Learning a new language used to mean sitting down in a classroom, with an instructor teaching lesson plans. However, technology has streamlined this process. Nowadays, there are countless software programs, audiobooks, and even apps for your smartphone, computer, or tablet to help you learn languages in whatever way best suits your personalized learning style.
Some people learn best by reading or listening to audio lesson plans, while others prefer games, drills, or flashcards. Other factors to consider include whether you’ll be primarily speaking or reading your new language. Suppose you plan to rapidly learn to speak a language, before visiting a new country. In that case, you’ll want a language learning app or plan that includes a speech recognition feature to ensure proper pronunciation.
Because even the thought of learning a new language from scratch can be overwhelming (not to mention choosing the right program to teach it), we’ve compiled a list of the best language learning apps to get you started on your bilingual (or trilingual, and so on) adventures in no time.
— Best Overall: Babbel
— Best For Pronunciation: Pimsleur
— Best Free: Duolingo
— Best For Real-Life Conversations: Memrise
— Best For Learning By Sound: Rosetta Stone
How We Picked The Best Language Learning Apps
With only so many language learning apps available, it wasn’t too difficult to narrow our list of the best to five picks. We primarily honed in on ease of learning and overall time requirements. Because let’s face it — we all have busy schedules, and not everyone can easily set aside several hours each day to devote to a new language. As such, all of the apps we featured required 30 minutes or less per day to achieve overall learning success.
Cost was another consideration we factored in. Two of the best learning apps on this list require no paid subscription before letting you dive right in. However, those who are serious about learning a new language might eventually shell out for a premium service. But for those just starting out, it certainly doesn’t hurt that you can try out a service for free without having to commit to a monthly subscription (which can add up fast). Who hasn’t pulled the trigger on a paid app subscription only to have it essentially collect dust on your smartphone or device?
The Best Language Learning Apps: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Babbel
Why It Made The Cut: App-based lessons created by a team of experienced language learning teachers are designed for all levels of learners, from beginners to experts.
— Number of Languages: 13
— Subscriptions Based: Yes
— Lesson Length: 10-15 minutes per day
— Bite-sized, interactive lessons
— Over 6,000 language courses
— Learn languages in context
— Voice recognition feature needs work
— Courses require active engagement
You’ll be on your way to mastering real-life conversations with confidence in no time with Babbel, the first choice of millions of people looking to enhance their language education and our pick for the best language learning app overall. Expert language teachers have built every course tailored to your native language so that you’ll learn quickly and effectively — with 13 languages to choose from, including Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Russian. A study backed by researchers at Yale University, found that 100 percent of active study participants using Babbel improved their oral proficiency in just three months.
Almost anyone can fit language learning into their busy schedule with Babbel’s short, interactive lessons that take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete. Some lessons, such as Spanish lessons, are even faster. Not only can you learn to listen, speak, read, and write, but you’ll also improve your pronunciation, with speech-recognition technology that even helps you develop a native accent. This is why Babbel is a go-to choice for both beginners and seasoned language learners when they want to advance their conversation skills.
Some users have had issues with Babbel’s voice-recognition feature; however, the company is actively working on fixing bugs. Another issue with the app is that because the lessons require active engagement and interaction, Babbel is not the best choice for those who want to simply put on a pair of headphones and multitask while they go about their day.
Best For Pronunciation: Pimsleur
Why It Made The Cut: You can discover new worlds, experience life-changing adventures, and create unforgettable memories with just 30 minutes per day.
— Number of Languages: 51
— Subscriptions Based: Yes
— Lesson Length: 30 minutes per day
— Easy-to-use digital flashcards
— Role-play with the speak-easy challenge
— Sync progress across all your mobile devices
— Server issues impede streaming lessons
— You can only choose one language with the subscription
Give Pimsleur just 30 minutes per day, and you’ll be speaking a new language with a near-native accent in no time. Learn to confidently inquire about prices, order dinner, and ask for directions with no textbooks or grammar lessons necessary. With uninterrupted learning, you can stream or download ad-free lessons at your leisure — which is why 75 percent of customers learned their new language on the go during their downtime.
The app also comes with a full suite of tools to help you quickly review and hone your skills, including digital flashcards that help you practice vocabulary and dive deeper into the written language. Lock in the essential vocabulary words, meanings, and pronunciations by simply listening and responding as you hear and see words. Additionally, you can also test your new skills with the Quick Match and Speed Round game.
Unfortunately, some users have reported server issues that may impede streaming lessons, so you may have to download in advance if you’ll be using the app on the go. Another minor downside with the app is that you can only choose one language at a time. Some folks feel that for the subscription price, you should have access to any language you want, rather than having to choose just one.
Best Free: Duolingo
Why It Made The Cut: Designed by language experts, Duolingo boasts a science-based teaching methodology proven to foster long-term language retention.
— Number of Languages: More than 35
— Subscriptions Based: Only for the premium plan
— Lesson Length: 15 minutes
— Quick, bite-sized lessons
— Personalized learning with AI
— Fun lessons with playful characters
— Free version comes with a lot of ads
— Limited “hearts” with the free version
Have fun while learning a new language with Duolingo, the world’s most-downloaded education app. Access over 35 free language courses, from Spanish, French, and German basics to Scottish Gaelic, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and even High Valyrian! Practice your speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills while building your vocabulary and grammar, with personalized learning that’s tailored to help you learn at your preferred level and pace.
The program’s quick, bite-sized lessons will help you earn points and unlock new levels with engaging exercises and playful characters, while gaining valuable, real-world communication skills. You can even track your progress and work toward your language learning goals, which are rewarded with playful rewards and achievements to encourage language practice as a daily habit!
But while learning a language on Duolingo is completely free, you may choose to remove ads and make faster progress by upgrading to the paid Plus. This may be worth your dollar, as many users feel that the free version has too many distracting ads. Another downside of the free app is that the points system is heart-based, so when you run out of hearts it can take a while to earn more. With the premium version, however, the user is given unlimited hearts.
Best For Real-Life Conversations: Memrise
Why It Made The Cut: With a learning algorithm developed with the best cognitive science, you can train your long-term memory with faster and better methods than traditional learning.
— Number of Languages: 19
— Subscriptions Based: Subscription required to access all courses and features
— Lesson Length: Varies
— Speech recognition technology
— Courses designed by native experts
— Short and easy to follow lessons
— Need subscription for full access
— Doesn’t correct pronunciation
Join over 50 million people learning a new language with Memrise, the only app built by experts and guided by native speakers for a fully immersive learning experience. The program’s short and easy-to-follow lessons will help you master the three basic fundamental skills of language learning: Knowing the translation of words and phrases, understanding them when they're used in real-life situations, and developing the ability to chat with others.
Thousands of video and audio clips featuring native speakers will help prepare you for real-world conversations, regardless of which level you’re learning at. However, you will need a subscription to access all of the courses and features.
The speech recognition technology feature is designed to help with pronunciation, but unfortunately, when they correct you the pronunciation lessons don’t indicate where specifically you went wrong. Not understanding how to correct your pronunciation can be frustrating, but hopefully, this issue will eventually be fixed in a future update.
Best For Learning By Sound: Rosetta Stone
Why It Made The Cut: You’ll always know what to say with easy-to-understand greetings, phrases, expressions, daily conversations, and more.
— Number of Languages: 25
— Subscription-Based: Yes
— Lesson Length: As short as 10 minutes
— Real-time pronunciation feedback
— Companion audio lessons included
— Flexible subscription plans
— Steep learning curve for beginners
— Better for reading and writing
Rosetta Stone’s dynamic immersion method uses interactive and contextual language lessons blended with extended learning features, because the best way to learn a new language is to surround yourself with it. With a variety of speaking-focused lessons and features paired with instantaneous pronunciation feedback, you’ll learn to speak confidently in as little as 10 minutes per day. The program can even help you create a custom game plan with curated content and helpful lesson reminders to ensure you stay on track in your learning journey.
Features such as the proprietary “Dynamic Immersion” method allow you to learn in context beyond standard memorization. With “Rosetta Stone’s Phrasebook,” you’ll always know what to say with easy-to-understand greetings, phrases, expressions, daily conversations, and more. Or, train your ear by listening to downloadable audio lessons.
Though the program does feature lessons with native speakers, many users have felt that the program is better suited to those who want to learn reading and writing in another language instead of conversational fluency. Others warn that there’s a steep learning curve which makes the program better suited to intermediate or advanced users rather than beginners.
Things to Consider Before Buying One of the Best Language Learning Apps
When considering which language learning app is best for your personalized needs, it’s best to start at square one. In other words, which language, or languages, do you want to learn? While most language learning apps come with a few European languages, such as Spanish, French, and German, you might have to search a little harder to secure an app that competently teaches, say, Vietnamese or Swahili. Also, if you plan on learning multiple languages at once, make sure that the program you choose allows access to more than one course, as some will lock you into learning just one language at a time.
And again, because we all optimally learn in different ways, it’s a good idea to do some research to make sure the app meets your basic learning needs. For example, some of us are visual learners while others learn better through audio and listening to lessons—which also come in handy for multitaskers. Alternately, do you need games and drills to keep you engaged and accountable? Picking up a new language as an adult is a challenging endeavor. Ensuring that a program is tailored to your individual learning style will ultimately provide the best results.
Q: What is the easiest language to learn?
According to Babbel, the easiest language for English learners to pick up is Norwegian. Because Norwegian is a member of the Germanic family of languages, including English, the languages are quite similar from a vocabulary standpoint. The grammar is also reasonably straightforward, with only one form of each verb per tense.
Q: What's the first thing you should learn in a new language?
Experts believe that the first things you should learn in a new language are basics, including the alphabet, pronunciation, basic sentences, key verbs, and frequently used vocabulary. Getting these language elements under your belt should provide an excellent foundation to build on.
Q: What word is most common in all languages?
Interestingly enough, the most common word in all languages is “huh.” In 2013, scientists recorded and compiled pieces of informal language spanning five continents and 31 dialects. And yet, they all have “huh” in common.
With the option to use the service for free or pay for an ad-free premium subscription, our top pick for the best language learning app to start with goes to Duolingo. With access to over 35 languages, it’s excellent for those who want to dabble in more than one language at once — without paying for a subscription. We also love the fun, interactive learning aspect, with colorful characters and games that make learning a new language less of a chore. That said, if you want a fully premium app, Babbel is the best overall, with its easy-to-digest lessons. It’s perfect for anyone who is short on time but can manage to carve out just 15 minutes per day.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.