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Have you ever wanted to learn a new language, maybe to converse with your neighbor in their native tongue? Or perhaps you’d love to visit a specific country on your bucket list, but you’re anxious about navigating your way around? A language learning app can help immensely, especially when it comes to learning simple words and phrases to help familiarize yourself with the dialect you may have never heard before.
I am bilingual, but even I need a refresher from time to time. Language learning apps can help both first-timers and seasoned speakers alike. But wading through the mess of language apps in the Play Store can be daunting. The last thing you want to do is invest time in an app to discover it doesn’t work. Our list of language learning apps features some of the more popular and well-rated titles, including an old faithful that’s helped me personally through many a family gathering. And while some language apps offer free tiers for learning, anything that’s worth the immersion will likely cost you a small subscription fee for a few months of lessons.
The Drops language learning app is worth a look if you're the kind of person who learns best in bite-sized chunks. The app uses a visually-tinged flash card-style interface with symbols to denote the meanings of different words and phrases. It's five minutes a day with the option to do more testing if you're a paid subscriber.
Drops prioritizes vocabulary it deems to be of "high practical value." Everything you learn is to help you navigate your way around an unfamiliar environment. There are subtle little hints for each flashcard, too, to help mitigate any anxiety you might have around hitting the mark each time. There's also a progress-based leaderboard to help you see how much you've picked up over time, with rankings from "newcomer" to "conversationalist."
The Drops language learning app is an adequate choice if you're spending a short time abroad, and all you need to feel comfortable is a basic grasp of everyday vocabulary. Drops has lessons for 37 different languages, including varying Spanish and English dialects. The app offers a seven-day free trial to start. If you use the free version, you'll have to deal with ads interspersed between screens and a six-hour minimum wait before you can take another five-minute lesson. If you plan to use the app for a few months, it's $10 a month to unlock all lessons and remove ads. Alternatively, you can pay $70 to unlock it for a year, or $160 to unlock it for life.
Memrise bills itself as the language learning app that helps you “learn with the locals.” And in viewing the videos that accompany each lesson, it would seem that way. The app integrates real-world audio and video snippets of oft-used vocabulary and phrases so that you can hear what the language sounds like in real life. This helps immensely with learning pronunciation, and so you know what to look for when you’re physically within earshot of the language.
Memrise gets its name from the fact that you can add your own “mem” to each word--essentially coming up with your way to remember something rather than relying on the lesson to provide you with the context. Each lesson focuses on a bulk of words and phrases you’ll have to master through various repetition before you can move on to the next bunch. Memrise offers lessons for 18 languages, including Mexican Spanish and Japanese.
To unlock all of Memrise’s lessons, as well as offline learning and personalized lessons based on the vocabulary you’ve mastered, it’s $9 a month, $19 for three months, or $40 for the first full year. If you decide to remain subscribed, you’re then charged $80 a year for auto-renewal.
When I mentioned “old faithful,” I was referring to Duolingo. It’s arguably one of the language learning apps that helped set a precedent. Duolingo is structured like many of the apps on this list in that it predicates its lesson plans on repetition. However, that repetition is applied to learning things like grammar, sentence structure, and spelling. Some exercises require you to type in your answer, while others require selecting the right phrase in context. If you value learning with friends, Duolingo also has a community aspect that helps you and your pals remain accountable to one another.
I’ve been personally using Duolingo for years to brush up on conversational Romanian before getting together with friends and extended family members who also speak the language. I like that I can pop into Duolingo even after months of not using it and pick up right where I left off. What’s more: I don’t have to download the Duolingo mobile app to use it. It’s a Progressive Web App, so it works just fine in the Chrome mobile browser. And since Duolingo focuses on spelling and sentence structure, it’s helping me become more literate in a language that I initially learned as a small child.
Duolingo has lessons for over 35 languages, and you can learn multiple ones at a time. All of its lessons are free, or you can pay $7 a month for Duolingo Plus to remove ads and unlock offline learning.
The name Babbel is in direct reference to the fact that this app wants to get you chatting in another language. Babbel's curriculum centers around situational learning rather than starting you out with simple nouns. The idea is that if you were to go to a language's country of origin within days of firing up the app, you'd be able to communicate that you don't understand.
One of the best features of Babbel is its pronunciation feature, which listens to how you say a word and lets you know whether you're on the right track. Each lesson also features a listening exercise where Babbel tests you on whether you can pick out individual words and phrases from the conversation to understand the context. In practice, it's real-world language learning, and I found its methodology to be more helpful for conversational Spanish than some of the other apps mentioned here. You'll need a bit more time for each lesson, however—about ten to 15 minutes per lesson. Babbel also produces podcasts that you can listen through the app or in your podcast player of choice to take your language learning a level further.
Babbel offers 15 different language courses, including Spanish and English dialects. You can unlock all conversational lessons, as well as personalized sessions based on your recent progress, for $12.95 a month, $26.85 every three months, $44.70 every six months, or $83.40 a year.
If you've ever wanted to perfect your ability to pick out the context from a mere sentence, try Lingvist. This language learning suite focuses on familiarizing you with how common vocabulary might sound spoken out loud and in formal settings. This is also a useful skill to have on hand for skimming billboards and street signs.
This app bills itself as the "hyper-efficient" vocabulary builder, emphasizing practical words and phrases. Lingvist tests you with sample sentences using a flashcard methodology, and each session adapts to your abilities in real-time. You can choose your vocabulary set based on your specific needs. If you need to navigate around medical terminology in Spanish, for example, you can load up that set up flashcards to see how those words integrate into typical dialogue. There's even a course wizard that picks out lessons catered to your particular learning curve, though the feature is available only for French and Spanish learners.
Lingvist offers a limited selection of language programs, including German, French, English, and Spanish. You can pay $19.99 a month to unlock features like voice input and priority customer support, or $40 a month in quarterly chunks to save a bit of cash. There's also an $80 tier that bills annually, which works out to almost $7 a month.
Part of learning a new language is knowing how to use it in various contexts—and I don't just mean asking for directions to the bathroom. For instance, if you're studying a Romance language, conjugation is a vital part of mastering the dialect. Busuu focuses on this essential part of language fluency; it tests you on using tenses and tracks how quickly you can discern a sentence.
Busuu offers monthly subscription plans for 9.99 Euros a month, though you'll get a discount if you pay for a one- or two-year subscription at once. The Premium subscription unlocks your ability to practice with native speakers, while Premium Plus unlocks all 12 language learning programs, as well as personalized study plans and official certificates to verify your fluency.