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 a foreign tongue without ever stepping foot inside a classroom.
There are plenty of reasons why Duolingo is one of the most popular language apps around — it’s free, well-designed, and accessible. Lessons 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 switch between typing answers, speaking them aloud, and choosing 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, or you can upgrade to Plus from $7 a month to access courses offline, unlock progress quizzes, and enjoy the app ad-free.
Supported languages: Over 35 languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Russian, Ukrainian, Esperanto, Polish, and Turkish.
With over 50 million downloads, Mondly won Apple’s award for Best New App in 2016, and it’s only gotten better since then. It’s easy to use, and designed to get you speaking fluently, fast. Unlike most other language learning apps, Mondly lets you learn in your native language, great for non-native English speakers.
The app’s colorful design and engaging content make it fun to learn, with in-depth lessons on over 20 topics for beginners, intermediate, and advanced learners. The emphasis here is on learning a language in a real-life context, and there’s a chatbot with speech recognition so you can practice your conversational skills. Mondly even has a competition board to track your progress and a variety of games, quizzes, and activities to help you consolidate your learning
You’ll get access to the first section of six lessons, one conversation, and one vocabulary section (including chatbot conversations) for free, including one new lesson a day, weekly quizzes, and monthly challenges to test your progress – but you can only learn one language at a time. To subscribe and unlock all languages and features will cost you from $10 a month or $48 a year.
Supported languages: Spanish, English, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Greek, Romanian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, Hebrew, Polish, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Czech, Croatian, Finnish, Persian (Farsi), Afrikaans, and Turkish.
This app is broken down into lessons that last between 10 and 15 minutes each. There are packs of lessons that cover different abilities, including those tailored to both beginners and advanced learners. The app teaches you a range of words and phrases, and challenges you to spell them out, speak them aloud, and fit them into sentences.
A nice thing about 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 while you’re offline.
The app design is a bit rough around the edges 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 from $7 a month if you want 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.
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. It’s worth noting that while most functionality is free, to search for members by city or find those near you, you’ll want to upgrade to Pro, from $7 a month.
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.
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, 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.
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 your 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.
- The best keyboards for the iPhone
- The best Android apps (August 2020)
- The best Android Auto apps for 2020
- The best emergency apps for iOS and Android
- The best walkie-talkie apps for Android and iOS