10 Gift Ideas for the Language Learners in Your Life (Including Yourself!)

The season of giving is upon us! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Saturnalia, The Gregorian New Year, The Lunar New Year, or just TGIF, here are some gift ideas to help spread some love to those you know trying to learn a foreign language.

And don’t forget to pamper yourself a bit, too: if you’ve diligently put in the study hours this year, reward yourself with a little something something. Or if you’ve struggled to stay the course, perhaps it’s time to try out some new methods and materials. Here now are ten gift ideas for the language lovers in your life:

1) iTalki Credits

I have said it many times before, but I will say it again given its importance: you cannot learn to speak a foreign language unless you actually practice speaking it! It sounds obvious, I know, but so many would-be language learners spend all their time reading and listening, and rarely if ever apply what they’ve learned in real, human-to-human interaction. I know it can be really scary to speak with a native speaker, especially in the early stages when you hardly know any words or structures, but you must overcome this fear to succeed. There are many ways to find native speakers to practice with online, including hundreds of different language exchange sites, but my favorite by far is iTalki. They have a much larger collection of high-quality tutors than most similar sites, include tutor rankings so you can figure out if someone is likely to be a good fit for you before committing to a tutor session, and probably best of all, they have a really good scheduling tool that automatically factors in your time zone and that of your teacher so you will both be online at the right time (I have been stood up, and sadly, stood up other learners, many times because one of us got the time conversion wrong).

Buy an iTalki Gift Card

2) Lonely Planet Phrasebooks

While blogs, comics, books, etc. may be more fun to read, phrasebooks are a better way to focus on just the high-frequency, everyday vocabulary and structures you will need to travel, live, and work abroad. They also tend to be small and portable, so you will always have some foreign language material handy when “hidden moments” arise throughout your day for language study. There are many excellent phrasebook publishers to choose from (and the best of the best varies a bit from language to language), but in general, I find Lonely Planet’s phrasebooks to be the best designed, have the most useful vocabulary, and go to the trouble of including phrases in a colloquial English translation, in the local script (e.g. in kanji), and in a phonetic transliteration (e.g. romaji or pinyin).

Browse Lonely Planet Phrasebooks on Amazon

3) Premium Dictionary Apps

Save your loved one’s backs and budgets and get them a good digital dictionary for each of their target languages. There are heaps and heaps of good free dictionary apps, too, but the extra features and larger databases offered by paid dictionary apps is well worth their reasonable price. Here are a few of my favorites:

Pleco Mandarin Dictionary (free with in-app purchases) Midori Japanese Dictionary ($9.99) Word Magic Spanish Dictionary ($7.99)

 4) Amazon Gift Cards

Books can be wonderful gifts, but finding the right book (one they haven’t read, one that fits their part interests and learning style, etc.) can be quite hard to do. Skip the guesswork and let people buy the language books they really want. While giving cash can seem a little tacky (though probably appreciated!), an Amazon gift card is a good middle ground that gives your loved ones freedom to choose without giving the option to waste the money on beer instead of books!

Buy an Amazon Gift Card

5) A Plane Ticket

This may be a big ticket item (ha ha, see what I did there?), but if you have the means, there is no better gift for a language learner than a chance to go visit a country where the language is spoken. There are oodles of sites out there that sell cheap airline tickets, but I find Kayak to be the easiest to use.

Browse Flights on Kayak

6) iPod Touch

If you know someone without a smartphone, one of the best tools you can give them for language learning is an iPod Touch. With this single multipurpose device, they will be able to download foreign language dictionaries, use the free Skype app to speak with tutors, listen to podcasts, watch foreign language films and videos, and much more. Best of all, an iPod touch (as opposed to an iPhone) doesn’t require a data contract. The cheapest option is looking for previous model year devices on Amazon.

Browse iPod Touch Models on Amazon

7) Membership to a Premium Online Course

Though language learners can find gobs of free language learning materials online, many of the best materials are hidden behind paywalls. This is especially true for those wanting to go past the beginner level in a language, and for those wanting to use a single solution instead of cobbling together a piecemeal collection of tools. Here are a few excellent membership sites that offer high quality language content, a variety of study tools to make the most of your time and money, and at least some content for free so you can “try before you buy” to see if these tools are a good fit.

FluentU ChinesePod OpenLanguage JapanesePod101 SpanishPod101

8) Pimsleur or Michele Thomas Audio Course

Getting your ears and mouth used to a new language is one of the new learner’s most challenging obstacles. But as I’ve said before, proper pronunciation is by far the most important skill you can develop. Learning proper grammar and amassing a big vocabulary is great, but it’s all for nothing if people can’t understand the words coming out of your mouth. While just listening and speaking a lot everyday will help you gradually improve your pronunciation, I highly recommend using an audio course from Pimsleur or Michel Thomas to master pronunciation from the very beginning. They are also great tools for internalizing basic language patters and high-frequency vocabulary.

Browse Pimsleur Courses on Amazon Browse Michel Thomas courses on Amazon

9) Fluent in 3 Months (the book!)

If you know anyone who is just starting their first foreign language, has been studying for a long time without making any real progress, or who will be moving to a new country soon and needs to reach a functional level in the language in an extremely short amount of time, I highly recommend getting them a copy of Benny Lewis’ new book Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World. It provides just the right the balance between motivation and practical application to prevent paralysis by analysis and get you learning from day one. And you may notice a familiar name in the Acknowledgements section: I was very honored to be asked by Benny to help out on the Japanese section of the book as he had just started learning the language during the editing stage of the book.

Buy “Fluent in 3 Months” on Amazon

10) Good Headphones

Last but not least, here is a recommendation that may not seem immediately relevant for language learning. But trust me! Good headphones can make a huge difference. Not only do they make it that much easier to enjoy foreign language listening input as one goes about their day, waiting in line, doing chores, etc., but they also make it much easier to hear one’s language learning tutor when speaking on Skype. Trying to communicate in a new language is hard enough; don’t let poor sound quality make matters worse. I also recommend getting headphones that include a good microphone: this makes voice quality that much better, and also allows folks to discretely record conversations they have in a foreign language for later review.

Browse the Highest Rated Headphones on Amazon