Learning a Foreign Language Without Going Broke

In keeping track of all these numbers, one of the figures I haven’t been posting is what this is doing to my bank account.  An old saw about language learning is how incredibly expensive it is by necessity.  You need to go abroad and be immersed in the language in order to learn it, you need to pay for lessons, you need textbooks, you need this, that, and the other thing.  Basically, learning a language is a wildfire that can only be put out with money.

This really isn’t the case.  Nobody needs to go abroad to learn a language, and if you mostly teach yourself all you really need to be spending money on is books.  I am in a fortunate financial position to where I can treat this like a full-blown hobby and toss some money at it fairly regularly, but I am not tossing a particularly large amount, and were my position more tenuous, I feel like I could be doing pretty much exactly what I have been doing even more frugally.  Whether or not this current spending pattern will carry me all the way to the end of this journey remains to be seen (it won’t, I know I’ll be spending money on tutoring to get my speaking level up to speed when I’m ready for that), but for now the budget seems to be working as well as I could ask for.  So let’s dig through some receipts and see how much this hobby’s cost me.

  • Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate, Fiction, Used Copy, eBay, $3.99
  • El Principito, Fiction, Used Copy, eBay, $3.98
  • El Maravilloso Mago de Oz, Fiction, EBook, Amazon, $1.07
  • El Superzorro, Fiction, EBook, Amazon, $6.45
  • Harry Potty y la Piedra Filosofal, Fiction, Used Copy, eBay, $5.77
  • El Odio que Das, Fiction, EBook, Amazon, $8.57
  • Celia, lo que Dice, Fiction, New Copy, Amazon, $12.90
  • Matar a un Ruiseñor, Fiction, New Copy, Barnes and Noble, $14.94
  • Harry Potter y la Cámara Secreta, Fiction, Used Copy, eBay, $4.03
  • La Ciudad de las Bestias, Fiction, Used Audio Book, eBay, $4.95
  • A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish, Vol 2, Reference Textbook, Used Copy, Amazon, $14.98
  • Breaking out of Beginner’s Spanish, Non-Fiction, Used Copy, eBay, $3.99
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month for seven months, $76.93


  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $66.65
  • Amount Spent on Non-Fiction Books: $18.97
  • Amount Spent on Services: $76.93
  • Total Spent: $162.55

A couple of notes on what is and is not included in this.  I could have included the Rosetta Stone copy I began learning with.  On the one hand, I didn’t pay for it, so I shouldn’t need to list its cost as an actual expense.  On the other hand, it was paid for, so if someone were to try and replicate my path they couldn’t hedge their bets on a copy falling out of the sky and into their laps.  On the third hand (people have three hands, right?), I wouldn’t recommend it as a worthwhile use of time for learning.  So, yeah, not on the list.

Next to be considered is Netflix.  Now, I didn’t get a Netflix subscription specifically for language learning, it was something I already had and which I use regularly as its own thing, so it might be fair to not include it at all, but rather consider it as a “utility” cost.  I mean, I didn’t list the cost of my internet service here, or, like, my power bill, either, despite those both being absolutely essential for my language learning.  However, in the case of Netflix, I think it hems a little bit closer to a luxury than a basic utility, and its usefulness for language learning is essential enough that I think it is fair to include its price.

So yeah, less than $200 in seven months is not exactly bank-breaking.  Around half of the expense is just for Netflix, which comes along with its own benefits and is something a lot of people have access to already, but even including it comes out to an average of around twenty bucks a month.  A lot of those expenses are in the last three months, though, as my need for books to read has increased, so what that average actually is doesn’t look the same.  If we were to look at June specifically, I purchased La Ciudad de las Bestias, Breaking out of Beginner’s Spanish, El Superzorro, Harry Potter y la Cámara Secreta, Celia, lo que Dice, and El Odio que Das, which with including Netflix comes to $51.88 for the month, which is probably a more accurate baseline.  Going forward, I think I’ll include this information in the monthly update blogs, see how this all looks in the long run.

Now, as I said earlier, I could have done things more frugally than I did.  I’m a bit of an impulse buyer at heart, and some of the things I got could probably have been gotten at a better price.  Oz is as cheap as it is because the book is in the public domain, and I could have easily gone for more public domain books than I have up to this point.  And along that line, Project Gutenberg is full of public domain works in other languages for no cost, if you’re willing to read off a browser/jump through hoops to convert a file to be readable on a Kindle, where I’d just as soon spend a dollar on the convenience and to know that it’s gonna be formatted right.  Additionally, there are a handful of books bought places other than eBay, which could easily be considered a mistake, as eBay’s pricing on used books just can’t be beat.  Can’t control what is and isn’t listed for sale, though, so some things were paid a premium on just to have them specifically.  Also can’t control when I wander into a Barnes and Noble and wander out with a full-priced book.  …I mean, I can control that, but I don’t wanna.

This all isn’t even including libraries.  The Denver Public Library has a ton of Spanish language books which I haven’t been taking advantage of, purely out of the convenience of shopping from my desk.  Movies and television shows, too, though the availability there is probably spotty.  Also worth noting is Children’s Library, a website full of online children’s picture books for free which I used a lot in the early going; I would have spent quite a bit of money if I were to have bought all the books that I read there.  There is a good chance that I could have gotten ahold of everything that I have up to this point without spending money at all were I more willing to utilize the free sources out there.  And that chance would jump to 100% if I were, ah, a bit less, shall we say scrupulous, when sourcing my EBooks and the sites I am willing to download them from, if you get my meaning.  I’m sure most people do.  No judgements.

Anyway, this is a hobby that is expensive in a lot of ways, with the amount of time, effort, and energy needed to be invested in it.  The one place where it doesn’t need to be expensive is in cost.  And with all those numbers out of the way, let’s get into the other numbers for the week.

Tuesday 7/03

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 830 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~40 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Wednesday 7/04

  • Anki: 150 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 670 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Thursday 7/05

  • Anki: 110 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 810 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of El Odio que Das, 1 short story of Celia, lo que Dice, ~60 minutes

Friday 7/06

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1050 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1.5 chapters of El Odio que Das, ~40 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Saturday 7/07

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1820 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1.5 chapters of El Odio que Das, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Sunday 7/08

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 2010 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of El Odio que Das, 1 short story of Celia, lo que Dice, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Monday 7/09

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 2040 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of El Odio que Das, ~70 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of The Magic School Bus, ~20 minutes


  • Total Anki: 900 cards reviewed, 70 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 9230 XP, 420 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 6 tv episodes watched, 120 minutes
  • Total reading: 11 chapters and 2 short stories read, 430 minutes
  • Total Time: 24 hours 30 minutes

So Duolingo might be spying on me, because after saying last week that I expected to have fully finished the Spanish tree, they went and updated it with around 50 new topics.  I’m still waiting for the response to me complaining about not winning the lottery, universe!  Anyway, this update is both a positive and a negative, because now the tree is more robust in what it covers, and I could more strongly recommend it as a great source for learners, but at the same time a lot of what’s new is beginner level stuff that I don’t strictly need the practice on.  I’ve spent most of my Duolingo time since the update just carving through topics that I already have a really strong grasp on.  I’ve been doing basically nothing but the test-out options on those new topics so far and passing through them without getting stuff wrong.  It feels a smidge like a waste of time and I would have preferred to have done this stuff months ago, when it might have been more useful.  But that’s a minor complaint about a free service, so I’m not going to go on a tirade about it or anything.  Hopefully as I cut my way through it I’ll find new and interesting blindspots in my knowledge I can train up.

After finishing the first Harry Potter I was at a bit of an impasse, because I’d apparently bought the second book too late as it was still in the mail.  I did have some other choices on hand, as evidenced by the front half of this blog, and the first thing I picked up was Celia, lo que Dice, which had been pointed out to me as a classic of native Spanish children’s literature.  I read the first story and…

Well, I didn’t hate it, but it’s not really to my taste.  Bit too twee and darling.  I wasn’t really into it, so I went for El Odio que Das, which is one of last year’s best-sellers, probably more easily recognized by its English name, The Hate U Give.  I feared it would be another knock-me-on-my-ass-for-not-being-ready situation and were that the case I’d just have to struggle through until Harry Potter y la Cámara Secreta arrived, but I got into it easily enough and am enjoying it enough to where I don’t want to put it down.  La Cámara Secreta arrived soon after I started, but I’ll hold off on it until I finish this one, much as it pains me (HP is very important).  I’ll be sure to get Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban ordered a bit earlier, so I can just keep on the Pottertrain for a while.  Not sure on if I’ll return to Celia.  I’ve read two of the stories in it around the other reading I’ve been doing, and wasn’t too keen on either of them.  Maybe I’ll try again at some lull in the future.

Overall another solid week.  It’s getting physically easier for me to read in Spanish, by which I mean it isn’t as exhausting to do at long stretches, so I’ve been reading more and for longer as a result.  I haven’t been holding to my goal for the month of watching and listening more.  At least as much and as consistently as I would have wanted.  Think I need to step up my listening game and put on my serious face about it.  Gotta either put up or shut up.  I did notice that The Magic School Bus original flavor was on Netflix and watched a bit of that.  Much better than that awful reboot.  Maybe I can up my game with that.

Well, that’ll do for this one.  TTFN.

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