The New Year has arrived, and with it, likely a list of resolutions for a better, dynamic, and more well-traveled you. One of the most common ones: learning a new language. The ability to communicate in a different tongue is the gateway to an alternate perspective on how the world works, a tool for connecting with people you may have otherwise never met, and a way to challenge yourself.
It’s never too late to learn, either: As long as you’re ready to commit, there’s a wealth of language-learning smartphone apps out there that make the practice portable, accessible, and fun. Here, an introduction to a few of our favorites:
Duolingo’s gamification of language-learning – lessons feel like fun and addictive challenges – has made it one of the most popular apps of its kind, with more than 100 million users. Languages offered range from standards such as German and Italian to more bizarre tongues like Klingon; all aspects of language-learning (listening, writing, reading, speaking, and grammar) are integrated into a series of topical lessons – one day you’ll learn food vocab; the next, verb conjugation. Consistency is key, and Duolingo’s push notifications remind you to practice every day. The app is free, but premium subscriptions provide ad-free content and upgraded features. Free; available on iOS, Google Play, and Windows Phone.
Busuu is great for those who aren’t starting from scratch: Upon logging in, users can select their learning level for the app’s 12 languages, ranging from beginner to upper intermediate. Downloadable lessons hone in on individual vocabulary words and dialogue, accompanied by audio tracks that let you hear native pronunciation. We love the mini travel course option, which summarizes longer lessons with key phrases useful for travelers – it’s an ideal brush-up before a trip abroad. The app is free, but there is a monthly fee to access the complete range of course material and features – including a super-cool perk that lets you have your skills evaluated by a native speaker. Available on iOS and Google Play.
The focus is on vocabulary practice with this cheeky, language-learning app. Memrise implements a learning method that lets you input funny and odd associations with foreign words through mnemonics, memes, and images. Flashcard-style courses include vocabulary lists from standardized textbooks, but also humorous lists (Japanese naughty words, for example) that may be more amusing than beneficial. The app’s spaced repetition algorithm is key for improving memorization skills. Available on iOS and Google Play.
The popular computer program (remember those bright yellow boxes?) has made the leap to your mobile device. Lessons can be accessed on your desktop and smartphone; there’s a complimentary demo, but you’ll need to purchase the full suite for continued learning of the 24 languages offered. Rosetta Stone’s courses focus on communicating in a real-world context, with an emphasis on pronunciation and speaking. Perks include tutoring sessions with native speakers and downloadable lessons. From $5 a month; available on iOS and Google Play.