Learn a Language Without Leaving Home

There is a myth that when you live abroad, you automatically learn a foreign language. This is unequivocally not true. I have many friends who have lived in Spain for 3+ years and can barely speak any Spanish.

There’s another myth that if you don’t live abroad, you can’t learn a language. This is also not true.

Living abroad definitely helps, but it isn’t everything. What is nice about these tricks is that you can do them from your own home.

Change Your Phone’s Language

Go into your phone’s settings and change the primary language of the device. I really wish I had known this earlier.

iPhone language settings

When you switch your language, ALL of your applications switch. Every Facebook notification. Google Maps directions. Privacy settings. All day, these words flash in front of my eyes. I don’t even think about them anymore, but they play to my subconscious mind.

Wondering how to say “attach a file”? I don’t even have to think about it. Adjuntar un archivo. Send an email? Mandar un correo.

Most things on your phone are intuitive with familiar little icons. But it won’t always be easy. Sometimes you will want to bang your head against the wall while trying to adjust some complicated setting. But it’s important that you never change it back. Those frustrating moments are when you learn. No pain, no gain.


There are many free podcasts designed for novice language learners. Download an app and search for podcasts in your language.

I used and Coffee Break Spanish and it taught me so much They tell a story throughout the series, and after each short episode they explain the vocabulary and the grammar.

They also have one called Slow News in Spanish. They read the news, but in very slow Spanish. Baby steps.


More than anything else, I credit Duolingo with teaching me Spanish. I would play it for an hour every single day until I beat the entire game.

Duolingo teaches you vocabulary and basic grammar through repetition. A study found 34 hours of Duolingo is equal to a semester of college classes. Treat it like a video game and just have fun. It’s important that you do it every day.

I also used an app called Memrise. It teaches you vocabulary with flash cards and repeats old words to reinforce them in your long-term memory.

Children’s Movies

Children learn their own language from watching cartoons. Why should you be any different?

Children’s movies use much simpler words, they deal with simpler ideas, and they have simpler plots. I watched Shrek in Spanish probably a dozen times when I first started with Spanish. I had already seen it, so I knew what was going on and could pay attention to the language.

[Just now, I was editing this post in a cafe, and my Colombian friend behind the bar came over and asked me, “What means swamp?” I got really excited and shouted, “Pantano!” He nodded and said thanks. “You know how I know that?” I said, “Because it’s where Shrek lives!”]

On Netflix you can watch movies in English and put Spanish subtitles at the bottom. As you get more comfortable, you can watch them dubbed in Spanish. In animated movies, they actually sync the character’s mouth movements with the words.

What’s great about watching movies that are originally in English is that you will still understand many of the cultural references and jokes.

Kindle eBooks

If you want to read a book in another language, try reading it on the Kindle app. When you don’t understand a word, you can click on it and a translation appears at the bottom.

It makes life so much easier when you don’t have to open a physical dictionary every time you don’t know something.

Highlight the words you don’t know and add a note. The process of typing them is important to retain them in your memory.

Choose a children’s book. The Little Prince is a good starter. Then maybe the Harry Potter series. I’ve read The Alchemist in Spanish and Portuguese.

Vocab Lists

My friend Dave taught me this trick. He is the best non-native Spanish speaker that I know. Every day, he opens his notebook and fills the entire page with new Spanish words on the left side of the page. On the right side, he writes the English translation. He gets the words from books, newspapers, anywhere he can.

Sometimes I ask Dave about a certain word in Spanish. His eyes light up and his head begins spinning. He will tell you the word, along with 20 different synonyms. He is a pro.


There is a website called iTalki.com which allows you to take a language lesson from a native speaker over a video chat. You can read the reviews of the teacher and watch their introduction video before you choose. And you pay for it on a class-by-class basis so you can always change teachers if you want. At times, classes can be as cheap as $5-$10 an hour!


If you don’t live in a foreign country, you can pay for Tinder professional. Believe me, it’s worth it. When I was learning Portuguese, I started swiping in Brazil. I had amazing conversations with girls there. They were happy to help me practice their language.

Be upfront and honest. Tell them that you don’t live there but are looking to practice. Tell them you are passionate about learning about the language and culture. Most of the time, they will be happy that you want to know about their culture.

Only one time, I had a girl say something like, “So you’re just using people?” She got mad and unmatched me. I remember making note that she used the word “utilizar.” Tinder is full of people trying to use you for your body, and here I am interested in your culture and your language. Até logo.

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