The best language learning apps
Technology has been a bit of a double-edged sword for language learning. On the one hand, tech advances, the internet, and learning apps have meant it’s never been easier to learn a language. On the other hand, it’s also never been easier to get away with travelling without ever bother learning one, thanks to apps like Google Translate that will do all the hard work for you.
Still, whether you want to learn for travel, for work, because you’re moving abroad, or just for the personal satisfaction, there’s a daunting array of options. We’ve sorted through all the apps, software, and services we could get our hands on to figure out the best ways to learn a language online.
And if you have a big trip coming up, you might also want to check out some of our favourite travel gadgets and travel apps, to help with some of the holiday headaches beyond the language barrier.
- RRP: Free
Duolingo is probably the best known and most popular language app out there, and for good reason. For one thing, it’s entirely free – you can pay an extra fee to remove ads from the app, but they’re mostly unobtrusive anyway, and none of the actual content is gated behind a paywall.
There are currently 19 language courses available for native English speakers, with more in beta or under construction (even Klingon is on the way!) and it also has courses designed for non-English speakers to learn English or other languages, which not every language-learning app does.
You can use it on iOS, Android, or in a web browser, and your progress is synced across devices. As for the actual learning? Modules are broken down by both subject areas and grammatical types, and after completing them you’re periodically encouraged to practice older modules.
The whole system is also gamified – you gain experience, level up, and earn a virtual currency as you build up your skills, which goes a long way to encouraging you to keep up your daily practice streak.
Exercises include reading, listening, writing, and speaking (though you can skip those ones in case you don’t want to be awkwardly reciting French sentences on the train), and you can set daily reminders to practice, with custom goals for how much you want to achieve each day.
The big downside is that the app doesn’t always teach you why some of the grammar works the way it does, only how to use it, but beyond that there’s little to complain about.
The ads can get a bit obtrusive, popping up after every module, but if you get too fed up there’s Duolingo Plus (currently Android only), which clears away all the adverts and adds offline lessons for $10 a month.
That’s a steep price just for removing ads, but the lesson downloads will be useful for anyone who hopes to practice on an underground commute – though be aware that you can’t download practice sessions, only the initial modules to learn material for the first time.