Foreign lingo is already a part of our everyday vernacular - everything from “RSVP” to “adios” to “carpe diem” stems from a non-English dialect. And given how easy it is to connect with virtually any part of the globe, either literally, through affordable travel, or figuratively, through browsing the web, being able to speak multiple languages is an increasingly desirable skill.
Whether you’re planning a trip abroad, hoping to impress a foreign somebody with your grasp of their first language, or interested in brushing up on your language skills to further your career, these apps will help you on your way.
Duolingo Editor's Pick
This innovative app has won plenty of accolades (include Apple’s 2013 App of the Year award) for being absolutely free - and effective. In fact, studies have shown that spending 34 hours with their app is equivalent to a semester spent learning a language at university. Language modules are broken down into bite-sized themes, like ‘Nature’ or ‘Adjectives’, giving you the choice to hone in on what interests you and easily digest it. Fun activities and a game-like challenge aspect (including losing ‘lives’ when you make an error!), make learning to speak, write, read and listen to your new lingo both addictive and entertaining.
A major sticking point for Duolingo (our review) is the fact it is free, and always will be. This is accomplished by having users translate short phrases from the language they’re trying to learn into their native language. Those phrases come from websites that Duolingo has been contracted to translate - giving you a learning opportunity to see how native speakers are using the language while eliminating app costs.
Maybe learning an entirely new language isn’t on your agenda. If you simply want to know enough to get by and have a good time while on holidays, World Nomads (a travel insurance provider) has a variety of apps, each geared to giving you the basics of a specific language.
The basic app for each language is free and covers hundreds of essential words and phrases. However, if you’d like to take things a bit further, an in-app upgrade gives you hundreds of additional phrases, including extra sections on topics like ‘Flirting’ and ‘At the Bar’.
As the title of this app suggests, if variety is what you’re looking for, 50 Languages delivers. The basic version of the app includes 30 free lessons that incorporate games, quizzes and audio files to help you learn essential phrases in the language of your choice. An upgrade gives you an additional 70 lessons to help increase your fluency.
One particularly helpful feature of the 50 Languages app is the cross-language translation possibilities (over 1,600, if you want to get technical). If your first language is German and you want to learn Japanese, this app makes it possible.
Babbel.com is a language learning hub, with over 15 million users worldwide. Their app is essentially a mirror of their online learning tools, so you can keep up your language skills while on the move and seamlessly pick up where you last left off, regardless of what device you’re using. Babbel also considers itself a ‘smart’ app that actually identifies what areas you’re struggling with (speaking, writing, listening or reading), and adjusts your lessons accordingly.
Because Babbel is synchronized to its web platform, a subscription is required to access the lessons on the app, with short-term monthly rates of about $12.95 and an annual rate of just over $83.
If you learn best through memorization, Anki may be the tool for you. It’s actually a broader flashcard tool, which can be loaded up with any of the existing 6,000+ decks on topics from literature and history to, yes, languages. The concept is simple. You’ll see a word or phrase (or sometimes, an image or sound) and from there, it’s up to you how you commit it to memory - just like studying for that chemistry final in high school.
In terms of learning languages, it’s definitely more of a self-guided approach, but one that can easily be squeezed into spare moments while waiting in line or waiting for water to boil. The only slight drawback is making sure there’s a deck available for the language you want to learn.
No matter what language you’re trying to learn, no app can force you to do it. Ultimately the only way to really learn a language is to keep up your studies and, more importantly, apply them. Try giving your newfound linguistic skills a whirl while visiting a foreign country, or consider sitting down with someone that’s trying to learn your native language while you’re trying to learn theirs for some mutual learning opportunities.