Back to School: Learn to Say Thank You in Ten Languages #30DaysofGOOD

Posted by Eric Steuer and Jessica De Jesus

Things are easier said than done, or so the old adage goes, and we couldn't agree more. That's why we do 30 Days of GOOD (#30DaysofGOOD), a monthly attempt to live better. This month we're going "Back to School" and committing to learn something new every day.

All of my friends have at some point mentioned wanting to learn another language. They usually have the same excuses as I do for not pursuing it. No time for it. I’m too old to start now. It’d be crazy expensive, right?

Luckily, there are lots of high-quality resources online that make learning new languages easier than ever before. And while none of them can perfectly replicate the experience of language immersion, the myriad podcasts, video lessons, and interactive communities devoted to language learning offer a host of simple (and often free-of-cost) ways to get started.

Today’s task is to choose any ten languages and learn to say “thank you” in each of them. While this is mostly just a symbolic exercise (you’re not gonna last too long in France constantly saying “merci” to everyone), it’ll be a fun way to familiarize yourself with the wide world of online language education. Plus, you’ll have a nifty new party trick to show off this weekend.

You’re probably already familiar with programs like Rosetta Stone, which many people around the world have used to great success. If you’re not ready to commit to something that comprehensive (or expensive), take a look at a few other starting points:

  • For some real quick basics, check out YouTube accounts like InDifferentLanguages and japanesepod101. They publish videos that run down how to say common phrases in a variety of languages. (These two videos in particular will help you complete today’s task.) Once you’ve mastered your hellos, goodbyes, pleases, and such, you’re ready to move on to this handy list of 100 Excellent Language Lessons on YouTube.
  • Consider downloading a few audio lessons from a podcast provider like the Radio Lingua Network. Not surprisingly, iTunes is a great place to find a wide variety of language instruction podcasts, but be sure to look at user reviews so you don’t get stuck with a stinker. Also, take a look at the massive directory of free language podcasts compiled at Open Culture. There’s a ton of options out there.
  • The idea behind Lang-8 is pretty cool. It’s a “language-exchange social networking website,” where users can practice writing in the language they’re learning. You write a journal entry, then send it to someone who is a native speaker of your chosen language. That person edits, corrects, and makes suggestions for improving your writing. In return, you check the writing of a user who is learning to write in your native tongue.
  • Duolingo, which became available to the public just last month, teaches users new languages via an innovative system that simultaneously crowdsources the translation of websites. It is totally free to use and came about as the result of a MacArthur fellowship and a National Science Foundation grant.