Hola amigos! I’m a big fan of learning and picking up some foreign language words when you travel to a new place – it is such a big help in communicating with the local people, and a great way to start a conversation because people appreciate when you try to speak their language, even if you bastardise their words with your terrible accent and pronunciation. One of the easiest ways these days to pick up a new language is to use a language learning app – here are some that I’ve tried and used for myself.
Why use a language app?
Cheaper and less commitment
The traditional style of language learning involves signing up for classes and physically attending them – this can be a bit tough if you have a really busy schedule and would rather save your money for actual travelling instead. The app is something you can install on your phone and work on anytime – open your language app and do a few exercises when you have some downtime instead of browsing Facebook, you’ll find that you can get a surprising amount done.
Repetitive learning that complements lessons
With an app you can repeat a lesson as many times as you want, and for me as a visual learner, it’s really useful being able to look at the words while I practice them.
And language apps don’t have to replace classroom lessons altogether, but give you that extra practice that complements your lessons instead. I still like the human interaction you get from talking to a peer of the same abysmal language level as you. You will likely be using your new language when talking to other people, so I think building up that confidence.
My favourite language apps
So I’ve been trying to pick up Spanish ever since I visited Spain way back in 2007 and 2008. I talked a little bit about the importance of having some Spanish for travelling around South America, and even spent some time in Panama with the Habla Ya Spanish School learning some Español, and I’ve been using a couple of apps to help me practice.
Duolingo seems to be the go-to app that people like to use to learn languages – it’s the one most people assume I’m on when I say I’m learning via an app. It’s pretty decent and I like the bot chats that mimic actual conversations, it’s a fun way to pick up more conversation and test how well you can apply the words you have learned in an everyday context.
One thing I don’t really like is the ‘expiry’ of the various past lessons in the app. I know the idea is to motivate you to keep using the app consistently, but personally it makes me feel a bit disheartened.
The app I prefer using for lanaguage learning is Memrise – just something about the interface I prefer using over Duolingo. It’s a matter of personal preference moreso than it actually being better or worse than Duolingo, I suggest you test out a few apps to see what works best for you.
Many of the better features like Meet the Natives (they film and record actual people saying key phrases – it’s different from the voices used in the rest of the app), Chats and Listening Skills are only available in the paid version, though you can unlock them from time to time when using the app.
Beyond just learning vocabulary, one problem for me with languages is always about getting the grammar right. AnkiApp isn’t actually a language learning app, but a flashcard creation app, where you create your own flashcards that the system uses to improve your recall. but for language learners, you can browse and upload ‘decks’ created by others to help you learn a language. I was using a Spanish phrases deck to help me remember the use of the various feminine/masculine/plural/singular grammar rules.
You can also create your own deck based on your own problem words, but it can be pretty time consuming doing that.
Tell me about your favourite language learning apps in the comments, what works for you? I’ve had recommendations to check out italki which lets you practice speaking to native speakers, and I do subscribe to the Fluent in 3 months newsletter, I’d love to hear what else people like to use to learn foreign languages.