Personal Improvement Column

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 Personal Improvement 

Learn a second language on the cheap


February 3, 2016
One of my relatives believed the Russians planned to take over the United States in the 1950’s, so she decided to learn their language.

She took all the classes offered and then to further her skill, she volunteered at a local Russian community center.

That worked for her. And she learned to make the best piroshky.

Now, though the fear of another country running our government has diminished, speaking and understanding Spanish, Korean, Japanese or any other language benefits us in many ways.

For me, knowing Spanish helps me communicate with many of my service providers.

When you’re in the market to change careers or better your current one, a second language improves your job prospects.

Studies show that while learning another tongue, you develop better mental health and stave off dementia. The process helps you get comfortable with other cultures. And when you’re fluent, you feel successful.

If you want to learn another language, you don’t have to buy expensive books, audio tapes or take costly classes. Try some or all of these methods instead.

Download a smartphone app

With everything you need installed on your iPhone or Android, you can get started learning whenever you have some down time like when you’re commuting on public transportation or waiting for a doctor’s appointment.

You always have the “class” with you so you can devote as much time as you want to the lessons.

Many, including all of the ones I’m going to discuss here, are free.

Duolingo says spending 34 hours working within their system equals one university semester.

Voted iPhone’s App of the Year and Google’s Best of the Best, both in 2013, Duolingo encourages you to set goals for yourself while playing learning games.

Fun and whimsical, MindSnacks is designed for kids. What better way to tackle another tongue than as a child might. Solve puzzles to become proficient.

Memrise teaches more than 200 different languages as well as other subjects like math, history and geography. You can even join a study group composed of other Memrise users.

Brainscape offers students customizable “smart” flashcards to expedite their learning of a new language. Besides phone apps, you can try different websites.

Learn online

Sites such as Livemocha encourage studying another tongue with native speakers, teachers, language experts and others in a community setting.

You finish a lesson, submit it to the group who reviews it and gives you feedback. After a few practice sessions, you can take part in a conversation with the others, all at no cost.

At Babbel the initial lessons in any language are free. The site teaches by listening and writing and if you want to continue, a three-month subscription runs $26.85.

Open Culture has compiled a list with links of free courses and audio books that teach other languages.

You might also consider listening to podcasts like those in the “Coffee Break” series.

Hearing the language spoken works better for some students than seeing it in print plus you have a better idea of how the words sound. Not everyone wants to spend all their time in front of a screen.

Go offline

Invest in materials by shopping for dictionaries, phrase books and written courses at secondhand bookstores or library book sales. You can also check out what you need from your county or city library system and work at your own pace.

If you feel more at ease in a face-to-face situation, take a language class at a community college.

Look for ones listed as non-credit, community education or continuing education and you may find one for as low as $100 a quarter.
This is a great place to find like-minded individuals to practice your new language with.

Build on your new skills

Once you’ve developed a foundation with your new language, add to your knowledge by doing the following:

  • Watch movies in this language.
  • Volunteer where your new tongue is spoken.
  • Find someone to converse with.
  • Ask a native speaker to tutor you (try high school students, they always need a little extra cash).
  • Read newspapers online.
  • Listen to international stations on TuneIn Radio.
  • Peruse blogs and newsgroups to learn the language’s slang and colloquialisms.
  • Adopt a pen pal in the country where the language is spoken.

Remember not all tongues are equal. Anyone will have a harder time conquering Arabic than Spanish.

You might want to choose an easier language for your first foray and then graduate to something a little more difficult. Select a language you will use in some way to make it worth your while.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

When I was young my family took a trip to Mexico. My mother, who taught Spanish, made sure she had her sentences constructed perfectly before speaking to a native so she didn’t say much.

My father talked frequently, but only in verb infinitives. Even so, the Mexican people understood him and he was able to get exactly what he wanted.

 Personal Improvement 

9 tricks to get a jump on 2016 money resolutions

Most people have some sort of financial resolutions at the start of every New Year, whether it’s to be debt-free or save more.

There’s something about having a clean slate when you flip to a new calendar year that can be quite motivating.

Here are some ways to evaluate your spending and put more cash back in your pocket – and you should start now, while you’re in the throes of holiday shopping.

Trick 1. Create a “fun fund” to cover small outings or extras that come up throughout the year.

You know how you’ve had to pass on that holiday brunch or happy hour because you’re flat broke this time of year?

You can find room in your budget next time if you start socking away as little as $5 a week now.

Physically put it in a jar, or set up an automated contribution to a separate savings account. I used this approach in 2015, and I saved up enough to enjoy a last-minute weekend getaway over the summer.

I’ve since replenished the fund and dip into it here and there for everything from salon appointments to dinner dates with my husband.
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 Personal Improvement 

Those heavily promoted $10-a-month gym memberships are great … But will you ever go?

Health clubs have a brilliant business model that counts on members who sign-up with the best of intentions rarely, if ever, showing up.

If everyone who belonged to a gym actually worked out on a regular basis there’d be chaos (for a deep dive into the economics of gyms, check out this Planet Money podcast.)

But the super cheap $10-a-month deals health clubs are touting these days are pure genius.

It’s the perfect play for customers who know they’re unlikely to actually go and are wise enough to reject a year-long contract that costs $30 or $50 a month.

At $10 a month — and no long-term commitment — it’s almost irresponsible not to embrace the financial risk and take another shot at remaking yourself into a dedicated gym rat.

I say another shot because I’ll bet these deals attract a surprising number of new members who’ve spent hundreds of dollars on unused memberships in the past.

Maybe even at the same club.

So what happens if you fail this time?
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 Personal Improvement 

Manage your life like a CFO

If you want to save money, you’ve got to manage your life much like the chief financial officer runs the company where you work.

J.D. Roth of the personal finance blog “Get Rich Slowly” just launched a course that can help you do just that.

The course aims to help you eliminate debt, master your money and achieve financial independence.

It includes a 52-week email series with the best lessons from the Get Rich Slowly blog and a 120-page guide called “Be Your Own CFO” with supplementary downloads.

You’ll also find interviews with well-known individuals in the personal finance sector including Jim Wang (the creator of Bargaineering), Ramit Sethi, Pat Flynn, Jean Chatzky, Gretchen Rubin, Mr. Money Mustache, Paula Pant and Adam Baker, to name a few.

After taking a year off, Roth realized that there was an aspect of personal finance he hadn’t yet tackled.

“I think it’s imperative that people understand that they are responsible for building their own financial future,” he says.

It’s easy to sit back and take advice from your real-estate agent, broker, banker, family and friends, but Roth notes that the advice isn’t always geared toward your best interests.
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 Personal Improvement 

Downsize Your Life for the New Year

A new year often represents a new beginning. One of the best ways to start off the new year right is to think about how you can downsize life a little bit.

This isn’t just about moving to a smaller home. It’s about looking at your lifestyle, and figuring out how you can make it a little bit simpler. As you consider what you want your life to look like going forward, it might be time to downsize a little bit.

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 Family, Personal Improvement 

How to Treat Poison Ivy – And Kill It If You Know Where It Is

Poison IvyOne of the staple of summer, it seems, is poison ivy. Whether you stumble upon it while camping, or whether you’ve got a problem with it on your property, poison ivy can cause a great deal of discomfort. Your reaction to poison ivy depends largely on your body chemistry, and how it responds to urushiol, an oily resin common to poison ivy, as well as to poison sumac and poison oak.

Reactions to poison ivy vary. My husband is quite sensitive to poison ivy. He breaks out in severe rashes when he comes in contact with it. I, on the other hand, am not as sensitive. While contact will produce some discomfort, it is not usually the full-blown rash my husband experiences. In most cases, poison ivy isn’t a serious problem. However, you will want to treat it as best you can to alleviate the discomfort until the symptoms subside.

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 Personal Improvement 

Setting Realistic Goals for the New Year

goalWhether you are preparing to set personal finance goals for the new year, or whether you have other goals in mind, the hardest part seems to be achieving success. Indeed, many of us set forth grand aspirations for the coming year — only to have those hopes dashed relatively early on. The problem is that, in many cases, we fail to set realistic goals.

While there is nothing wrong with dreaming big, someone with $30,000 in debt, and a low-paying job isn’t going to achieve financial freedom in eight months just because it’s a goal. You’re not going to lose 20 pounds in six weeks, and, even if you do manage to lose the weight, keeping it off is going to present its own challenges.

The key is choose realistic and sustainable goals for the new year. Here are some tips that can help you set realistic goals for the brand new year:

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 Personal Improvement 

How to Write a Thank You Note

Thank You NoteIn today’s fast-paced world, it can be easy to forget to say “thank you.” And, it often seems as though writing a thank-you note is something that is even more overlooked. My son recently had a birthday. He received plenty of gifts. And, because he’s used to it, he remembered to sit down and write notes thanking all of the givers for his presents.

Writing a thank-you note can be a good way to show gratitude, but also a way to help combat materialism. When you are grateful for something, you turn your focus to the giver, and their thoughtfulness. It’s a good idea to carefully consider the gift, and express your gratitude with a note.

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