language you and your opposite number can say nauseatingly lovely things to one another without your friends being any the wiser ("No, te quiero mas"). Or you can even arrange exit strategies from awful, awful social situations ("Voy a matarme si ella dice una cosa mas") .  But how does someone go about learning a new language? There are three main ways:

You can take a class. While a class is not exactly free, it can be done on the cheap. A local community college may offer several language options (definitely Spanish) for a totally reasonable rate. An 8-week class (3 hours per week) at New York's Borough of Manhattan Community College runs $215. Deals in smaller cities are surely better. (Just for a comparison, a light, domestic beer runs about $5 in NYC. So five Miller Lites per week basically pay for Spanish class.) University Of Phoenix and other online schools offer slightly more flexible programs.

You can buy the CDs. This is a pretty good option. It's slightly more expensive than lots of regular courses but you can learn at your own pace and have the materials on hand for reference. This could be a great option for a couple that lives together. The rub is that discipline and scheduling are necessary to keep the learning going. The best-respected program out there is Rosetta Stone. It's to learning a new language what the actual Rosetta Stone was to deciphering ancient ones. With all of the materials you receive, the program is quite affordable (the Spanish 1, 2 & 3 bundle goes for $549), but lacks the ability to ask a real, live teacher a question. Read: Which Love Language Do You Speak?

And finally, the free option, find a native and make a trade. This is a weird option that has a couple of different ways of handling. You could make it a volunteer date and trade ESL help for foreign-language tutoring. You'll have to do research in your local community but opportunities exist out there. A great way for singles to learn a new language is to date someone who speaks the language you want to learn. Isn't this "duplicitous?" Sure, but is it any more duplicitous than only dating someone because you just want to sex them up or think they're rich and will buy you things? Read: One Love, Two Cultures: Making It Work

Like all massive undertakings, set goals and give yourself rewards. If you master conjugation of the present tense, regular Spanish verbs, treat yourself to a night of Vicky Cristina Barcelona and tapas (and Flamenco dancing, naturally). And when this bastard of a red-headed stepchild of an economy swings back in the other direction, try a vacation where you can speak a little of the local dialect. I know you feel stupid but the locals do appreciate the effort (except, in my experience, for a certain country between Germany and Great Britain).

Note: I do not recommend trying to learn just by watching subtitled films, I've seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ten times and only know how to say "thank you" in Mandarin.