Lots of people decided to take up new pursuits during the pandemic. If you’re like me, one of those was learning a new language. I took Spanish classes in school, of course, but ended up forgetting most of what I learned over time. And so, with time on my hands during the pandemic, I began to hunt around for the best apps to download for learning a new language.
There are tons of great options out there, depending on what you’re looking for. I would recommend the three options that I settled on — Duolingo, HelloTalk, and Preply — to almost anyone trying to learn a second language outside of an in-person classroom setting. And I’ll talk about my reasons for them below.
Best apps for learning a language
I want to make clear that the apps listed below are my personal recommendations. There are alternatives for all of them, and no doubt there are some out there that offer completely different or even better functionality.
Why I’ve decided these are some of the best apps: First, you’ve got Android and iPhone options for all of them. Second, the user experience for all three of these apps is extremely intuitive. Anyone can pick them up and dive right in, with a minimum of fuss.
Duolingo, in fact, is pretty game-ified, so it keeps you a bit hooked on wanting to use it regularly to learn. In fact, let’s just dive right into that one first.
App #1: Duolingo
I’m on the paid version of Duolingo, I should note, because I’m serious about wanting to learn Spanish. Thus, I wanted the full range of the app’s services available to me, as opposed to the skinnier version of the app that’s available on the free tier.
Basically, though, the app’s main activity consists of progress rings, sort of like the loops that Apple Watch users attempt to “close” each day via workouts. Duolingo will test your language level first, and then start designing tests accordingly. On the easier levels, there are pictures to accompany the words that Duolingo asks you to guess the meaning of.
As you learn over time, the app does a good job of shaking up the questions it throws at you. You’re asked to complete a sentence. Or you might have to listen to a speaker and then answer a question about what was said.
Before each level begins, Duolingo also shows you “tips” to remember. If you’re new, definitely read that screen first — it will help you complete each level.
Pro Tip: Don’t get too bogged down in only completing the exercises that “close each circle” every day. Even though those tests are only a couple of minutes long, and great to do when you’ve got some free time.
Make sure you also tab over to the “audio” portion of Duolingo, where the app will let you listen to native speakers, and then you use your phone’s microphone to repeat what they say. There’s also a “stories” component of the app, in which you’ll listen to a story unfolding. And you’ll be prompted, for example, to fill in a word that’s missing on the screen (but which was said aloud by the speaker).
Best language app #2: HelloTalk
I should quickly note something, by the way, before launching into my second pick for the best apps for language learning. All the apps I’ve chosen work in concert with each other. Duolingo, for example, is largely instructional. The best thing about this next app, HelloTalk, is that it lets you converse and learn from native speakers. On my iPhone right now, in other words, I have ongoing chat threads within this app from Spanish speakers around the world — from Spain, Costa Rica, Argentina, and elsewhere.
The final app is class-based, but we’ll come to that. Let’s talk next, as I said, about the app HelloTalk.
This one is a great complement to Duolingo. Because you’ll essentially take what you learned from the first app and put it into practice with real-life speakers.
The app is loaded with features, but I largely use it to send text messages in a natural, fluid way with native speakers. You can also record snippets of audio and send back and forth to each other, so they can tell you: Good job on that part, or you misspoke on this other part. You can also correct each other’s texts, too.
App #3: Preply
For the final best app for language learning, my recommendation is Preply — but honorable mention must also go to iTalki. Both apps essentially do the same thing, connecting you with language teachers for what are essentially regular Zoom-style classes. I prefer the Preply interface, but there are tons of iTalki users out there, so it’s really just a matter of which one you enjoy more.
I’ll talk about Preply here, though, since I’ve used it the most.
The setup here is pretty straightforward. Pick which language you learn, and you can also narrow down the teachers you’re presented with on the basis of things like who has the best user rating. And also if they’re a native speaker or not. You schedule a time to have a class, and then it’s just like a Zoom session.
Honestly, you could short-circuit my whole list and only use Preply if you wanted. I only recommend the other two, because you can save yourself maybe a lesson or two of the basics from a Preply teacher if you already have something of a running start.
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