One of the most exciting parts about going to a new country is the possibility of meeting new people. But what do you do when those people speak a language different from your own? Language barriers scare many people from traveling to parts of the world they would otherwise love to see in person.
Luckily, we don’t have to fork out hundreds of dollars to sign up for classes or tutors any more. We have resources right in the palm of our hand. You guessed it—our smart phone!
In this top five list, I will be summarizing the pros and cons of some of the top language learning apps across iOS and Android devices so you can forget those language barriers when you travel abroad.
Edit: In the original version of this post, I decided to leave out the number of languages available to each app (with the exception of Word Fireworks). I decided to provide more specific information on these language options to make this post a more comprehensive resource!
Pros: Audio/Visual aids, introductory grammar lessons, increased difficulty as your progress.
Cons: Not grammar intensive, limited vocabulary lessons.
Languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Irish, Turkish, Danish, Norwegian, a number of other languages in development (including Klingon!!).
Overall: Perfect introductory course for a variety of languages and a good resource to review things if you’re rusty. If Duolingo doesn’t currently have your target language, they’re beta testing more and more each day!
Pros: Large database, expansive vocabulary, different levels of proficiency
Cons: Audio quality inconsistent, no focus on grammar
Languages: Over 200 – including Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, Danish, Swedish.
Overall: I personally have used this app the longest and can confidently say it is responsible for my retention of vague Korean words. Perfect for those of you who want to learn a lot and quick.
Pros: Fun gaming style, writing practice, addictive quality
Cons: Limited number of languages
Languages: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Hebrew
Overall: I recently purchased this app ($1.99) to brush up on reading and writing in Japanese and, wow, I wish this was around before I went to Japan! It’s limited to only four languages, but that could very well change due to its recent popularity.
Pros: Powerful customization options, different levels of proficiency (sometimes)
Cons: Design is not user-friendly, open-source software (can be buggy)
Languages: You can find a number of shared decks for Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish.
Overall: This is the app that I have used the longest. It has a native app for PC/Mac and has an expansive community library. The design is not intuitive, but once you get the hang of things it will change your life. It also has uses outside language learning too—I’m looking at you, college students!
Note: I must point out that the iOS version is paid, but the Android is free. The creator of this app provides free downloads for the desktop version and, in order to make some money, made the iOS app available for $24.99.
Pros: Speaking practice, interaction with native speakers
Cons: Limited number of languages, (Eventually) Needs premium subscription
Languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese.
Overall: One of the weaknesses of self-study is the inability to practice speaking your target language in casual, natural conversations. That is where busuu comes in! The app’s mock conversation feature helps itself stand out, but you’ll only enjoy it for a limited amount of time before your free-trial expires.