50languages Review: A Completely Free Interactive Phrasebook
Most language learning programs assume that the learner is comfortable with using English as the base language.
50languages.com does things differently, allowing learners to study their target language from nearly any other language.
Better yet, there’s no signup or payment model: All the lessons, games and resources are available on the website for free.
The only catch? The program won’t exactly teach you how to speak your target language fluently. Instead, it focuses on teaching set phrases on common topics, allowing you to have a basis in the language and not much more.
Still, this entirely free resource is worth checking out if you’re looking to learn some useful phrases for a trip, or if you want to study a new language from a base language that’s not English.
Read on to see what 50languages has to offer and decide if it’s right for you!
Description: A free interactive phrasebook for beginners.
Languages offered: 50 languages including Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Bosnian, Tigrinya, Kazakh and more.
Offer price: Free!
50languages lets you study 50 languages from any language, in case you can’t or don’t want to use English as your base language. The program won’t teach you how to speak your target language fluently. Instead, it focuses on teaching set phrases on common topics, allowing you to have a basis in the language and not much more. Still, the program is worth checking out since it’s completely free and a more memorable way to study phrases than simple rote memorization.
- User friendliness - 8/108/10
- Delivers on promises - 6/106/10
- Authenticity - 6/106/10
- 50+ languages and 2500+ language combinations
- Interactive phrasebook makes phrase learning more memorable
- Downloadable audio for offline learning
- Simple and intuitive interface
- Also has some games, reviews, tests and more resources
- No customization features
- Only teaches set phrases, not language skills
- Doesn’t cover all language skills
- Has some intrusive ads
- 50Languages By the Numbers: What to Expect
- What 50languages Does Right
- Where 50languages Falls Short
- And One More Thing...
50Languages By the Numbers: What to Expect
50+ Languages and 2500+ Language Combinations
First and foremost, you do, in fact, get 50 languages from 50languages. Languages range from the more popular learning choices like Spanish, German, French and Chinese, to less common options like Bosnian, Tigrinya, Kazakh and more.
When you visit the website, you can choose the language you want to study either from a map or from a drop-down menu. A second menu lets you also choose the language you want to use as a base.
This means you can study Italian from Kurdish, or Korean from Ukrainian. There are over 2500 language learning combinations! This is an incredibly useful resource for anyone whose native language isn’t English.
And there doesn’t seem to be any difference in material, regardless of what language combination you choose. I tried learning Japanese from Spanish. This also changed the entire website language to Spanish, making navigation easy for Spanish speakers.
100 Lessons for Each Language
Each language course has 100 lessons. These lessons cover everything from core vocabulary topics like colors and days of the week, to key grammar information like how to form negations and a very limited introduction to tenses.
Among the lessons are also some common topics of conversations, like making small talk, checking in at a hotel, going shopping and other topics that would be useful in everyday life.
What 50languages Does Right
I’ve tried to learn from phrases before and discovered that rote memorization is just not effective for me. With 50languages, though, I actually managed to remember a couple of phrases in Japanese.
That’s because the program gamifies the traditional phrasebook. Each phrase has letters missing so you can try to remember it yourself. To reveal the missing letters, you just click on the entry. You can also click on a button to reveal all the answers at once.
Each phrase has an audio pronunciation and the option to hear it in a number of other languages. If you’re an aspiring polyglot, this program is a great way to study phrases in multiple languages at once.
Besides the phrasebook, 50languages also has some additional resources for your learning needs.
There are several simple games: match the cards, find the opposites, crosswords (only in five languages, though) and a game that has you remember the missing word. Some of the games can be one or two players.
There are also sections for learning alphabets, vocabulary flashcards, number learning, fill-in-the-blank tests and even some radio stations. A translation trainer lets you try your hand at translating sentences from one language to another.
If you like learning with the program but prefer to use physical resources, you can buy the book versions of any language’s workbook.
Finally, I’m not always connected to the internet when I’m traveling, so I was glad to discover that 50languages offer offline learning. You can download the MP3s of all the phrases in each chapter for easy learning on the go.
Simple and Intuitive Interface
With 50languages, what you see is what you get. The website design is simple and no-nonsense. I was never confused about any of the features, and everything was clearly labeled.
I love how easy it is to switch things up on the fly. It’s super easy to change the lesson as well as what language you’re learning with and from without leaving the page you’re on.
Has Mobile App
If you prefer your language learning to be contained in an app, you’re in luck: 50languages has one main app for all the languages and another app called “STEPS” that’s a more guided learning experience through the program.
You can also download the app that corresponds to the specific language you’re trying to learn if you’re only studying one. These more specific apps are slightly better organized than the main app since they’re more focused. Which app you download is up to you and your learning goals!
Where 50languages Falls Short
No Customization Features
One good and bad thing about 50languages is that it doesn’t require you to make an account to use the program. On one hand, signing up (and dealing with all the promotional mail that comes with a signup) can be a hassle.
On the other hand, not having an account means that there are no customization features in the program, since it doesn’t save your information. For instance, there’s no way to save any of the words to favorites or a word list for later review. You’d just have to go back to the right lesson.
Only Teaches Set Phrases
The program’s goal is pretty lofty: “With no prior knowledge, you will learn to fluently speak short sentences in real-world situations in no time.”
The key phrase here is “fluently speak short sentences,” because that’s really all the app will teach you. At the end of the day, 50langauges is really only a phrasebook—a way to learn the most common vocabulary and phrases as quickly as possible.
You might learn how to say specific phrases but you won’t learn why the grammar works the way that it does or how to form your own phrases from the vocabulary you pick up. This might be exactly what you’re looking for in a language learning app, like if you’re planning a short trip, but it’s not a good way to start actually learning a language.
Doesn’t Cover All Language Skills
The 50languages program hones your listening and reading skills, but it has no writing or speaking practice. Even the tests let you choose the answers from a selection of words, rather than type them in.
If you want to learn how to actually speak the language, you’ll need to pair the program with opportunities to speak, such as through a language exchange program like My Language Exchange or a tutoring service like italki.
One other issue is that the phrases you see in the program might not be the ones you’d hear native speakers actually use. For a more authentic introduction to languages, a program like FluentU would come in useful.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Has Some Intrusive Ads
Since 50languages is free, it runs on ads. This is understandable and not generally a big deal. The ads are mostly non-intrusive, even though they take up a large portion of some of the pages.
However, it’s worth noting that there are also frequent popup ads (some of which I wasn’t sure at first how to close). It also frequently shows the types of ads that look like they’re part of the page, like the ones that prompt you to “download” a pdf for free with a big green button. Just be aware of what’s part of the page and what’s an ad!
50languages is a great free resource if you’re just trying to learn some common phrases.
It’s not, however, a way to actually learn a language. It simply doesn’t provide enough guidance on grammar, sentence structure, conjugation and other key language skills for forming your own sentences.
The program might be a great way to stock up on some common phrases for a trip or as a way to quickly learn a lot of phrases to use in common situations and get you started on the language.
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You get a truly personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)