I am not gifted with an ear for foreign languages, yet I've been able to learn some Spanish and a bit of German. I've done it through perseverance. I have not found any shortcuts, but I have established a few "best practices" that are useful.
The first step is to decide that you really want to learn a language. It takes time and effort. Unless you really want to make it happen, it won't.
You need to choose a language. There are lots to choose from! Check out http://www.omniglot.com/language/index.htm for learning tips and a nice overview of which langauges are used where.
Try different educational materials and methods! Computer based training, audio courses (CD/DVD/MP3), video training, books, online interaction and language interchange. Different methods work for different people. You absolutely MUST obtain the Anki flashcard program. Download it from: http://ankisrs.net/ and look into the massive number of flashcards already created by other users.
Right now, the cheapest way to get an extremely solid background in almost any foreign language for no cost is to look for free version of the FSI/DLI courses. The FSI courses were developed by the U.S. Foreign Service Institute and are in the public domain. The DLI courses were developed by the Defense Language Institute, a United States Department of Defense (DoD) educational and research institution. You can find the legally free copies of most of these courses on the internet if you look around. Good places to start looking are;
If you look around, you will even find a bittorrent with about 28GB of files that contains almost ALL of the courses!
I went through about 60% of the FSI Spanish course and found it to be useable and very academically solid. The FSI courses are good, but I found them to be somewhat dry. As long as you are going with a free product, they are a great way to get a feel for the language.
Michel Thomas makes a very important observation in his advanced Spanish series. Don't be impatient and in a hurry when you are trying to speak in a foreign language. It seems to take longer than it really does. If you are always frustrated, people are not going to want to talk to you in that language.
The Michel Thomas learning CDs are useful for getting a quick leg up in a new language. His course helps with the conjugation with a very simple and effective approach.
http://soyouwanttolearnalanguage.googlepages.com/languagee-books is a wonderful source for finding language learning resources!
One word, podcasts. You can find podcasts in almost any language and they are pure gold. You can hear native speakers discussing things that are interesting to you.
Start your German podcast search with the phrase: "Podcasten auf Deutsch" or "Hörbücher". Within the result set, you can narrow your focus with:
Start your Spanish podcast search with the word "audiolibros".
This last tip is a really good one. As soon as you have the basics, get access to a dictionary in your preferred foreign language. For Spanish, I use http://www.rae.es , which is the dictionary of the Real Academia Española. Looking at the definitions for a Spanish word in a Spanish only dictionary is difficult but very educational. Many times I will revert back to a standard translation source, but at least I keep plugging away learning a little each time I try.
This page sourcecode was last updated: August 27, 2013