Suck At 2nd Languages? Me Too, But There’s Hope…!


I’ve been kicking my language learning into overdrive this summer.  We’re going to the motherland (i.e. Bosnia) next week, and there’s nothing quite so inspiring to get past the “Hi, how are you?/Zdravo, kako ste?” than knowing you’ll be hanging out with your husband’s 80 year old grandmother.  I needed to master Bosnian small talk, and quick!

{now is as good as a time as any to mention that I really, really suck when it comes to learning languages.  but I refuse to fall into the whole, “some people are just gifted and others aren’t when it comes to languages”, because if you really, really put time and effort into something, it can happen!  it may be a lot more difficult for me (and you) than others, but we can still make progress, promise!}

I searched language learning blogs for tips and tricks on cramming (and cramming fast!), and these are the things that have been working best for me and my learning style this summer.

1. Hiring a tutor from the motherland via iTalki.  Seriously, my girl has been AWESOME, and I really look forward to our twice weekly Skype dates.  She focuses the conversation on topics I’ll actually encounter, rather than having me memorize rote phrases, AND provides me with a digital textbook and learning materials.  And for $10 an hour*, it’s pretty much the cheapest language lesson you’ll find, from the comfort of your own living room. (*rates vary by teacher)

2. I’m as skeptical as the next girl when it comes to programs, but the Pimsleur program has been a dream.  The first set of CD’s is uber cheap (although it does get considerably more pricey if you decide to stick with it to set #2…but considering its effectiveness, I may just take the plunge!)  I believe the reason this program has been effective whereas others haven’t is that it focuses JUST on speaking.  No books, no typing vocabulary words into a computer program, ALL you do is repeat what the speaker is saying for your 30 minute lesson per day.  But it’s in a conversation format, so the time flies by quickly, and you can basically do it anywhere…on the treadmill, toilet, making dinner…as long as you feel comfortable talking out loud in those places, that is.

3. Watching cartoons in the target language is a super simple way to immerse yourself on a very basic level.  Depending on your language, there should be freebies available on Youtube, but I went straight to the language learning source for kids, Dino Lingo, and ordered DVD’s complete with flashcards.  They are completely random and make about as much sense as any of the English speaking cartoons these days, but I guess the plot isn’t really the point;-)  The biggest benefit from this has been building that vocabulary bank thanks to LOTS of repetition and slow(er) speaking from the characters.

4. Technology is great, but it will never replace my love of a good ol’ fashion notebook.  I write everything in this thing…it’s filled with vocab, phrases, and my basic intro monologue when introducing myself for the first time, complete with small talk topics I’m practicing.  And I take it EVERYWHERE with me so that if I find myself with 30 minutes on the subway or 60 minutes standing in line at Whole Foods (I kid you not!), I can whip it open for some practice, and at least my time is being spent effectively.  Finally, I keep track in my little notebook what I practice every day, to hold myself accountable and to track my progress.

Check out more of my tips for learning a very foreign language.  I’ll keep you guys posted on both the travels (yay!) and language learning (half-hearted yay!)  And I wish all of you who may not be immediate rockstars at the language you’re trying to learn the BEST of luck!


For those of you bi/multilingual folks…what tips/tricks have helped you cram in a short period of time?  Share below!


By: Jessica Tiare Bowen




  • This tips are amazing.. I always try to use apps to learn new languages, but somehow I really suck in it.
    Wesley Travels recently posted..Travel Hacks Everyone Should KnowMy Profile

    • Used York City says:

      Using apps is a great idea, Wesley! I’ve tried a few, it’s a great way to cram language learning in when you have time to kill waiting for appointments!

  • Heather says:

    YAY! It will be SO MUCH FUN to put your language practice into action! Your hubby’s grandmother is going to be so impressed.

    I’ve used the Pimsleur products before and think they’re great! I used to have a 30 minute commute to work so the timing of the lessons was perfect.
    Heather recently posted..Touring Karosta Prison and Liepaja’s Secret Soviet PortMy Profile

    • Used York City says:

      Awesome, what language were you learning, Heather? That’s such a great way to spend a commute!!!

  • Catherine says:

    Some great ideas for learning new languages here. Would never have thought about having conversational practice with someone actually living in the country over the internet. I bet that works really well, and that’s a great price!
    Catherine recently posted..5 Airbnb Houses To Rent When You Win The LotteryMy Profile

    • Used York City says:

      I know, I couldn’t believe the price! A fraction of what face-to-face tutoring costs here in NY!

  • Freya says:

    Best way to learn a new language is living for while in another country and only speaking that language.
    Of course that’s not always possible and in addition it’s difficult to keep up with another language unless you use it regularly.
    Freya recently posted..EBC Trek Day 6: Tengboche to PangbocheMy Profile

    • Used York City says:

      So, so true, Freya! Immersion is the best way to force yourself to learn the language, and if that’s not possible practicing daily with a native speaker is super important!

  • Corinne says:

    Jessica, These are all great tips. I love learning languages, but never seem to get to the “fluent” level…ever.
    Corinne recently posted..Weekend Travel Inspiration – Travel ExcerciseMy Profile

    • Used York City says:

      Thanks Corinne! Fluency seems a far, far way off at this point, but I’ll keep you posted if I have a magical breakthrough!;-)

  • Tamara says:

    Cartoons! How brilliant! I used to take Japanese language in high school and college and I remember using children’s books and comic books in Japanese to see if I could read them!
    I could!
    Of course I forgot it all since.
    I think notebooks are timeless. Real notebooks, that is.
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    • Used York City says:

      Oh comic books are a great tip too, Tamara! I’m pretty awful still when it comes to reading the newspaper, but maybe the comics section would be a bit easier!

  • Such a timely post, Jess! I actually just (as in a few hours ago) bought Rosetta Stone to learn Portuguese. They were having a huge sale, so I thought it would be a good time to invest. I’ve been wanting to learn Portuguese for the longest time now – especially since I’m really into samba and spend a lot of time at the Brasil Brasil Cultural Center here in L.A. Although they offer language lessons there, it’s just easier to take lessons from the comfort of home. And I’ve never heard of italki, but I’m totally going to sign up and incorporate it into my Rosetta Stone lessons. Obrigada! 😉
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..5 Tips for Your Camping TripMy Profile

    • Used York City says:

      Yay, so glad it was a helpful post, Dana! Best of luck with Portuguese! I wish Rosetta had a program for Bosnian/Serbo-Croation, but alas, nothing yet! Keep me posted on your progress!

  • Mike says:

    Congrats on learning Bosnian, Jessica! Absolutely if you put your mind to it and spend the time you can pick up most languages easier than you think. I took German and loved it. You have me curious about the learning tools you suggested as I’ve wanted to get at some new languages myself when I get caught up with some things. And I’m glad I’m not the only who still uses an old fashioned notebook with paper sometimes! Oh you could also practice with Gillman…I bet he is a great listener 🙂
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    • Used York City says:

      Gillman is by far the BEST listener I’ve ever met;-) In fact, I think he’ll be bilingual long before I will…!

  • Maria Falvey says:

    iTalki and the notebook sound like the most valuable tools a language learner can have.
    Thanks for the tip on iTalki, I hadn’t heard of them. Best of luck but doesn’t seem like you’ll need much of that, you’re well on your way.
    Maria Falvey recently posted..Monster in the ClosetMy Profile

    • Used York City says:

      So sweet, Maria;-) I’ll be sure to update you in about 6 months so we can see how much has actually stuck!

  • Good work! Luckily, I was raised speaking my second language so it’s easy for me, though not very practical anywhere outside of the country (Ukraine).
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted..What Gives Worth vs. What Gives JoyMy Profile

    • Used York City says:

      Definitely a perk! My language won’t be super practical either, but will help me out when hanging out with the family!;-)

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