Got some spare time on your hands? Instead of aimlessly flipping through apps, you could be learning how to communicate with entire countries and expanding your intellectual and cultural horizons by learning a new language!
It’s never been easier, with dozens of apps and sites offering tons of free or inexpensive content. You can find a fairly wide range of popular (and even some less-widely spoken) languages, and many of the apps build in some level of gamification to keep you pushing through as you build vocabulary and delve into grammar. While there are many options available, you’ll find some of the best apps to learn new languages right here.
1. Duolingo – Highly Recommended
Easily the most popular language-learning app out there, Duolingo has set the tone for many other programs with its exercise-based lessons, light gamification, and freemium learning model. It’s probably the best place to get started with an online language-learning app, as it’s easy to dive in and see how well it works for you without having to worry about free trials or subscriptions.
It has a large selection of languages, ranging from the ever-popular Spanish to the fictional Klingon, and all of the core content is freely accessible. You can pay to remove ads and access some bonus content, but it’s not at all essential.
While the repetition can get a bit boring, semi-motivated learners will find themselves building up a vocabulary quickly if they stick with the app. Duolingo does have a reputation for slightly odd sentences, though, so be prepared to learn dubiously-useful phrases like “Where is my borsch?” in Russian and “The cows enjoy watching funny movies” in Spanish. Duolingo also makes it easy to test out of lower levels, which is important if you’re not a beginner. If you’re a beginner or intermediate learner looking for an app that doesn’t hide a substantial amount behind paywalls, you’ll probably enjoy Duolingo.
Anyone looking for a Duolingo alternative has probably discovered Busuu. The two apps are very similar, though Busuu has fewer languages available and feels a bit more like a traditional language-learning course, putting you through several structured units with specific grammar and vocabulary focuses. They also offer some nice analytics tools, showing you which words you’re having a hard time with and tracking your learning progress. Placement tests and the ability to skip around in courses are also perks for more advanced learners or those looking to fill in some gaps in their knowledge.
You can get pretty far on a Busuu free plan, but you’re mostly limited to vocabulary exercises with a bit of grammar thrown in. Other features, like advanced grammar, quizzes, and community feedback on your writing and speaking require a premium subscription.
Overall, though, Busuu definitely deserves to be up there with Duolingo, as their free content stacks up quite well, and Busuu provides the option to upgrade to something more comprehensive as you progress.
Another giant in the world of language-learning apps, Memrise is essentially a flashcard-based system with a wide variety of both official and user-submitted courses. It’s a great way to beef up your vocabulary, learn a new alphabet, or get comfortable with typing on a different keyboard, and it offers a few useful tools to help you see how far you’ve come and what your problem areas are.
Because it allows users to create and submit courses, there are many languages and focuses available on Memrise, though quality may vary, and you’ll have to experiment a little to find your level.
Paying for a pro account will get you features like chatbots, videos, additional exercises, and personalized learning that adapts to your progress.
Overall, Memrise is a great supplement and a nice way to review and keep up your language skills when they might otherwise get a bit rusty. I log on a few times a week to stay fresh on whatever languages I haven’t been keeping up with lately.
This isn’t your normal exercise-based language app. Rather than a series of vocabulary and grammar exercises, LingQ is structured around stories and articles that you read and translate at the same time. If you don’t know a word, you can select it, see the definition, and add it to your study list. This is more of an immersion model, so LingQ is a good alternative if you’re easily bored by the Duolingo spaced-repetition approach.
The app has most commonly-learned languages but also includes a selection of more obscure ones. Want to learn Croatian or Gujarati? You can do that on LingQ!
LingQ may be something you want to pick up after you already have some language skills and are getting serious about practice. The free content is fine for casual users, but if you want to use LingQ regularly, you’ll almost definitely need to upgrade to get access to more saved vocabulary words and features.
LingoDeer only gives you the introductory content for free and requires a subscription after that, but it’s cheaper than many of its competitors and often people prefer it over apps like Duolingo and Busuu for Asian languages like Korean and Chinese. It has a stronger emphasis on grammar than many of the other apps, but it’s presented in such a way that it doesn’t necessarily feel more difficult than its more vocabulary-centric counterparts.
They have a relatively small number of (mostly Asian) languages, but if you’re dedicated to learning one of them, LingoDeer is a pretty worthwhile investment. I personally like the feel even more than Duolingo and enjoy the deeper dive I get into the languages.
Beelinguapp is a simple, intuitive app (mobile-only, though) focused on reading proficiency. It gives you a text to read in your target language and shows you your first-language translation below, allowing you to figure out as much as you can on your own before you peek and see what you missed. There’s a large database of interesting stories and articles, and you can access quite a lot for free, though their subscription options come with many very useful features at a pretty reasonable price. I’ve found the content engaging, and it’s quite motivating to be able to comprehend even 80 percent of a text written in a language you’re learning.
7. Coursera and other MOOCs
Though you might not think of them as being in the same category as Duolingo, Coursera, EdX, Udemy, and other online MOOC platforms offer some pretty excellent language courses, especially if you prefer something more structured with a teacher and homework. Quality and content vary significantly depending on the platform and the language, but there are many free and inexpensive options available here.
Which app is the best for learning new languages?
Most language apps have web, Android, and iOS versions, so you don’t really need to worry about platform constraints. While the range of options can seem overwhelming if you’re just starting out on your language-learning journey, you should be able to get a feel for what works for you pretty quickly. Most of the apps stay fairly consistent with their methods the entire way, so if you find yourself getting frustrated or bored with Duolingo’s spaced repetition exercises at the very beginning, for example, it might be a sign that you need something that holds your attention better.
Personally, I use Duolingo as my main resource, and I supplement it with Memrise, Beelinguapp, and LingQ for quick vocab refreshes and in-depth practice. If you are looking to practice what you have learned, there are several useful language exchange apps for Android you can try out.
Image credits: Top 20 most spoken languages