How to Learn a Foreign Language
Sometimes words do fail—especially if they’re not in someone’s native tongue. If you need some language lessons before your next business meeting, trip or way-out-of-town job, there are plenty of options to get you talking.
Though Jenny Schade went to kindergarten in Paris, the Wilmette, Ill.–based president of JRS Consulting was far from fluent when she returned to the city on a business trip as an adult. So for the last seven years, Schade has been working weekly with a private tutor. The personalized classes have helped her learn the business French she needs and, over time, to communicate effectively via email. Schade says that working one-on-one suits the changing needs of her business.
$50 per hour
Best for: Executives who need to tailor their learning experience as new opportunities arise.
Next step: Use a site like language-school-teachers.com, where searches can be narrowed down to tutors in your city or state (it also includes online tutors), or call the languages department of your local college for a referral.
When Michael Lundquist, the executive director of the Massachusetts-based Polus Center for Social & Economic Development, decided that he wanted to stop getting by on his high school Spanish (and a translator’s help) during trips to Central America—which included high-level government meetings—he turned first to classes, then to Rosetta Stone software. “It’s almost an immersion course,” Lundquist describes. “[It] uses images that really help you remember vocabulary.” The company recommends 120 hours of instruction in order to become conversational.
Best for: Visual learners who need an on-the-go experience.
Former investment banker Dustin Dumas Weeks took a position in Denmark and dove into full-on immersion. Aside from all the time she spent in her Danish-speaking workplace, she also took classes for 9 to 16 hours a week. “After three months, I was able to communicate well enough that the locals would not revert to speaking English to me,” Weeks says. “I could make conversation with my colleagues at the bank, shop in the stores and conduct business at the bank.”
Approx. $300–$3,000, depending on number of hours and accommodations
Best for: Fearless learners willing to feel a little lost on the way to fluency.
Weekly group classes
It makes sense that an engineer would want to build a strong foundation when learning a language. After trying to learn Spanish via DIY software, David Hashman, the chief engineer with Denver-based Road 9, turned to his local community college for classes. “I’m much more into understanding the structure of the language and the conjugation and everything else,” he says. He also finds the ongoing classes helpful for learning the written language that he needs for business.
Approx. $400 per course
Best for: Travelers who plan to return to a region or country many times, and would like the added benefit of local classmates for conversational practice.
Next step: Check the class schedules at your local college or community adult education program.
Pre-trip immersion at home
With just two weeks to go before his move to France, James Crespo, now the NYC-based president of Georg Jensen USA, hired a French graduate student to give him an intensive 10-day, eight-hours-per-day immersion course at his residence. Though Crespo reports that it was exhausting, it worked. “I didn’t feel comfortable until the second week in Paris, but it did kick in,” he says.
Best for: Fast learners who need just enough to get by during last-minute trips.
Next step: Contact your local university to find a grad student who can immerse you in your language of choice. Grad students usually have teaching knowledge, and they’re always hungry for extra cash.
New York City–based freelance writer JENNA SCHNUER doesn’t remember much Spanish from high school.