The Best Ways To Learn A Foreign Language Today

70-Something And Learning A Language? How Doug Threw Himself Headfirst Into His New Life Overseas

Are you thinking, as I am, about moving to another country and wondering if it would be smart to learn a new language?

Recently I attended a fantastic conference in Orlando produced by the folks of Live and Invest Overseas to find out as much as I could about the possibilities of relocating. I came away with a good plan for doing it right, including their advice to learn the native language of the country where I decide to move.

At the conference, 21 different countries were presented. Yes, 21 different opportunities all over the world! Ten of the 21 countries are Spanish-speaking. They also included my favorites. So it was an easy decision for me to focus my language efforts on Español.

I’m a retired engineer. I do research. I found that there are lots of ways to learn a language. Google Translate is a good and free program if you are determined to go looking at potential locations without studying the language first. Duolingo is another free program for learning the basics; how to find the bathroom, order lunch, etc.

You can hire a teacher, real or virtual, here in the States. It’s expensive and requires a lot of self-discipline.

Or you can go for it with a total immersion program. That means going to a school and living with a family in a country that speaks the language you want to learn.

All the studies say it’s the most effective method. It can also be quite affordable. And it gets you into the culture, and offers you a new adventure.

English and Spanish have lots of words—170,000–250,000, depending on who you believe. The average English-speaker knows about 20,000 words for use in daily language. That’s a bunch. Here’s good news: You only need to know about 3,000 words to understand 90% of what you read and want to converse about most. It’s called effective fluency.

Even better, it’s just as easy for a 70-year-old, like me, to learn a language as it is for a child. Honest, that’s what the studies say.

You can find immersion schools in almost every country. Some offer programs in several countries. The good ones hire accredited teachers, so check. Fees for the classes and homestay vary, as does length of stay. Really that depends on your starting level of knowledge.

By enrolling in an immersion program, in addition to learning a language, you will get a feel for the culture and the people and real insights into how it would be to live there.

I chose Antigua because friends told me that the schools here are very good. Plus, I wanted to visit Antigua, a well-known tourist area with an established expat population.

So here I am at the Antigua Plaza Spanish School in Antigua, Guatemala, ending my first week of an eight-week program. So far it’s terrific.

There are many schools here (50+). My school is US$115 per week for 20 hours of one-on-one with a teacher. I’m also paying another US$115 a week for a private room (with my own bathroom) in my adopted family’s house. My program includes three meals a day, five days a week. Weekend food is on your own. So US$230 a week for school, room, and five days of food.

It works like this: four hours a day one-on-one with a teacher. Mine is Alma; she is an accredited college graduate and quite experienced at teaching. We are together 8 a.m. to noon each weekday. Then I do tarea (homework) in the afternoon.

I was assigned to a local family and have my own room and bathroom. Elda cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner for me. There is plenty of time to sightsee, and the weekends are open. The curricula includes about half conversation and half grammar instruction.

Tomorrow is Saturday, so I’m climbing a volcano. Well, at least part way. There are lots of things to do in the area, and the school owner, Ana Díaz, has connections to all things tourist.

Right now we are working on basic grammar, verb forms, sentence forms, etc. I’ll be memorizing words and verbs and sentence structure. Then we will venture out into the local world and practice talking to natives.

In the meantime, I’m getting to know my family, being a part-time tourist, and learning about the ups and downs of this particular part of the world. It’s all very exciting, yet not at all overwhelming.

As I complete the program I’ll update you and offer my views on the experience. Hasta luego.

Doug Rosecrans



“Kathleen, for learning Spanish, which online- or DVD-based course do you recommend?”

–Daniel T., United States

I’ve not had personal success with any of the online courses I’ve tried over the years, though I’ve known people who’ve been happy with the progress they made with the help of Rosetta Stone products. Languages don’t come easy to me. I struggle still with the two languages I’ve been trying to learn for decades now, French and Spanish.

My French was improved significantly with the help of a four-week total-immersion program I enrolled in a few months before we moved from Paris to Panama City. From 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. five days a week for a month, I was not permitted to speak a word of English, thanks to my strict professor. My basic skills progressed more in those four weeks than they had in all the four years prior that we’d been living in Paris.

Here in Panama, my Spanish has been most helped by the patient tutorage of Olga, our housekeeper. Olga is from Colombia and speaks no English. She teaches me a new word or two each day and corrects my grammar.

The best way to learn a new language? Get a boyfriend or girlfriend, as the case may be, who speaks only the language you’re trying to acquire. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s how our daughter Kaitlin learned to speak French when we were living in France.