I’ve been working on my German on-and-off since Lisa and I got together in 2011 (more about us here!). This year, one of my goals is to finally get my language skills up to a working level, so I’ve been stocking my bookshelves, looking up courses, and dusting off these language apps.
Language apps are not a cure-all for language learning. But they are an amazing tool when it comes to vocabulary building, testing your skills, and making habits of lifelong learning.
They’re especially great if you’re looking to get your toes wet before you embark on your next adventure. Whenever I go someplace new, I try to practice basic phrases for “hello,” “thank you,” “can I have…?”, etc. When entering an unfamiliar culture, being able to speak some words in another language shows you’re willing to make the effort, and it feels great too.
Here are a few of my favorite apps right now (that aren’t Duolingo)
This is my new favorite language app! I started using it this year and I’m addicted. It’s a vocabulary builder with a beautiful gradient interface. The idea behind Drops is that the more words you know, the more capable you’ll be of holding a conversation.
I particularly love it because the various categories offer a wide range of vocabulary I haven’t worked with before. Instead of going through the same easy words other apps begin with (apple, boy, cat, etc.), I was learning words for fountain, ironing board, and moped. It also gives you the option to hide words you don’t want to be quizzed on, so I could avoid relearning words from my other lessons and instead focus on the new ones.
Also, the exercises are built to keep your brain active, such as having you spell words like “der Hubschrauber” with sections like der-Hu-bsch-ra-ube-r (instead of predictably divided sections). They make you think more!
Pros: Beautiful interface, interesting array of vocab, easy habit to build.
Cons: Only 5 mins per 10 hours (with free version), and no progress sharing capabilities, which is a bummer if you need an accountability buddy!
Price: Free! (5 mins of learning every 10 hours)
Price for Premium: $10 per month, with some cheaper deals for yearly subscriptions.
My linguist/language teacher wife swears by this app. It’s built around the language levels used in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, so each lesson is presented the way it would be in a language class. They brag that 22 hours of using their premium program is equivalent to taking one college level course!
They combine grammar lessons, vocabulary, and conversational language learning in bite-size lessons that are great for any language learner. What’s especially cool is that there’s a feature to connect with other language learners around the world, so a native speaker can correct your exercises and vice versa. This concept terrified me at first, but I’ve grown to love it!
If you’re serious about learning a new language, this is the one for you.
Pros: Chances to interact with native speakers, loved by language teachers, and they offer certificates (with a premium subscription) to make your learning *official*.
Cons: Busy interface (lots of premium ads and uses a LOT of stock photos), they also offer only 12 languages.
Price for Premium: $10 per month, with some cheaper deals for yearly.
This app comes from the creators of Duolingo to help you build your vocab, and also keep your mind generally sharp. A lot of the “tiny cards” are culture related, so you can quiz yourself on anything from the Greek Gods to geography.
Not only does Tinycards offer flashcards from Duolingo courses, but you can also search decks made by other users, or build your own! This is worth the look if you’re hoping to learn some basic phrases for your next trip or expand your understanding of a culture.
I also love the building your own stack option. I’ve started making a deck of vocabulary of words I was stuck on while reading Harry Potter auf Deutsch so I could practice them later!
Pros: Great for Duolingo learners, diverse decks, ability to make your own flashcards.
Cons: No structured courses, you have to search for stacks on your own.
The best part of this app is the feel of it. Once inside, you don’t feel like you’re in a colorful, sometimes silly world of other language apps (like Duolingo’s sometime weird sentences like “I am not a bear”). Lingvist is there to help users who are serious about learning, no funny business allowed. The exercises are straight forward with attainable daily goals and challenges. They even make you correct your wrong answers, which reminds me of high school algebra class but hey! They’re right, it’s useful.
Pros: The app is easy to look at, offers lots of analytics to track your progress, and has a good mix of grammar and vocab.
Cons: The premium subscription is pricey and they don’t offer much for free.
Price: Free! But limited learning with the free version.
Price for Premium: $20 per month, cheaper options for yearly
I’ll be honest, this app isn’t a great fit for my language learning journey, but I think it’s worth a mention because it includes video clips of real locals. One of the issues with language apps is that you aren’t getting a lot of real life experience, either because the apps are mostly word based or because they use synthetic computer generated voices. By learning new words from the mouths of native speakers, Memrise introduces a new, fun solution to that problem.
Pros: Videos of actual locals using the language! Great for pronunciation.
Cons: Starts you at the very beginning (there’s nothing like learning how to spell hello again), only 5 mins of learning a day.
Price: $8.99 per month, (limited learning with the free version)
Have you tried any of these apps? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!