If you have access to an MSDN account, you can attach an Azure account to the MSDN account for no cost. That will give you access to Azure Virtual Machines. You can spin up SQL Server instances there extremely easily, for no cost, and practice to your hearts content. For practice, build databases. Catalog your books, blue-rays, carabiners, pistols, envelope collection... Whatever. You'll also want to get some training. Look for a local user group in your area, SQL Saturday, and pick up a few books. You can search Amazon for my name. I co-wrote an introductory level book for SQL Server.
There are different approaches and how best to approach this depends on things like how you learn best and why you are interested in learning SQL Server right now. This is what worked for me when I was starting out: **1. Set a definite goal.** I work best with clear goals and deadlines. So, I decided to get my my MCDBA and gave myself a deadline of when to do it. Now, the value of the certification itself is debatable as you will quickly see on this site, and you can cheat and use things like braindumps without actually learning too much. But having a goal helped both focus my studying, gave me structure, and gave me a way to measure progress as I worked through some of the practice tests at different points. **2. Read** I started reading a lot. There are a lot of great places out there to read about SQL Server. This is a good one, so are
www.simple-talk.com Since I had a goal to work towards, I picked up some of the study materials for the MCDBA and focused my reading primarily on those, but I supplemented with the internet a lot. **3. Practice** Reading won't get you very far in temrs of understanding without practicing. As KenJ mentioned, Developer edition is probably the way to go. If you are really on a tight budget, SQL Server Express is free. **4. Write** Different people learn differently, but I find writing forces me to organize what I learned. When I first started, I wrote entirely for myself in a collection of text files in a folder on my harddrive. When I learned more, I started trying to write articles that I thought would be helpful for the community. **5. Iterate** You can never learn everything about SQL Server, so I continue going through all of the steps over and over trying to improve and refine my skills. Some people also find classes help. There are a wide variety of them available. The only formal class I took was in database theory, but I did find that helped me as well.