Special Interest

5 Best Language Learning Apps

  • Culture.org
  • |
  • July 4, 2023
  • |
  • 10 minute read
  • |

Learning a new language shouldn’t be so complicated, right? After all, you already did it while being just a baby… so to speak.

There are many ways to learn a language: listening to music, watching TV with subtitles, or even moving to a new country and learning while interacting with people. The best way to learn a new language is by integrating it into your daily routine.

Thankfully, there are apps that allow you to do this without ever leaving your couch!

Here are the 5 Best Language Learning Apps to learn that new language you’ve been struggling with, starting off with Duolingo as the best overall. (Spanish is my native language… believe me, these apps work!)

5 Best Language Learning Apps

1. Duolingo – Best Overall

Duolingo, the app with the notorious green owl, is truly the best app for learning a new language. Best of all? It’s completely free!

  • 39 languages to choose from (including Klingon and High Valyrian!). Most languages are from an English base (meaning you’ll be translating English to whatever language you choose). Some languages however, like Italian, can be learned with a Spanish base (translating from Spanish).
  • Includes all the important ways of practicing like reading, writing, listening and speaking.
  • Science and research-backed learning models. Everything from the app’s intuitive interface to its personalized lessons are backed by Duolingo’s very own language learning scientific team. These researchers analyze the data from the app’s users to continuously improve and optimize its lessons.
  • It’s just plain fun. The app’s bright colors and delightful animations are just dopamine-inducing enough to keep you wanting to come back to “play,” with the bonus that you’re actually learning!

There’s also a premium version of Duolingo called Duolingo Super, in which you have unlimited hearts (the free version only has 4 per day, and you lose a heart for each mistake, which can limit your learning), no ads, and the ability to study your past mistakes. This version costs $6.99/month, and starts with a 14-day free trial.

2. Babbel- Best for Live Classes

Babbel is a language learning app focused primarily on teaching users not just the language, but also that language’s cultural aspects. This allows you to contextualize what you are learning.

  • Subscription-based model that includes lessons, games, videos, podcasts, and magazines about culture and language. Choose between 13 languages.
  • Lessons are based on your proficiency level and time commitment, and are created by expert teachers. The Babbel website claims they can have you speaking a language in three weeks, starting with just 10 minutes a day.
  • As an addition to their regular lessons, Babbel offers Babbel Live, in which real language experts teach through 5 different levels, in classes of up to 6 people for individualized learning. Currently, they only offer four languages in Live: German, Spanish, French, and Italian; they’re working on more languages to come.

Here’s their pricing tier:

  • 1 month: $12.95/mo
  • 3 months: $8.95/mo ($44.70)
  • 6 months: $7.45 ($44.70)
  • 12 months: $6.95 ($83.40)

If you’d like to add the Babbel Live classes, the pricing structure goes like this:

  • 1 month: $99/mo
  • 3 months: $70/mo
  • 6 months: $60/mo
  • 12 months: $50/mo

3. Memrise – Best for Learning to Speak Like a Local

Memrise’s main feature is that it features videos of real locals speaking so users can contextualize and learn how people speak the language in real life. It allows for a more nuanced approach towards language learning.

  • Memrise’s teaching style is more vocabulary-focused than other apps on this list. This means that you’ll learn more about real-life scenarios you might find yourself in. They also believe that speaking the language is one of the best ways of learning it, so expect lots of speaking exercises!
  • The app has over 50,000 “learn with locals” videos. These native-speaking locals also designed the courses so you know you’re learning the real deal.
  • The founders follow the principle of learning just a tad above your current level to actually make you learn. This, tied with their belief that humans are naturally good at learning languages, makes Memrise one of the best language learning apps.

This is their pricing structure:

  • $8.49/month or
  • $29.99/year ($2.50/month)
  • $119.99 lifetime (one-time payment)

4. Busuu – Best Alternative to Duolingo

Busuu is the only other language learning app on this list besides Duolingo that offers a free version. However, it’s more limited than their premium options. The cool thing about Busuu is that they offer, in their Premium tiers, access to a community of 120 million users who can provide you with feedback on your learning and answers to your questions!

  • Get a personalized study plan with Busuu’s Premium Plus tier to guide you in your language learning journey. This tier also includes access to the Busuu Community, a certificate after every CEFR level passed, an Offline mode and other features.
  •  The app offers 14 languages to choose from, no matter the tier you choose (including the free plan). The exercises include real-life scenarios, comprehension exercises, listening, writing and conversations.
  • Reviewers like that the app is extremely easy to use, that it teaches you the grammar behind the words, and that the voices are natural and non-robotic.

Their pricing structure is as follows:

  • Free
  • Premium: $5.95/month ($71.40 annually)
  • Premium Plus: $6.95 ($83.40 annually)

5. Rosetta Stone – Longest-Standing App

Rosetta Stone was founded in 1992 and used CD-ROMs as their technology. They have grown and changed a lot since then, and now they have a model similar to Duolingo and the other apps listed on this article.

  • Choose from 25 languages, including German, Japanese, and Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Latin America.
  • They offer a 30-day money back guarantee, so you’re free to try it out for a while to decide if this is the right language learning alternative for you.
  • Rosetta Stone also offers a “For Enterprise” and a “For Schools” tiers, made for businesses and schools respectively.

Rosetta Stone’s pricing structure is as follows:

  • 3 months: $11.99/mo ($35.97 annually for 1 language)
  • 12 months: $7.99/mo ($95.88 annually for 1 language)
  • Lifetime: $179 (one payment for all 25 languages)

How to Choose the Best Language Learning App

As with everything, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you don’t wish to spend any money, Duolingo is the way to go. Busuu also has a free version of their paid service, but it’s not nearly as complete as Duolingo. As far as value, most users feel that Duolingo is good for learning vocabulary and phrases to “survive,” but also feel that it lacks depth and that it’s not great for an immersive learning experience. The great thing about Duolingo, however, is the fact that their premium version doesn’t offer anything not available in their free version (they just give you unlimited hearts and the ability to review your past mistakes), so you know you’re not missing out on learning by deciding not to pay.

Now, if you’re looking to truly invest time and money into learning a new language, any of the other paid options could work for you. If you learn better with a teacher, the Babbel app offers live lessons with experienced teachers for some of their languages. The lessons are for up to 6 people, so you would be getting personalized attention.

If you’d prefer to go with a renowned and accomplished company, Rosetta Stone might be your best bet, since they’ve been in the language-learning game since 1992. Their offers are a bit more steep in price, but you’ll be getting a well-rounded education.

An in-between option could be Memrise, which is a bit fairer in their prices, and they mix videos of locals along with their regular lessons. This allows you to learn practical phrases that you would actually use in real-life scenarios, just like a local!

What Standards Do These Apps Use to Teach?

Most of these apps base their lessons on the Common European Framework of Reference. This is an internationally recognized standard for creating foreign language lessons. The framework is divided into six levels, with A1 being the most basic, and C2 the most proficient. In general, the apps claim to get you to a B1-B2 level of proficiency, which Duolingo claims can get you a job in that language.

What Are the Advantages of Using a Language Learning App?

All the language learning apps on this list are meant to facilitate your learning journey. Rather than using textbooks and other traditional methods, these apps try to make the process fun, engaging and practical, so you can get to speaking and writing in no time (time flies when you’re having fun!).

What’s the Best Way to Use These Language Learning Apps?

There’s really no right or wrong way to use these apps, it all depends on your learning goals. With most of these, you can start with just 10 minutes a day. The most important thing is to work on them consistently every day. For example, Babbel claims they can get you speaking in just three weeks of everyday use.

What’s the Difference Between These Language Learning Apps?

All the apps on this list serve the same purpose: teaching you a new language. However, they all do it in different ways. Duolingo, the best app overall, is completely free and gives you a customized learning path based on machine learning. Busuu works similarly, however their free version is pretty limited. To get the most out of Busuu, it might be better to pick one of their paid options. A cool feature of this app is that, with their premium subscriptions, you can access an online community of 120 million users you can talk to and receive feedback on your progress.

On the other hand, Rosetta Stone is a well-known, established company that only offers paid monthly subscriptions to learn just one language. However, their lessons go a bit more in-depth than the free versions on this list.

Memrise is unique in that it features more than 50,000 videos of locals speaking, so you can learn the nuances of words and phrases how you would encounter them in real life. They don’t offer a free version, but their pricing tier isn’t the most expensive either.

Finally, there’s Babbel. This app offers, in addition to their regular lessons which are similar to the Duolingo model, live lessons to complement your learning experience. These have an additional cost to the monthly subscription plan, but they allow a maximum of only six people, so you will receive pretty individualized attention from their experienced teachers.

In Summary

Duolingo is hands down the best overall language learning app. It’s free, accessible, fun, and gets results. If you’d like another free option, Busuu is a good contender. If you’re willing to invest in your language learning journey, Memrise, Rosetta Stone and Babbel all have unique offerings well worth your money.

Let’s get to learning!



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