Learning a second (or third) language is something that everybody should try at some stage of life. Scientists are eager to explain the advantages of becoming bilingual, as the extra work stimulates the brain to switch tasks and to improve its memory, among other benefits.
Unfortunately, many of us do not have enough time to attend classes so to get fluent in a new language. Or this is not a priority at the moment. Or maybe you just need to know a few things for tourism purposes.
And here is where apps can help you, by putting on your hands the resources that you need to reach a decent level of proficiency in a new language. They are usually very intuitive, fun, and inexpensive so that you can learn without the pressure of exams and assignments.
Duolingo is the most popular app for language learning. Enjoying a 4.5-star rating in both Google Play and iTunes, it is 100% free and it is also available for Windows Phone. They offer 16 languages, including Irish, Esperanto, and Welsh, plus none new course in beta or in production.
Most of them are offered considering English as your mother tongue, but a significant number can be done in other languages, such as “French to Spanish speakers”. Duolingo is colorful and makes you feel like you are playing a game while you are learning to read, speak, and listen. It also comes with in-lesson grading and plenty of motivational resources.
On the downside, some will complain that you learn far too many phrases that are not useful in real life, and that the system is quite though in terms of never letting you get away with any small mistake.
Memrise is another favorite and offers more than 200 language courses to your iOS or Android device. You will start and improve using flashcards and games that will help you to learn new words every day (If you commit to it, of course). It also comes with multiple-choice questions and courses focused on non-English speakers.
Memrise is fun and easy to use – it will be your best friend when you are waiting for something or someone. It is mostly based on mnemonics, with plenty of images that can help you to keep the information you have just learned. On the other hands, there are complaints about limited vocabulary in some courses, poor voice recognition, and some inadequate cultural information here and there.
Busuu promises that you only need to spare 10 minutes a day to learn with them. They also claim that according to an independent study by the University City of New York, 22.5 hours of Busuu Premium is equivalent to one semester of a language course in college.
And yes, you read it right. To unlock their most valuable resources, you will have to pay for it – for you can try it for free for one week and see if it suits you.
The free app gives you access to flashcards, writing exercises, and to corrections from native speakers, being the latest the coolest feature of Busuu. You will be able to send your writing exercises to their community, and you will get a response within minutes – but do not expect to type something like “write my paper” and get your work done for you.
It is also possible to chat with native speakers and practice what you learned during live conversations. There are problems in their system, but you still can enjoy the experience.
Babbel has 14 languages available, and each one of their lessons takes around 15 minutes to be completed. Their lessons cover several topics, from travel to business, and go from beginner to advanced level. The app is supported by the European Regional Development Fund, but there are in-app purchases, so it is not 100% free.
It promises you that you will be able to keep basic conversations, such as asking directions and shopping, after just one month. And this is because, from the first lesson, you will be able to practice your conversational skills. You will have to answer a few question to set a profile, and then you are ready to start.
This isn’t exactly a language learning course, but it might be the solution for you. This open-source and free app can create any flashcards you need so you can learn by memorizing them. There are several flashcards in their deck library, including a large selection of language learning resources. So you can download them for free and start learning.
But you can also customize the deck you got or create your own flashcards, meaning that Anki can be used with another app or as an extra resource for self-study or classroom-based courses. You will have a few models of flashcards that you can create, such as a basic or a reverse card, and you can add images or a recorded audio to it.
So, here, you have five apps that can help you with your language learning. If you are still struggling to decide, the best thing to do it is to download them all and test them to know which one works best for you.
Plus, nothing is stopping you from using more than one at the same time. So if you cannot make a decision, just do not. Get the most out of all of them and happy learning!