Best Way to Learn a Minority Language at a Budget-Friendly Cost
Minority languages are beautiful but extremely hard to learn.
Not because of difficulty level, complex grammar, or drastically foreign sounds and accents, but because of the scarcity of resources available for learning them.
Let’s take the minority language of Sicilian, for example. It is a romance language, and closely related to Italian, but many people know little to nothing about it.
When languages are in the lesser interest of most people, it becomes harder (and a lot of times, more expensive) to learn them. But just because you are a little more limited to your options than people learning popular languages such as Spanish or German, doesn’t mean you should give up on your dream.
I know on a personal level just how hard it is to learn a minority language and maintain a budget
I was ten years old when I first became interested in languages. I would spend hours in my mom’s office carefully drawing out a map of each continent of the world, making sure I got every detail of the borders right and that I didn’t misspell the names of little countries.
But out of all the continents I drew, I was most attracted to Asia and Africa.
It was about one month later that I decided I was going to learn Hindi and Bengali–yes, as a ten-year-old. I was fascinated by the beautiful Hindi script and would spend hours trying to imitate the intricate design of Sanskrit. I researched about which Indian language I should learn according to my interests and dream of going to India.
As a result of my research, I found that Hindi was the official language so it would be more beneficial for me to learn Hindi if I wanted to travel to India and be able to talk to the majority of the country in a language they understood, but Bengali was a local Indian language spoken in the region I was most fascinated by.
While I could find multiple upon multiple Hindi language courses online and in stores, I could barely find any Bengali courses that would teach me from beginner to fluency. Bengali is an example of a minority language.
Even though I took a hiatus from my Indian language learning to pursue Mandarin Chinese (of which I took two years of classes and studied four years now on my own), my passion for rare languages never quite burned out.
I also tried to find resources for learning Efik, a local language of a people group and state in Nigeria. I did a little bit of Maltese and Swahili. And the minority language I probably spent the most time trying to learn was Urdu.
So, from you to me, I give you the best ways to learn a minority language without having to empty your pockets to the last few pennies.
1. Make a List of All Your Available Resources
While there aren’t many, there are some resources you can use to learn a minority language, even if it’s an old, dusty textbook you got from a retail shop.
For example, when I was studying Efik, I barely find anything that would actually teach me the language instead of just about it.
However, after doing some Google searches, I found a PDF of a Bible translated into the Efik language, and then at the bottom of each chapter was a translation and key word and sentences that were used.
I just did another search, and there are actually a lot more resources for learning this little language now than there was when I was about eleven. So, have hope, things change and more products come to the market each year.
Make a list of the resources you do have available, regardless of cost, and then compare them. You might actually end up with a larger list than you thought you’d have.
Innovative Language is a quite popular website for learning any language, specifically known for its audio lessons, video lessons, structure, and amazing organization and teaching methods. What you might not have known is that they also have courses in language such as Afrikaans, Finnish, Hungarian, Serbian, Mongolian, Persian and Nepali.
Surface Languages is great especially in the beginner stage and if you’re wanting to learn just enough of the language to get by in the country. They have a variety of language courses that are absolutely free, and both websites are also apps.
2. Find Cheap Textbooks Online
Believe it or not, there are textbooks in just about any minority language available on retail sites.
To prove this point, I just did a search on eBay for Sicilian textbooks. Within a few seconds I found about five Sicilian textbooks, some as cheap as $12.
While websites like eBay might be the cheapest route to take, Amazon also has several resources available for learning languages, too. I also did a search on Amazon for “learn Sicilian,” and phrasebooks, grammar books, dictionaries, and cultural books came up for a variety of prices.
3. Check Local Libraries
About a month ago, I went to the public library in my city and found a ton of language learning books. I ended up taking home five textbooks for learning Arabic, idioms in Spanish, Hindi grammar, and about the history of economics in China.
While those might not be minority languages, my point is that your library actually has a lot more resources than you might think.
Additionally, I saw several books for learning Hungarian, Romanian, and even Yiddish.
These are free resources, completely available for you! I feel like in the internet world of today, language learners forget about all the free resources within a few miles away from them.
4. Use Professional Teachers and Community Tutors Online
Sites like italki and apps like HelloTalk have become tremendously popular among language learners today. These resources are all about connecting with native speakers of your target language and learning through immersion. You can definitely use them to learn a minority language.
I personally love using italki, and I schedule lessons with my teachers about twice a week for Chinese.
However, italki has professional teachers and cheaper community tutors willing to teach you just about any language.
For example, when I was starting to take an interest in Urdu, I found about four community tutors in the language willing to give me a lesson any time, and about two professional teachers.
5. Turn Brochures and Magazines into Textbooks
If you’ve visited the country before or you plan to, make sure you pick up a ton of brochures, travel guides, or interesting magazines written in the language. This is an easy but a powerful way to improve your vocabulary when you learn a minority language.
Also, you can subscribe to foreign magazines online or read and watch that country’s news.
Now, take those brochures, magazines, and news articles and turn them into something you can learn from. Highlight words you don’t know and learn new sentence structures by the way things are written.
6. Ask the Experts Questions
Although you might feel like the only person in the world trying to learn a minority language right now, I promise you, you aren’t.
There have been people before you who have learned these languages as well, and people who are trying to learn them at the same time as you.
So, what’s my point? Ask the people who have done it before for help or even someone who simply has good knowledge of how to learn any language, regardless of rarity.
Some examples of these ‘experts’ are people you read about or hear about who have done it before you, professors or people working in linguistic departments, and even famous bloggers such as Benny Lewis or Olly Richards.
Get in touch with these people, whether it be through handwritten mail, an email, or a direct message on Instagram.
I’ve done this myself, actually. When I was having trouble getting out of the gap between beginner and intermediate level of Chinese, as well as not having enough money to afford lessons from native speakers or purchase many courses online, I emailed Olly Richards from I Will Teach You a Language (who I am subscribed to) and asked for his advice.
I sent him a list of about three complicated questions! But, within forty-eight hours, I received a personal response from him giving me guidance.
I highly recommend you doing the same.
7. Review and Rewatch the Same Materials
Believe it or not, you can learn something new every time you reread or rewatch something.
You might pick up on something you didn’t before, or realize that you know what that word means, or find one you accidentally skipped over.
I encourage you to rewatch the same YouTube videos you’ve been watching and reread the same magazines, books, or articles you’ve been reading when you learn a minority language. It also allows room for more enforcement of words you’ve been studying as well as tests your comprehension.
Don’t Give Up Just Yet, There is Hope!
You can learn a minority language and you will.
All you need is the right mindset, strong motivation, and the creativity to make the most out of the resources already available to you.
You’ve got this, my fellow language learner! I believe in you, because it’s happened before, and I know it can happen again!
Keep heart and bring this language back to life.