Are you gearing up for a travel adventure? Well, even if you aren’t, learning a foreign language has proved to be a beneficial choice career-wise and helps to boost cognitive function. Plus, it’s always fun to whip out hidden talents to impress people with, amiright? So long to carrying heavy, clunky dictionaries around and listening to audio tapes – mobile apps have arrived and are dominating the language-learning field.
The 5 Best Language Learning Apps
They’re a great solution for mastering a new tongue (or three) because they’re portable, easy to access, and relatively low-cost. Here are a few must-haves on your bilingual adventure:
Duolingo is a free app created at the intersection of learning and gamification and, in the words of TIME Magazine, “may hold the secret to the future of education”. Since its creation, it has become the most downloaded educational app worldwide – so you know it has to be effective! Users can learn over 20 different languages, ranging from more popular languages like English, Spanish and French, to Hindi, Greek, Korean, and Arabic. The app offers bite-sized lesson blocks and awards users points for correct answers as they race against the clock to level up. Each lesson includes a mixture of speaking, listening, translation, and multiple choice challenges, ensuring the user is always engaged and kept on their toes. Duolingo is perhaps the most productive means of procrastination you’ll ever encounter, offering instant gratification (something we all inherently crave in this day and age) through in-lesson grading and suggestions for improvement. The more days in a row a person spends on Duolingo learning a language, the higher their streak count – emphasized through a playful fire emoticon. Much like in classic video games, users are also given three ‘hearts’ or lives which you lose when you answer a question incorrectly. When you’re out of hearts, you have to start over and try again – fueling that feeling of achievement when you finally do beat a level that has been particularly tricky. You can download Duolingo on the Apple Store or on Google Play.
Born from the creators of Duolingo, Tinycards is another app that makes learning entertaining, lighthearted, and addictive. The app digitizes the age-old studying technique of using flash cards, and adds a gamification aspect. “Tiny cards. Big fun” their website boasts, and you certainly will have big fun with their delightful array of colorful, animated images. The app integrates with its parent company, and offers flashcards that go hand-in-hand with the language courses on Duolingo. Tinycards isn’t your average language-learning app – in fact, it isn’t strictly a language-learning app at all! It also offers courses to learn sign language, Egyptian hieroglyphs, medical terminology, countries of the world, constellations, and more. Not only that, but users have the option of making their own flashcards or “decks” to share with others on the platform. You can download Tinycards on the Apple Store.
Mindsnacks takes gamification to a whole other level – yup, a level above Duolingo, even! When you download the app, you’ll be asked to define your ability in that language, review a course in said language (for example, seasons and months of the year), and then be vigorously tested on your knowledge. Users can play matching games or games that test your pronunciation that get progressively harder the longer you play. You’ll be able to set high scores, win medals for speed and proficiency, and, with the help of a friendly animated fish wearing sunglasses and ‘memorization’ bar charts, track your progression and proficiency.
Mindsnacks offers seven different languages, including Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese. Each separate language has its own app, each with personalized illustrations that pertain to that specific language/country – so if you’re interested in learning multiple languages at a time, your phone might get a bit cluttered! The basic download is free, but it only comes with a restricted number of games. If Mindsnacks tickles your interest, you’ll have to make some in-app purchases in order to access more lessons, widen your game options, and learn more of whatever language you choose! You can download Mindsnacks on the Apple Store.
Babbel offers 14 languages, From Turkish, Polish, and Dutch, to Indonesian, Danish, and Swedish. Of course, the staple languages of Spanish, English, French and German are offered too. Babbel not only offers their language-learning (or teaching, rather) services on mobile, but also on web! So if you’re a fan of bigger screens and bigger fonts, then Babbel is most definitely for you. For the purpose of this review however, we’re going to stick to the phone app – although most of the functionality is responsive across all platforms. Before asking you to sign up and register for the app, you have the opportunity to get a taste of what the app and exercises within it will be like. You’ll be taken through a variety of matching and translation exercises with the help of images and a friendly speaker pronouncing the words in the background. At the end of each exercise, Babbel will bring you back to a screen that showcases both the (for example) Dutch words and/or phrases you’re trying to learn, and their English translations. One thing that Babbel has that no one else seems to, is speech recognition. In other words, you can practice your pronunciation on the app by recording your voice, and lose your fear of speaking! If you’re really liking the format, then you can sign up to gain access to a greater variety of courses. You’ll only get one course for free though; after that, you’ll be asked to pay a premium per month in order to continue. Your progress will be instantly updated from your phone app to the web, so if you’ve accidentally dropped your phone down the toilet and it’s out of commission (it happens more than you think!), you can still keep up with your language-learning courses. You can download Babbel on the Apple Store and Google Play.
Brainscape, like Babbel, offers both a mobile and web app! And, like Tinycards, Brainscape has options above and beyond just language-learning. Users can study music theory, history, geography, and you can even prepare for the MCAT, SAT’s, and subjects like AP Chemistry! But, don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty awesome tool for language-learning. You’ll get thousands of audio flashcards for the most useful words and grammar rules in each language, and, thanks to a “scientifically optimized” flashcard repetition algorithm (as they say on their website), your memorization time will be dramatically reduced. You can get started for free, but you’ll have to part ways with a little bit of cash in order to unlock full access. But, Brainscape is well worth the extra cost as it offers very specific courses in each language. For example, “Business Chinese” which dives into accounting, banking, insurance, and even legal, political, and marketing terms (and more!) versus “Survival Chinese” which focuses more on day-to-day encounters. Because Chinese is such a complex language, Brainscape even offers in-depth courses that focus specifically on writing, versus grammar, and so on. So, if you’re looking for something beyond the more basic, conversational phrases that many language apps teach, then Brainscape is the one for you. You can download Brainscape on the Apple Store. While it doesn’t have a Google Play native app, their website version allows Android users almost the same functionality as the app.
Here’s a snapshot of all the apps mentioned above and their capabilities (in case you didn’t feel like reading through all that writing!)
Let us know what your experiences are – whether you have another app to add to the list, love and use one of these language learning tools daily, or are a first-timer experimenting with different instruments. Tweet us at @Globalmedotnet!