Updated: 25th May 2022
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Getting to lingo with the locals is the most important thing to me when I travel, so, finding the best language learning apps before I travel to a country has become more and more important over the years.
I bet travelling the world years ago when English wasn’t such a common language made for a much more exciting journey, sadly, nowadays we seem to have become a bit lazy. If people don’t understand, often people will just try to say it louder and slower, and throw in a few hand signals, with the hope it helps. However, learning a few basics is relatively easy these days with so many free language apps to help.
Travelling through Dieng in Indonesia where no one spoke English to me for a good part of the trip was challenging. I was able to get by with my Indonesia basics but as the traveller in me has grown so has my want to study other languages. Luckily, there are heaps of awesome language apps to help us these days – keep scrolling to see my favourite best language learning apps.
Also, you might want to check out my recent article on learning Spanish online which will give you some further ideas on resources to learn any language.
Ok, so it might not be teaching you directly but it is certainly my personal go-to language app while travelling due to how much it helps. If I see words I don’t understand but want to learn it is as simple as pointing the camera at the text and getting a translation.
Not sure what’s on the menu, use your phone camera to translate it. Need to get a sentence out to a local that you really don’t know. Let it speak it aloud for you. Literally, the best language app to help communicate in any situation.
We all learn languages (and indeed, anything) in different styles – and while for some of us that is perhaps studying a written language course, or learning through talking, for others, a more visual-based approach is favoured. So, let me introduce to you perhaps the most chill (yet surprisingly effective) option on this list – sitting back and watching TV!
No really, stay with me here, for this is such a simple yet clever solution to combine learning a language with something fun and which already fits into our spare time. Lingopie doesn’t just bring subtitles to 1000s of hours of TV shows and movies, but the subtitles are clickable so that you can pause the show and learn the meaning of any new words while you are watching – you will also be learning the pronunciation from the audio track of the programme. At the end of each episode, you can review the words you clicked on to recap what you have just learned.
This is especially great for increasing your word knowledge, which can be helpful whether you’re a beginner looking to learn new words or more advanced with a grasp of the grammar but simply wanting to expand your vocabulary. With nine different languages to choose from – Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Brasilian Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and English – it’s a beneficial app for those who wish to travel or live in a country that speaks any of these languages. Give the free trial version a go, and if you enjoy it, you can continue with the year membership which is around €6 per month, much cheaper than Netflix!
I seem to go through phases with different language apps, dropping in and out when travelling, but now, having moved to Portugal, I’m using language apps not just for a short trip, but to support myself learning a brand new language, Portuguese, and this is one of my preferred best language learning apps.
Drops is a relatively new language app, and my favourite thing about it is the different mediums it supports in learning words. You get both written and audio words, but also visual graphics to help support the learning, which is ideal if like me you are more of a visual learner. You also have complete control over the words that you go through this process with, so if you are already confident with certain words, you can tick them off and they won’t show up in the lesson format.
I have been using the premium paid version of Drops, as I’m quite committed to learning Portuguese obviously, and so far it seems worth the investment. I certainly am learning full sentences rather than just words, which is awesome, and hopefully, it will have laid down enough of the basics when I start my in-person language classes, I can come in at a higher level. Lessons can be digested in as little as five minutes, and another thing I love about Drops is their commitment to lesser-known languages, and preserving traditional and regional dialects, as they expand.
I have been hooked on this app for a long time, and no surprise it won the ‘Apple iPhone App of the Year’.
Why so good? I like the fact it is more like a course in the palm of your hand than a list of jumbled words. It uses repetition and reviewing to make sure you have grasped it and mixes audio learning with visual prompts. As someone with Dyslexia and a Visual Sequencing problem, I find all these mixed learning methods really useful.
You aren’t going to become fluent here but you will have more than enough to get by. They also have a fairly wide range of languages. For Spanish, in particular, it is one of the best language learning apps as it has a very extensive course.
Another winner of Apples Apps and offering courses in a whole multitude of languages Babbel is pretty simple to get started with. There is however an auto-renew subscription for the language courses which, if you want to really study the language is great but just for grabbing the basics for a quick weekend getaway it might not be worth the investment.
I like the fact it does cross over from phone to web, so you can start and finish the modules on either. It is well structured and the lessons are pretty thorough however given the monthly cost once you have picked up the basics from another app it might be better to invest that money in Skype lessons with a local.
HiNative is only available as an App through Apple however Android and desktop users can access it online (UPDATE: As of Feb 2016 an Android version is now live!). It is very different from your usual Read, Listen and Learn approach however I do love the interactive aspect of it as you are conversing with native language speakers a lot of the time.
The bonus to me of this app is I am awful at pronunciation, as well as asking how to say certain things you can record your voice to get feedback as to if what you are saying sounds like the real deal. Hello no more embarrassing moments in shops of talking complete gibberish, you can keep your blushing behind the phone screen!
I also love that you can interact with natives about their culture or in fact anything to get direct answers before you arrive.
It does have a subscription fee for premium access and the downside of it is that only those who have paid for it can listen to your voice recordings, so, you are reliant that someone has! Certainly one of the best language learning apps if you want to engage in actual conversation.
Busuu only offers nine languages which are mainly European based and again, it does charge a subscription past the basics. I personally never really got into it but I know Friends who have really excelled using it so I didn’t feel fair leaving it off the list. It includes your typical features as well as the native interaction element of HiNative – Again, only used briefly but maybe it will be the one for you?
Lingoda – For actual online language classes
For a more traditional way to learn languages online, Lingoda is an online language school marketplace which acts as an alternative to in-person language schools. While, for me, the experience of learning with a teacher in a classroom can’t be rivalled by an online course, I found the few lessons I did with Lingoda very good, and the platform is one of the best online Spanish learning options.
While it isn’t that cheap, given you have an online teacher, it’s a great option for people who might not have a language school nearby where they live. You can opt for group or private lessons, and it works on a credits system – the more credits you buy in bulk, the cheaper the classes become.
What I really liked about the platform, and the teachers, was the flexibility. It’s split into the formal levels such as A1, A2 etc., and there are plenty of the same classes to choose from over different days and times, so you aren’t locked into a specific class slot as you might be with a language school, so you have more control. I also loved how the teacher provided the written notes and annotated coursework from each lesson afterwards as a PDF download, so you can keep a copy of what you are learning and working on.
You can enjoy free group or one-to-one lessons during the trial, so it’s well worth giving Lingoda a try to see if it will support you with learning Spanish online. In addition to the paid classes, the actual class learning material resources and programmes are freely accessible at any time. You can get started with a free trial here.
My favourite method? Ashamedly it is watching English films abroad and learning from the subtitles, which also usually leads to comical soaps and knowing all the words to a foreign catchy crap advert with no idea what they are talking about. Can you get any more cultured than that?
How about you? Any lingo learning apps I have missed out?