At LinguaLift we are all eternal learners and we always keep our eyes open for new apps, platforms and methods of learning foreign languages.
We thought we'd make the search easier for you by compiling a list of our ten favourite language learning mobile apps. Some of them you are probably familiar with, but you may also find some new gems!
Like this infographic? Here is another one with top kanji learning tools!
Best free language learning apps
When you try to describe any other learning app how often have you heard the question “is it like Duolingo?” There is no list of best apps that doesn’t mention it. Luis von Ahn successfully merged gamification and learning addicting people to languages and producing an app with over 100 million users. The app has become a staple example of mobile language learning.
Many Duolingo courses are created by native speakers themselves which empowers communities and language passionates to get involved and gave rise to perhaps less expected courses such as Guarani or Klingon. Another feature that makes Duolingo special to me is that it is not aimed solely at an English native speaker. For each language there are specific courses that aim at those with different first languages, which to date produces 81 courses.
An app aimed to facilitate speaking practice and eliminate the potential stress of real time conversation. Learners can find native speakers and converse with them using a whatsapp-like chat with voice and text messages.
The best feeling is when you come across a native speaker of your target language who also wants to learn your mother tongue—it’s like you hit the language jackpot!
Users can correct each other’s messages with an in-built correction tool, which transforms the language exchanges into tiny tutoring sessions. The app also has an integrated translation system to help you avoid those moments when you really want to communicate something but just lack the one word that gives the sentence it’s proper meaning.
You can mark your top conversations or messages, so your favourite phrases will not get lost and the text-to-voice option will make sure you always know how to pronounce the messages you receive. To help you with conversation motivation you can also arranged language exchanges with lengths defined by different parameters like time (erm, obviously!), number of exchanged messages or characters.
Extra perk? With HelloTalk you can also exchange doodles. So if you really run out of vocab, you can unleash your inner artist.
Did I say Duolingo gamified language learning? Mindsnacks takes gamification to a whole different level.
Each out of seven languages they teach comes with eight or nine tiny games are designed to help you learn vocabulary, grammar, practice your listening. There are short simple lessons outlining concepts that then get practiced or tested in the games before they achieve the status of being mastered. Mindsnacks monitors your progress so you can clearly see how much more learning you need to achieve proficiency in every skill. It’s such a fun app though, that even if you do master a skill it is still fun to go back and play more games to practice it!
The design is very enjoyable, cheerful and charming (I would have just said cute, but that may discourage some of you from trying it ;-) ) which really helps to stay involved with the learning. Being timed the games keep you engaged and often at the edge of your seat and on top of that MindSnacks also assigns you quests so you can really feel like a language explorer.
The basic download is free, but it comes only with a restricted number of games. If you pay a little bit you can access more lessons and widen your game options.
Busuu offers full courses in 12 languages. The app is free but to unlock most of the features and course materials you have to invest $17 a month. The app takes you through learning individual words to simple dialogues and questions about the dialogues all of which include audio where you can listen to native pronunciation.
The lessons are organised in topical themes where we learn skills and expressions connected to tasks. Each course also comes with a separate mini “travel course” for those who need to quickly get the basics before a trip abroad—pretty handy!
The special aspect of Busuu is that you can engage native speakers in your personal learning process. Busuu learners contribute their native speaking skills to the platform by correcting texts created by those who study their language. The desktop version even allows you to chat to native speakers real time. Both studying and contributing to the platform as a teacher allows you to collect “berries”, points used to rank students based on their activity. So if you’re one of the points and badges addict, it’s a good place for you!
A paid cousin of Duolingo with more free material than busuu? The free version comes with 40 classes, so even without investing money the app allows you to learn a fair amount of phrases in one of the 13 languages it teaches.
Each class starts from step-by-step teaching of vocabulary with the aid of pictures. Then the words are being used in related phrases and short dialogues adjusted to the student’s level to help quickly build conversation skills.
The app has speech recognition exercises, so you can surely scare your fellow bus commuters by shouting in Dutch to your phone! ;-)
Handy pop-ups with the app explain most important grammatical points related to the learned material and the desktop version includes short cultural notes.
Apart from the general beginner’s courses Babbel also has separate packages devoted to improving specific skills such as grammar or vocabulary; if you already have some experience with a particular language and know where your weaknesses lie you can focus on improving those chosen skills. Babbel’s classes can be downloaded for later offline study and the app will send you convenient reminders so you don’t miss your daily session.
Memrise is your go to place for fun vocabulary practice. The is no shortage of courses on almost every language you can imagine—or invent, as there are also several devoted to constructed languages—created by the vibrant community of users. You can find standardised courses based on popular textbooks or vocabulary frequency lists as well as less expected vocabulary collections such as “Japanese naughty words” or words from the Japanese translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The fun of Memrise lies in two things: memes and gamification. The app follows a learning method that relies on creating funny or bizarre associations with the studied words. Courses are often coupled with memes designed to playfully help remember the vocabulary. The memes are created by the community and everyone can add their own! Both earning, revising and creating memes is a source of points that help you advance in the Memrise hierarchy of users (from Membryo to Overlord).
You can follow fellow learners and compete with them for points as well as see how well you’re doing in a ranking for a particular course. It’s very motivating to outscore others!
The power of Memrise also lies in two things: spaced repetition and mnemonics. The spaced repetition algorithm calculates when and how often you should review each word and the app will send you reminders when it’s time to review. The addition of memes is really helpful in memorising the vocabulary, if you’re new to it, it make take some time to adjust to, but after that you’ll quickly start coming up with your own creative combinations.
A 21st Century phrasebook for every context, Leaf will enhance your English to make you fluent in all new situations you encounter. Whether you are an international student who doesn't know how to order a beer in a British pub, a foreigner who has to apply for a driver's licence, or simply want to be able to understand the jargon of articles about AI — Leaf will explain the necessary keywords in simple English.
Based on your location and phone usage the app suggests most relevant lessons. The AI can predict what contexts will enhance your experience and suggest contexts to suit the needs of the moment.
The lessons are short and written in simple English. Each teaches you a specific practical skill and can be read in a couple of minutes. So, just as you queue to get a coffee you can learn the difference between a nitrogen brew and V60. You don't know what I'm talking about? Just leaf through it! 😆
This app is aimed to get you to read content written by and for native speakers from the earliest levels of your learning. The study materials are based on texts pulled from the internet, therefore you will never complain for the lack of variety!
At first the app will asses your level, by asking whether you know specific words it will estimate your level and the range of your vocabulary. As you learn you will be shown a text. Clicking on a word you don’t know you will see its translation, hear it pronounced aloud and have it added to your database of words. Based on this feedback the app will be able to match future texts to your level more accurately. The idea of Lingua.ly is to help you study in context and algorithm aims to serve you texts in which you’d be familiar with 90% of vocabulary.
The study is based on texts pulled from the internet, therefore you will never complain for the lack of material! In addition you can specify your interests, so that you don’t have to plough through texts on the history of the ancient Babylonia, but maybe rather on neuroscience (if that’s what rocks your boat).
The words can be reviewed in 5, 10 or 15 minute study sessions. If you install the Lingua.ly Chrome add on you will be reminded about the need to come back to your saved vocabulary while browsing. With Lingua.ly you have a lot of control over what material you learn and how much you review.
The app supports 10 languages, including Russian, French and Spanish.
As the name suggests the app is aimed at travellers who need to brush up on their language skills before that dream holiday in Mauritius or a business trip to Mexico.
The app is aimed to get you to speak and be understood so you don’t feel lost in a foreign environment making your stay not only much richer culturally, but also less stressful. In addition, the creators took care so you at least attempt to sound like a local and use the current expressions rather than the textbook formulas. A feature called the slang slider displays different levels of formal or casualty of each phrase so you can adjust it to the specific context you’re in. The lessons are divided into handy sections such as “safety phrases” or “business phrases”.
TripLingo is also your emergency resource. It has an inbuilt voice translator rendering your English in the foreign language, and when you are really at a loss of words you can even call a real translator (that’s when you really desperately need to ask for that extra mayo).
With the free version of the app you get access to about 15% of the resources and no audio, but it’s still a great and fun resource.
I had a little chuckle looking at the vocab categories in the Word Bank for Russian: accommodation, alcohol & arguing — a good summary up your initial experience in a Russian speaking country!
MosaLingua is a fully rounded resource for a number of languages including French, Spanish and Italian. You can choose to go through the standard lesson program starting from simple phrases and numerals, or you can opt to go for one of the specific topical packs, for example people, time or tourism.
This means that if you already went through the basics and are looking to fill in specific gaps in your knowledge you can do it instantly. You can support your learning with dialogues illustrating real life situations.
I have to admit, it's very handy to listen to a "in a hotel" dialogue just before opening your mouth at a reception desk!
Learning is based on a self-assessed flashcard system which will drill you on the words in a number of ways, asking you to record, speak out, and spell them, so all your "memory channels" are activated.
Of course, not all the resources of the apps are unlocked without paying, and you have to pay for each language separately. But even the free version has ample resources — definitely enough for a quick 5-day learning spree before that weekend in Tuscany! ;-)
HiNative is like a bite-size language exchange. You get the benefits of contact with native speakers without the hassle of searching for an exchange partner or scheduling a chat.
The basic premise is to bring native speakers together with learners to help each other resolve little (or not so little...) language struggles. No question is stupid or too simple: you can ask for translations, input on pronunciation, or advice on cultural norms.
Free bite-size language exchange.
In addition, you get a confidence boost by allowing you to realise that the knowledge you hold about your mother tongue is sought after, and that you can, without much effort, help fellow learners. Another cool point: it’s not only the native speakers who can answer the questions, but also other learners. Those who went through the same struggles as you could have a better idea of how to approach them as a learner!
If all that doesn’t convince you, let me say that all this awesomeness is neatly designed, has a desktop version, and... is free.
*One bonus app! *
What is says on the tin! You may already have some grasp of the language or decided to just go wild and base on a paper phrasebook. Yes you will still encounter words or phrases that you are not sure how to pronounce to be understood. Perhaps you had this experience in a restaurant: when asking for the simplest meal and had to repeat the so-diligently-learned Italian phrase three times. Still the only thing you achieved was the look of bewilderment and confusion on the waiter’s face. They said the phrase back to you and the only thing that you had wrong was the stress.
You can prevent these embarrassing and frustrating moments with (How to) Pronounce. It supports only a few basic languages now, but in a very clever move it offers four of them in two varieties, so you have two options for: English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, plus Russian and Italian. If you feel bored and are a language geek (like all of our blog readers 🤔 )you can just listen and marvel at the differences between language varieties.
Have you come across any cool language learning apps? Let us know on Twitter!