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These language apps are almost as good as having a babelfish in your ear

There are countless apps out there designed to help you learn a new language, which makes it tricky to pick the right one. You may want to widen your vocabulary, get some conversation practice in, revise your grammar, or all of the above. Whatever your goal, there’s likely an Android or iOS app for you. Below are a few of our current favorites, so you can pick up the foreign tongue without ever stepping foot inside a classroom.

Duolingo

Duolingo

There are plenty of reasons why Duolingo is one of the most popular language apps around — it’s free, well-designed, and accessible. Lesson are broken down into bite-sized chunks and it feels like you’re playing a game.

The app divides languages into different topics, such as clothing or business, but also into adverbs, pronouns, and other grammatical subjects. You must interpret the text and audio, but you can slow down the audio if you’re having trouble understanding it. The app’s answering structure encompasses a wide range of activities, too, meaning you’ll often have to type answers, speak them aloud, and chose from a set of multiple choice answers.

Duolingo is a great introduction, but it can feel like you’re learning a random mix of information, often through repetition. Obviously, the more you do, the more robust your vocabulary will be. It’s great for comprehension purposes, yes, but it may not be the best when it comes to developing your conversational skills. The offline mode is limited, too, so you really need a Wi-Fi or data connection to make the most of Duolingo.

Supported languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Russian, Ukrainian, Esperanto, Polish and Turkish.

Download now for:
Android iOS

Babbel

Babbel

This app is broken down into lessons that last between 10 and 15 minutes apiece. There are packs of lessons that cover different abilities, including those tailored toward both beginners and advanced learners. The app teaches you various words and phrases, and challenges you to spell them out, speak them aloud, and fit them into sentences.

The nice thing with Babbel is that it focuses on conversational learning and it explains grammar rules as you progress. Filling in the gaps in mock conversations is fun and the lessons progress in a logical, traditional manner, starting with basic conversational phrases that you’ll want to master. You can also download lessons to work through them while you’re offline.

The app design is a bit rough around the edges, however, and we found that the software’s voice recognition doesn’t always work the way it’s intended to. Also, though you get one lesson for free with Babbel, you have to pay between $5 and $10 a month if you want get full access to the learning materials for a single language.

Supported languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Polish, Indonesian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian.

Download now for:
Android iOS

Tandem

Tandem

Everyone knows that the only way to become fluent in a new language is to speak it. Thankfully, Tandem is geared toward conversations with native speakers. The idea is that you can help one another learn new languages via text, audio, and video chat. The app vets you and then helps you to find a partner who shares your interests. They teach you and you teach them.

Once you agree on a time to chat, you can pick specific topics that serve as conversation prompts, which helps ease the initial awkwardness of talking to a stranger. It’s free if you can find a suitable exchange partner, which is easy for popular languages. You can also pay for a lesson with a professional tutor, if need be.

To sign up, you’ll need to use your Facebook or Google account. There are also moderator checks to ensure that you’re serious about learning, and to weed out those who are abusing the service. This means you might have to wait for your profile to be approved. If you’re ready to move onto the next level with your language and want to speak to a native, then Tandem is worth checking out.

Supported languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and nearly 150 other languages.

Download now for:
Android iOS

Memrise

Memrise

If you want to practice and expand your vocabulary, then Memrise is a fun way to do it. The app is set up like a game, one in which you travel to a foreign planet as a spy and you score points for correct answers. It’s a unique way to frame language lessons, and the bulk of the courses consist of memorizing specific words and phrases using mems, which are strange sentences or images.

You can also listen to audio recordings of various words and phrases, and occasionally see video footage of native speakers saying them. The general idea is to learn words and then review them at predetermined intervals, which grow longer as you memorize the words. There’s some science behind the algorithm, but it ultimately amounts to a sophisticated flashcard system. Still, it seems to be very effective for some people.

Memrise primarily functions as a vocabulary builder, so you’ll want to combine it with conversation and grammar lessons, if possible. Some of the mems are odd, too, but bizarre associations and images can be a very effective way to memorize things. You can sign up for the app via email, or use your Google or Facebook account, which grants you access to the wealth of community-created content.

The app’s basic functionality is free, but a subscription ($9 a month) will grant you access to additional games and an offline mode.

Supported languages: French, Spanish, German, English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Russian, Italian, Portuguese, and more than 100 other languages.

Download now for:
Android iOS

Busuu

Busuu

With an impressive user base of more than 60 million people, Busuu is worth checking out. It’s a well-designed app that offers complete lesson packages, which cover a good amount of content. The app provides basic flashcards, along with grammar, writing, dialogue, and pronunciation exercises. The quizzes and vocabulary games are quite fun for testing your knowledge.

Busuu also offers a set of handy travel courses that provide the basics for a particular language, allowing you to better prepare for you next trip. You can even chat with native speakers — and have them correct your text — or earn points by correcting other learners. There’s an offline mode, too, so you can download lessons and study without an internet connection.

You get some basic flashcards and writing exercises for free, but you’ll want to subscribe to unlock all the courses and extra tools, which will cost you somewhere between $6 and $10 a month.

Supported languages: Spanish, English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, Arabic, Polish, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese.

Download now for:
Android iOS