Sorry, you caught me at a bad moment.
You know how it is. Smartphone technology can be frustrating.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not very patient when it comes to apps that take too long to figure out.
Especially language learning apps, because language learning is already a big time investment.
When I download a language app, I want to be able to understand what it’s supposed to do and how I can start using it. Like, now.
I want to be able to use it until I’m comfortable with it, and then keep using it and get better and better at the language I’m studying.
There are good apps out there for learning languages. There are bad ones. And there’s often no immediate way to tell the difference between them.
Look, I don’t want to come across like some arrogant, entitled person who gripes about technology. Technology is amazing, and we should never take it for granted.
But there’s so much tech out there we don’t even need. And as a language learner, it’s in your best interest to only use what really works.
I’m going to give you a rundown of some of the best language learning apps. Of course, everyone likes different types of apps, but these are ones with solid, hassle-free features that the vast majority of people can benefit from.
And they do their job. If you commit to them, they deliver.
Signs of an Effective, User-friendly Language Learning App
Smooth, simple features that are easy to understand and control.
I don’t care how ingenious of a language learning system you’ve put together. If it’s not something you can explain to me in 30 seconds, I’m probably not going to use it.
We spend a lot of time these days bemoaning short attention spans and going on about how people need to engage more fully with life. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’ve read books with 1,000+ pages because they were inviting enough to make me want to engage with them. Just as good books are well written, good apps are intuitive. Of course, what’s intuitive and appealing can differ from person to person, which is why I’m recommending 10 apps instead of just one or two.
Some language apps mainly contain information. That may be fine if you’re looking for reference material, like a dictionary or list of grammar concepts. But if you’re looking for an app that will actually teach you something, you’ll need one that invites you to participate in the process, whatever that may mean. It could be an app that prompts you to speak, for example, or one that gives you written quizzes.
You may want to choose an app based on the skill it asks you to practice, but any regular meaningful interaction with the language will help you build your general knowledge. You can always then choose to exercise that knowledge in other ways. Interactivity itself is what’s most important.
Full sentences and plenty of context.
If I had a penny for every language app I’ve downloaded that turned out to just be a matching game with individual words and definitions… well, I’d probably have, like, 30 cents because these particular apps are pretty easy to spot. And sometimes I’ve even done it on purpose because, depending on the game, they can be fun!
But my point is that you have to move beyond individual words. Apps whose features are too complicated can be tedious, but the actual material you’re learning should be complex. After all, language is an intricate thing.
So let’s take a look at some apps that give you all of the above and more.
The 10 Best Language Learning Apps for User-friendly Study
How It Works:
FluentU is based around the idea of taking real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turning them into personalized language lessons.
It creates a supportive, closed environment, but it does so within the context of an actual video you might find on the web, like a TV clip or commercial. You have control over what you learn, but FluentU provides interactive captions, quizzes and multimedia flashcards that give you a guided, non-stressful study experience.
In a nutshell, here’s what makes FluentU special: Because these videos were created for native speakers, you get access to the real thing immediately. There’s no waiting to “graduate” and try out your skills in the world. The world is with you right from the start.
You can shift around your learning as you like, so it’s easy to alleviate boredom if there’s a particular video you don’t enjoy. In many cases, you can find multiple videos for learning the same vocabulary, and you always have the chance to see that vocabulary in context. FluentU also keeps track of all the vocab you’ve learned, so you never have to waste time studying what you already know.
Key Features: Real-world videos from YouTube that run in a special player with interactive captions. Instant definitions, images and grammar notes. Intuitive pausing. Downloadable PDFs, plus vocab and dialogue tabs with audio clips for each video. Customized quizzes that use spaced repetition for efficient learning.
In Summary: FluentU gives you a balance between independent and guided learning. It lets you control your learning environment, gives you supportive tools and also starts you off with real-world language right from the beginning. Unlike many other apps, it doesn’t just help you build a strong foundation, but gives you content to increase fluency into and beyond the advanced levels.
How It Works:
Yep, Rosetta Stone is legit! Its quality is apparent in the construction of its lessons, which teach you a language through immersion and logic. In the lessons, you’re given words and sentences in text and audio to match with images in a way that slowly builds knowledge. You’re also prompted to test your speech against voice recognition technology.
What Rosetta Stone excels at is putting you in a controlled environment that keeps you from having to think about too much at once.
If you’ve ever wondered why Rosetta Stone is so popular, aside from good marketing, it’s probably because it requires very little decision making outside of the actual work you need to do in the lessons. And decision making is often where people get stuck. The limited amount of information you’re able to see in the app at any given time helps cut down on uncertainty and stress, which for a lot of learners is a huge benefit.
Of course, using a language in the real world isn’t as straightforward of a process as using Rosetta Stone. Nor should it be. What Rosetta Stone does is give you a boost up into the language so you can eventually start using it in other ways.
Key Features: 30-minute lessons given in an immersive test format. Pictures with matching audio and text.
In Summary: Rosetta Stone is a very supportive system for learning a language that can help you quickly gain a sense of accomplishment. It puts you in a controlled environment where you only have to think about one thing at a time. If you’d like to sit back and let the app make all the decisions, this is one of the best choices out there.
How It Works:
Innovative Language gives you access to a dashboard of features where you can learn a language through podcast-style audio and video lessons.
You can zoom in on the content of lessons through corresponding notes, line-by-line audio and other tools. It’s sort of like classroom learning, but in shorter bursts.
What sets this app apart from others is its human element. While learning vocabulary, grammar or cultural concepts, you have native-speaking teachers talking directly to you. But you can also learn at your own pace and review the material in whatever ways are most comfortable for you.
Key Features: Podcast lessons with corresponding notes and audio clips. The features that are available to you depend on what level of plan you sign up for.
In Summary: Innovative Language apps are great for independent learners who still want the feeling of being taught by an actual person.
How It Works:
Okay, so HiNative is a little different from the other apps on this list. It’s not meant to be used as a main or complete learning system.
But what’s important is that it gives you something that’s missing from many, many other good apps all put together: Controlled, easy and efficient interactions with native speakers.
HiNative helps independent learners learn better by rescuing us when we get stuck. It only takes a few minutes to create a profile, during which you learn how to use the platform itself. Then, you can type in questions for native speakers to answer. For example, you can ask how to translate a certain word or phrase. Or you can record yourself speaking and ask someone to evaluate your pronunciation.
And that’s it.
It takes the awkwardness out of communicating with strangers and allows you to learn whatever you feel you need to learn.
Key Features: A simple Q&A chat setup with categories that guide the question and answer process.
In Summary: HiNative is mainly an app to be used in conjunction with other apps. But it’s also an app that probably any learner will find helpful at some time or another. It fills a very specific but important need.
How It Works:
What you get with Pimsleur is 30-minute audio lessons that include speaking prompts. This is one of the best apps to use if you’re planning on learning exclusively in your car or in environments where you can’t look at your phone for extended periods of time.
However, if you do want to learn from your phone, the Pimsleur Premium app does come with some bonuses for additional learning, including reading lessons, digital flashcards, games and more.
The lessons present scenarios that cover core vocabulary, and they eventually bring you into the dialogue. Pimsleur lessons probably wouldn’t be very stimulating as pure listening material, but once you get used to the format, you’ll probably become excited for the moments where you have a chance to speak. The time-based physical and mental demands of the program really build your confidence by testing your abilities.
Like with Rosetta Stone, you get a limited amount of material at one time, and once you start the lesson, you’re locked in for the duration. If you’re a restless learner and don’t like sitting quietly, Pimsleur may be fun for you, because it requires your full attention and participation. You get to talk, and you can even get up and walk around while you’re doing the lessons!
Key Features: 30-minute audio lessons with speaking prompts.
In Summary: The Pimsleur app gives you straightforward lessons with an interactive audio format and a logical structure. This is one of the more intensive apps on this list, as you need to do the lessons regularly, and the lessons set the pace for you. If you go with Pimsleur, expect to do some serious work, but also to build a strong foundation in spoken language.
How It Works:
Duolingo has the same type of controlled presentation as Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone, but it’s a bit more flexible. That also means it probably won’t work you out quite as hard, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
If Rosetta Stone is like weight training, Duolingo is like cardio. It may not strengthen your practical skills as much, but it allows you to get into a rhythm and slowly build up your confidence in a language. It does this through quizzes that use audio, text, multiple choice questions, translations, jumbled sentences and fill-in-the-blank exercises.
Duolingo won’t necessarily give you the most useful sentences to practice. In fact, it has a reputation for asking you to translate or put together sentences that are so absurd they’re hilarious.
That’s okay, it just means that Duolingo is more focused on building your general vocabulary and sense of relationships between words. You won’t get the practical scenarios that are presented in Pimsleur lessons or the real-world content of FluentU.
Still, it’s free and a bit addictive. Plus, because there are so many people using Duolingo, you’ll probably run into other users, which makes it easy to compare progress and engage in friendly competition.
Key Features: Quizzes that give you questions and challenges in a variety of formats. A simple, clean interface that tracks your learning and pushes you to study every day.
In Summary: Duolingo may be one of the best apps for motivation, and the price makes it easy to just start learning anytime. It won’t teach you a language in its entirety or give you the most realistic sentences to memorize, but it can give you basic knowledge and some momentum.
How It Works:
This appealingly geeky app is a sentence miner’s dream. Simply put, Clozemaster gives you a bunch of sentences to study in your target language. You select from a variety of language pairs and quiz yourself on the sentences using a fill-in-the-blank game.
You may think this sounds a bit similar to Duolingo, but while Duolingo sometimes seems to construct the most random sentences out of groups of words, Clozemaster starts with the sentence as the ultimate unit of learning.
Content is sourced from Tatoeba, a project that collects and translates sentences from public domain texts. This means that, generally speaking, the sentences you get should be realistic and useful. They may not always be sentences you would actually use yourself, but they’ll probably be the type you would encounter somewhere—like in speeches, books, newspapers and other authentic sources. This also means that you can use Clozemaster well into the advanced levels.
Key Features: Sets of sentences for various language pairs that can be turned into quizzes.
In Summary: Clozemaster is essentially like context-based flashcards. Unlike some of the other apps here, it won’t teach you a language from scratch, but it will give you relevant material for actually learning to fluency. As there are different amounts of material available for different languages, how useful Clozemaster is for you will depend partially on what language you’re learning.
How It Works:
Beelinguapp lets you learn with authentic, context-rich content, but instead of using videos or sentences, you’ll be using whole books. Well, stories and short texts, at least.
This app has you enter the language you’re learning and the language you want to learn in, then lets you choose from a list of texts sorted by level. Once you’ve opened a text, you’ll be able to listen to the audio while following along with the help of a translation and an auto-highlighting feature.
Beelinguapp is based on a straightforward concept, but like Clozemaster, this app has major geek appeal. It can be used creatively for a variety of purposes, including learning new vocabulary and proper pronunciation in context. It can also just be used to take a break from your regular language studies and have fun seeing how far your understanding of your target language has come. However, its most exciting application might be working to increase your reading (and general comprehension) speed.
Key Features: Books and stories with auto-highlighting text that’s synced with audio.
In Summary: Beelinguapp should appeal most to learners who are interested in reading in their target language, as well as independent learners who want to get a bit creative with their studies. It could probably be used as a primary study tool by some language learners, and it can definitely be useful to most. How useful you find it will depend on your goals and preferred learning style.
How It Works:
MosaLingua’s language apps give you lists of vocabulary in a simple phrasebook format with different categories, as well as dialogues.
That sounds pretty typical of a basic language app. However, you also get to choose which vocabulary you want to interact with. You can save that vocab in a flashcard deck of sorts, meaning you don’t need to spend any time studying phrases that aren’t geared towards your specific goals. You can then run through exercises in your flashcard deck that help you memorize, pronounce and reproduce your selected phrases.
This setup could be pretty perfect for learners who like to control every aspect of their learning. With MosaLingua, you’ll always know exactly what you’re learning, and it tracks your progress. You’ll have access to a variety of content, but you can focus on the subjects you’re interested in and customize your learning experience.
Key Features: Subject categories that give you access to phrases with audio and text. Dialogues. Customizable flashcard decks.
In Summary: If you want to take charge of your own learning, but to do it with a limited amount of pre-selected material, you’ll probably find MosaLingua helpful. Their apps will likely appeal most to the practical, goal-oriented learner.
How It Works:
Learn 50 Languages may be the most no-nonsense app on this list. Nothing about the interface will blow your mind, but the content and organization make it easy to navigate.
This app actually uses a setup similar to MosaLingua, with the main part being a phrasebook made up of different wordlists along with corresponding audio clips, flashcards and quizzes. The look is a bit less slick, but everything is free with ads.
This app is best for beginners. The wordlists are divided into numbered lessons rather than categories. You can play through the lists and interact with them through flashcards and tests.
Learn 50 Languages gives you a limited amount of information, but a ton of flexibility, and it ensures you learn the basics first. Also note that I’m using “wordlist” very loosely here to describe the format: While you do get access to some individual words, you also get plenty of sentences for context!
Key Features: Wordlist-style lessons that take you through the basic vocabulary of a language, including full sentences.
In Summary: If you don’t want any bells and whistles but just the essentials, Learn 50 Languages is here for you, and it’s free. Like other apps that focus on the basics, it won’t teach you the whole language in terms of content or usage, but it will get you started.
Never underestimate the importance of just getting started—it’s often the hardest part.
The best language learning apps for you are the ones that you can and will use. And keep using.
So take these for a spin, and see which one(s) you like!
Elisabeth Cook is a language learning enthusiast who blogs about books from all over the globe at Lit All Over.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.