Step No. 1: Start With the Basics
Before you can form sentences, you're going to need to get acquainted with some basic vocabulary. If you've decided to learn a language in preparation for an upcoming trip, it's best to focus on phrases that might actually be of use when navigating a foreign country. Chances are, "¿Hablas íngles?" will come in handy more often than "¿Donde está la biblioteca?"
Tinycards: When you need to memorize something, there's nothing quite like a good set of flash cards. This free app offers flash card decks for studying vocabulary in more than 20 languages, so you can find just the words you're looking for.
Drops: Got five minutes to spare every day? Then you have time for Drops. The app (available in five languages) adds a little fun to the process of learning vocabulary, providing a game-like setting in which you advance by connecting words with the correct corresponding images.
Step No. 2: Throw in Some Grammar
Once you've got a grip on some key words and phrases, you can start to piece those words together into simple sentences, and that means it's time to start getting into verb conjugation. When you're first learning a new language, keep it simple and stick to nailing the present tense—a little later down the road, you can start adding in the past, future, and subjunctive.
Duolingo: This addictive, user-friendly app walks readers through various exercises involving repetition, listening, translation, and writing. Here, you can start putting together sentences while picking up plenty of new vocabulary along the way.
Step No. 3: Speak Up
If, by the middle of the year (or even the end of the month), you've stuck with your vow to learn a new language, you might decide it's time to make an investment in your studies. With the right language-learning software, you can find more thorough lessons, and start to practice speaking aloud. With enough practice, you can even become close to fluent.
Babbel: For $13 a month, Babbel's lessons offer in-depth explanations of grammar conjugations, pronunciation courses, and exercises for both listening and speaking.
Rosetta Stone, $149: One of the most renowned language-learning softwares, Rosetta Stone takes an immersive approach to teaching. Instead of asking its users to translate from their native language into the one they are learning, it relies on image-based content to connect vocabulary to concepts and objects. They also offer additional live tutoring sessions, to supplement the software's offerings.
Step No. 4: Immerse Yourself
The best way to learn a language is to surround yourself with it: Listen to music and podcasts in the language of your choice; watch movies; read books and newspapers. Keep it up, and you just might have a compelling excuse to travel the world—or, you'll at least be able to enjoy a foreign flick without reading the subtitles the whole time.