You CAN Learn a New Language — Just Use One of These 3 Apps

by Linsey Knerl on 23 April 2014 2 comments

Learning a new language used to mean taking years of classes in high school. When you graduated, you knew enough Spanish, French, or German to buy a sandwich, find a bathroom, or ask if anyone speaks English — should you travel to another country. Learning a new language outside of school meant buying expensive CD sets that you listen to while you were driving or sitting around your home. You could go at your own pace but didn't have anyone to converse with or practice your new skills. (See also: 5 Ways to Learn a Language)

Thanks to the growth in technology and the development of language learning apps, you can acquire new language skills in a short amount of time and from the comfort of anywhere. Great apps can range from free to a small monthly fee to the purchase of a $25 app. The best apps offer a range of features for various learning preferences. Here are three great ones to consider.

Duolingo

Duolingo is a free app available for IOS and Android devices. It is an easy-to-use program that will leave you feeling successful after the first lesson and has been highly regarded as one of the best language learning models available. One independent research study found that Duolingo works as well as one semester of college level language classes in just 34 hours of time on the app. Imagine spending one hour a day for one month working on learning a language and acquiring the same skills you would have had you paid thousands of dollars and many weeks attending a university course! (See also: Learning Without the High Cost of Higher Ed)

Duolingo works by asking its language learners to translate real sentences that have been uploaded to their software. Users can vote on whether translations are correct. Once a document is fully translated, the one who uploaded it pays Duolingo. This keeps it free for the language learner.

Lessons are broken up into small chunks which offer repeated practice of the same five or six words in isolation, in phrases, and in complete sentences. It pairs audio and text to teach you the phrases and then uses your microphone to verify your pronunciation. There are a number of languages available to learn but not as many as other apps. (Available at this time are Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese.) The app has a simple layout and is easy to navigate. (A friend's child was learning Spanish within seconds of loading the app onto a phone, making it worth a download by everyone.)

Memrise

Another free app that is available on both IOS and Android devices is Memrise. This app allows users to learn all of the languages that Duolingo does plus Russian, Japanese, Arabic, and many more. (There is a premium feature in the works that may change what is free and what is not in the future.)

Memrise provides a combination of text, audio, and pictures to help you learn words and phrases. It offers the learner repeated exposure with the same phrase, which may or may not feel repetitive to a user. There is an option to listen to a phrase as many times as you need to hear and practice pronouncing it.

One unique feature of Memrise is that it doesn't focus solely on language learning. You can use the lessons to learn about classical works of art, geography, science, or entertainment. Using the science behind how the brain learns, Memrise offers short, easy-to-complete lessons, repeated practice, and regular review to ensure that you have learned the information for good. It should definitely be used if you are looking to acquire a new language or learn something new about the world. (See also: Learn Something New Every Day)

Anki

Anki is a free desktop program that you can download to your computer. It uses a flashcard model to help you remember languages and other information. Anki has developed software that incorporates active recall testing (asking you questions just after you learned the information rather than waiting a period of time to ask) and spaced repetition (spreading out review of the information over time). The combination of the two means you are answering questions about the information you just learned and then answering questions on that same answer over time. For example, you may be reviewing the same information every day for three days. If you get it right every time, then you will start reviewing it every week. As you continue to answer correctly, the review questions are spaced out further and further apart.

Anki takes time to master. You are not going to be diving into lessons immediately upon download. However, there is a large community that is developing and sharing flashcards for you to use. If you are trying to learn a common language, you may be able to use a "deck" (what Anki calls a set of flashcards) that someone else has already developed. If you are trying to learn something rare, you may have to create your own deck, which can take a lot of time. (See also: 10 Great Self-Improvement Apps)

Anki is available for use with Android devices for free, but the IOS app is $24.99. Many users find this a small price to pay for mastering a language.

Other Options

If these three apps do not meet your needs, check out LingQ and Busuu. Both apps have free lessons available but require a purchase (or monthly fee) to progress beyond that. They are worth checking out if you are serious about learning a new language and don't mind investing money in the process.

Whether you are hoping to brush up on what you learned in high school, looking to travel in the future, or need to master a new language, any of the apps mentioned here will bring you closer to your goal.

Have you tried a master a new language? What worked for you?

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Pattie

great app recommendations! I've been doing the classic "cd's in the car" method. It's taken forever to learn Italian, LOL.

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Jill

I have been thinking about learning a new language by computer app…but wasn't sure if it would really work. Now I think I should go ahead and take the plunge. Great article.