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The Best Language-Learning Apps

man using application to learn a language
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The best way to learn a new language is, of course, immersion. Nothing beats surrounding yourself with native speakers. If you’re looking to jumpstart your language learning before arriving in a new country, however, there are plenty of smartphone apps to do just that. Here are four of the best mobile apps for mastering a new language.

Pimsleur

The Pimsleur App - 50 Years of Training in the Palm of Your Hand

Pimsleur is one of the oldest, most recognized language learning brands. Most of its products rely on listening and repeating individual words at first, then complete sentences as users develop their vocabulary. It’s ideal for those who learn best aurally, and many users can develop basic conversational fluency in a month. However, the “listen, speak, repeat” approach isn’t effective for everyone, and it can feel overly repetitive. The app is free for both Android and iPhone, although only paying Premium users have access to additional learning tools like flashcards, quizzes, and a customized skills section that’s perfect for travelers.

Tandem

Tandem Sneak Peek

Most language learning apps and software rely on formulaic lessons through which students progress one step at a time. That structure can be great for some, while others prefer a freeform approach. Plus, the lack of a native speaker to converse with makes it difficult for students to know how proper (or not) their pronunciation is. Tandem solves these problems. It’s a language-learning exchange where users connect to learn each other’s language. New users create a profile, including which languages they’re fluent in and which they’re looking to learn. The site then works to find the best learning partner for them. The community boasts more than 160 world languages, including English, Spanish, German, French, Russian, Japanese, Korean, and more. It’s free, communal, and is the best way for budding polyglots to know whether they’re speaking correctly. The upgraded Tandem Pro version is ad-free and adds features like profile verification and allowing members to locate other nearby members to meet up with.

Duolingo

Duolingo: The Best Way to Learn a Language

Duolingo keeps things lighter and more fun by “gamifying” the language-learning process. The app interface is bright, colorful, and uses short, exercises to help students quickly master new vocabulary and phrases. Users progress to higher levels one at a time, and the app rewards those who maintain their streaks by tracking the number of days in a row they’ve reached their point goal. It also encourages reviewing older lessons, so users retain the words and phrases they’ve previously mastered. Most of the features — including multiple language learning and access to short audio stories — are available in the free version. Upgrading to Duolingo Plus provides access to downloadable language learning lessons and an ad-free experience.

Memrise

Like Pimsleur, Memrise is best for students who learn aurally. The app takes a different approach, however, by using short videos of native speakers saying words and phrases aloud so users can quickly master the pronunciation, tone, and cadence of their chosen language. In this way, it’s easier to learn the conversational patterns of a new language. A limited selection of lessons is available in both the Android and iOS versions of the app. Users looking for more will need to upgrade to Memrise Pro to unlock the full set of features.

For travelers, Google Translate is another must-have, as are these other free travel apps.

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