Trying out a language can be the best way to get a feel for it and find out what it sounds like. If you are interested in a language and you're just not sure yet that you want to commit to learning it, just spending a few days or weeks studying it casually or intensively can give you a great idea of how hard it will be for you and whether you will like it or not.
There are many stories of people thinking 'Hey I really want to learn this language,' only to find out that it wasn't what they thought it was going to be, or that they don't really enjoy it. This can really be a problem after gathering up a bunch of resources or spending a ton of money.
I think that the opposite happens even more often - people get a small taste of a language they never thought they would be interested in and they find out that they love it! So, if there is any language that you're wondering about, it's worth checking it out.
So, can you really just 'try out' a language? Doesn't it take a huge committment of time and money to study a language? Not necessarily. The only difference between learning a few phrases and learning to speak a language conversationally or fluently is quantity. You can learn to say even one phrase to a near-native level if you put enough effort into it. Besides, I always tell people that it isn't necessarily the amount of money you put into learning a language. Many people have learned a language with just a few easy to find and inexpensive resources, and we're only talking about getting a small taste anyway. Obviously, you don't want to spend a fortune just to try out a language, so when picking a resource or two to learn from, you should limit yourself to just the inexpensive options. And here's a few ideas to keep it cheap or even free :
Borrow from a friend - especially if they've studied the language, too. Then, you can try a few phrases with each other or share your thoughts on the language.
Borrow from the library - the price is right and they often have some of the more popular courses. Plus, you can get a few different ones. You'll start to get a feel for what kinds of learning methods you are comfortable with, and which ones you don't like. Call it 'research' for when you are really ready to dive in.
Buy used or cheap - I've always been a fan of used book stores. You can get courses both old and new for just a few dollars. Just recently, a nearby Borders store was closing and selling everything at steep discounts. I loaded up on phrase books and courses for languages that I may never study!
Free resources on the internet - there are lots of sites for learning languages that have free resources, or maybe just a small price for a brief subscription. The best part about internet sites is that you can find tutorials, grammar, vocabulary and dialogues along with audio, video, email exchanges and chats. Find an introduction to the language that you are comfortable with, there are plenty of options.
Just to use myself as an example - I have tried out lots of languages over the years by studying just a few chapters of a book or a few audio lessons. Here are a few examples :
Japanese - about 15 lessons of Pimsleur. I enjoyed it and intend to study it further someday.
Latin - I've always wanted to study Latin. I worked through a few chapters of a Hugo book, but there was something about the book that I just didn't like. I have since lined up a few other resources for Latin. Maybe someday I'll have the time.
German - I have Tell Me More and I really enjoyed using it, but I had to stop due to time constraints with school and work at the time.
Italian - about 20 lessons of Pimsleur several years ago. I kept having Spanish pop up into my responses, so I decided to wait until my Spanish was a little more solid.
Swedish - I have started and stopped studying Swedish so many times. Something always gets in my way. I was using an old Teach Yourself book and the newer version of Teach Yourself with the audio cd. I've since added a few more things because I'm really interested in Swedish.
Mandarin Chinese - About 12 years ago, I studied a few chapters of an old book that I have that focuses on the traditional writing system. Although I haven't got into Mandarin since then, it was one of the most satisfying thrills of my language learning experiences when I could write and understand a full sentence in traditional characters. It's one of the moments that really hooked me into learning languages.
There are lots of others that I've tried out, like Cornish, Klingon, Toki Pona, Tagalog, Polish, Czech, and probably a few others I can't think of right now. Some I enjoyed more than others, but all were interesting and I could study them to a greater degree someday. Because I tried them out a little, I have a better idea of what they're like and I have a better idea of what types of methods that I like and that work better together for me.
I highly recommend trying out a language if it interests you. There's no danger in learning just a little of a language and it might just hook you into something you really enjoy as it did me many times. Don't worry too much about setting goals or deadlines. Study hard or light, casually or intensively, it really doesn't matter. There's no pressure in trying it out. Just do it for the fun and you'll learn from the experience.
"Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas. "
- Samuel Johnson