Learning A Language On The Go

I love learning new languages. This doesn’t mean that I speak many languages, since I tend to forget languages that I don’t use. What I enjoy in the learning process is the challenge of acquiring new ways of thinking: different grammar and syntax. The best part of learning new languages, in my opinion, is the exposure to different cultures. A new way to speak is a new way to think, and a new way to behave.

My mother tongue is Hebrew, but it should have been Arabic – my parents’ language. Unfortunately my parents used this language as their secret language, whenever they didn’t want us, the kids, to understand what they were talking about. I studied literary Arabic in high school, which was a torture; both the teacher and the learning program were bad. The learning program was mainly designed to prepare us to the military service in the intelligence, so we would be able to follow the Arab media. The class was missing all the fun of learning about this vast culture.

When I was 16 I decided to learn French. I started with a Linguaphone kit at home. It had 6 cassettes, three books: a textbook, an exercise book and an exam book. It wasn’t an easy way to learn a language, and since then linguaphone have improved their teaching methods. I registered to a French language school, which I really enjoyed and continued learning there for several years. This language knowledge helped me when I registered to do my Master degree and found out that I needed a second foreign language (I had to know English to start with, since most of the learning material is in English). I could either pass the test or take classes, which meant higher tuition, more time spent at the university, and less time to work. I passed the test. During my Master studies, I got a scholarship from the French embassy in Israel to study French in France for a summer. That was an incredible experience for me.  It is a lot easier and faster to learn a language when you are in a country that speaks it. 

My old Linguaphone French learning kit

I did take some French classes in Sacramento and in Seattle. I love these classes but they are time consuming and I find them very grounding, if you want to travel during the year. Thankfully these days there are such a variety of advanced methods to learn foreign languages that one doesn’t need to attend a class for this. I love language courses that offer classes on the go, meaning you can listen to them while walking, driving, or sitting anywhere in the world.  When I’m home I’m always busy doing something (like writing this post) so any language learning kit that required that I sit down and open a learning book at home is doomed to collect dust. Luckily, my local library (the amazing King County Library System) offers many downloadable language learning audio books. I downloaded several methods to my phone and tried them while walking. Some I really like and enjoy my learning time, others I find to be really bad either the learning program or the recording quality. Below I share some of  methods I tried and liked.


Dr. Paul Pimsleur (1927-1976), who thought French at different universities in the US, did a research on the psychology of language learning. He found out that the natural way to learn a language is to imitate the way we learn our mother’s tongue: First we learn how to speak and compose different sentences, and through this process we figure out  grammar and syntax. Based on his findings he developed Pimsleur Language Program.

A few years ago, when I had a hyper active Siberian Husky dog who needed several walks a day (not the best match for me), I used the walking time to learn German. Learning the language using Pimsleur method was fun. Every lesson lasts for 30 minutes. It starts with a short conversation in the new language, followed by translation of the new words, and oral exercises to practice speaking and composing sentences. Pimsleur method is like a private language lab - you work on your pronunciation constantly.  There were some lessons that I had to repeat, to understand them better. My German knowledge came handy when our neighbor who was visiting Germany got sick and spent a month in a hospital there, where no one knew English. The only way to reach him was to speak German. I haven’t practiced German for several years, so unfortunately I forgot most of the language I have acquired.

Walking  Tia and learning German

 Innovative language

I downloaded these fun audio books from my local library. I tried the Spanish for beginners and the more advanced French lessons. These language courses are great. Each lesson lasts for about 10 minutes. It is designed like a conversation between two people: one is a native speaker and the other is an American who knows the language but wants to learn more. Each lesson starts with a short subject introduction, which is followed by a dialogue in the new language, translation, and then oral practicing. I found that the short lessons are a lot easier to focus and concentrate than the long ones. During the conversation with the two guides you get to learn about the culture as well. In the Spanish lesson I learned about the 12 grapes people eat on New Year’s Eve: one grape with each bell strike at midnight .

Innovative Language’s website offers different products to help with language learning, such as a word of the day email, or a phone app. Many services are offered for free.

Living language

This is another audio book I downloaded from my local library website. I tried the course Starting Out in Arabic. Each lesson lasts for 15 minutes; it starts with acquiring basic vocabulary and then builds up language skills – conjugation and composing sentences. It is very different from the two previous methods, but I find it to be fun and efficient.  

As I wrote at the beginning, the best and most efficient way to study a language is to be in the native speaking country. Traveling and lodging can be costly, but there is a solution for that too.


My friend Linda told me about this international organization. Servas was established in 1949 as a non-profit organization to promote cultural exchange between people from different countries. Today it is active in 128 countries around the world and it is mainly volunteer-run. You can register to Servas as a volunteer, if you wish to host in your house people from different countries. If you are looking to visit other countries, Servas matches people with local hosts that share similar interests. There is no payment, just a requirement to stay with your host for dinner, so an actual cultural exchange will happen. My friend Linda toured France for three weeks staying exclusively with Servas' hosts who also helped her to practice her French with them.