Top 9 Practical Apps to Learn a Language While Driving
According to OnePoll, the average American spends more than eight hours a week in the car commuting to work or school, running errands or traveling to meet friends or family.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could optimize all this time in the car by mastering a foreign language?
In fact, it’s entirely possible to learn a language while you drive. Let’s check some of these apps out and then figure out how to harness their potential to advance your language skills.
- 9 Practical Apps for Learning a Language at the Wheel
- Why Learn a Language While Driving?
- How to Learn a Language While Driving in 5 Steps
9 Practical Apps for Learning a Language at the Wheel
1. Michel Thomas
Summary: This practical audio course will have you speaking from the start, no reading and writing required—perfect for when your hands are busy behind the wheel!
Michel Thomas is a language learning product that has been around for a long time, and their entire method focuses on oral language. Currently, Michel Thomas offers audio-based courses in 18 languages including French, Spanish, Japanese and Arabic.
I love that Michel Thomas courses focus on conversational skills right from the get-go, homing in on common vocabulary and phrases. Rather than rote memorization, these courses had me using the language actively and engaging in mock conversations with native speakers. This is a great way to prepare for real conversations that you could have with native speakers at a later time.
As an added benefit, much of Michel Thomas’ instruction is in English. I found that this helped me to grasp various language concepts more easily.
Summary: This classic language program is heavily focused on verbal communication, and so will help you boost both your listening and speaking skills all in one car ride.
Pimsleur is also a well-known audio-learning resource, and they have courses in more than 50 languages including German, Ukrainian, Chinese and Persian.
Its language learning content is given as 30-minute audio lessons—the ideal length for my car journey to work! The lessons focus on conversational topics, helping learners build a strong core vocabulary and get a handle on common grammar structures. This core vocabulary and grammar will be beneficial for creating meaningful sentences in your target language.
While once an audio-only course, I was happy to utilize some new features to the program—such as the flashcards, quizzes, pronunciation tools and reading practice—which I’ve found to be a great source of extra practice after driving.
3. Teach Yourself Complete Courses
Summary: While much of these comprehensive courses require a textbook, take advantage of your daily commute and get stuck into the listening activities (which include everyday conversations!).
From my experience, the Teach Yourself series is one of the most well-rounded approaches to language learning, focusing on all four major language learning skills as well as to-the-point grammar.
Teach Yourself courses are actually based around a textbook, but each unit comes with native audio dialogues and other recordings. Lessons span common vocabulary topics with in-depth grammar analysis alongside countless grammar and vocabulary exercises.
While using these courses, I have completed the lessons in the textbook first and then listened to the dialogues while driving. This is a great way to enhance listening and speaking skills, as well as vocabulary retention in the long-term.
Additionally, Teach Yourself offers audio-only apps through the “Get Talking, Keep Talking” and “Coffee Break” series. These are shorter podcasts aimed at teaching one bite-sized chunk of the language at a time.
4. Living Language
Summary: These courses also provide a textbook and audio recordings, based on specific topics—complete the lesson before heading out, then listen to the audio recordings in the car to reinforce everything!
Like the Teach Yourself courses, Living Language courses match audio learning with the aid of a workbook in more than 20 languages.
In my experience the lessons are particularly effective for speaking and listening practice as they revolve around a particular dialogue and topic. A transcript of this is given in the workbook alongside specific vocabulary and grammar notes, and each lesson comes with audio recordings as well as dozens of workbook exercises.
After doing the lesson in the workbook, I listen to the dialogues over and over again while driving: this keeps the newly-learned vocabulary in the forefront and allows me to get used to various sentence structures.
Summary: This time-honored course encourages both receptive and productive language skills, and allows you to learn mostly through audio if you so choose—perfect to do while driving.
Founded in 1929 by polyglot Alphonse Chérel, Assimil is the oldest language learning program on our list! It offers hundreds of courses in foreign languages, and with many 21st century advancements, these courses are available as an app.
The method behind Assimil is to teach languages intuitively, having learners assimilate the sounds, words and grammar structures of the target language. I’ve found this immersion method to be particularly useful, especially at the start of learning a new language.
In fact, there are two phases to an Assimil course. The “Impregnation Phase” has lessons of 30 to 40 minutes aimed at helping learners absorb the language naturally through listening and reading. The “Activation Phase” allows students to use the language creatively and fluidly, focusing on written and oral production.
I believe that both of these phases are ideal for learning a language while you drive, as they activate the two hands-off skills of listening and speaking. Assimil courses can be audio-based, textbook-based or a combination of both.
Summary: This program has you actively speaking and listening to a language with the help of native speaker recordings and accompanying text. Leave the text at home, but the rest you can do from behind the wheel!
Linguaphone’s philosophy is simple, and it revolves around three steps: listening, understanding and speaking. Each lesson starts with native audio for listening and then the audio is dissected by the accompanying text for comprehension.
I love the speaking step: rather than just repeating words and phrases, Linguaphone has you create new sentences, translating from English into the language you’re learning. This allows you not only to imitate the native speakers and perfect the accent of the language, but also to use the language in an active way.
Linguaphone offers courses in 15 languages including Turkish, Korean and Greek available for MP3 download directly to your phone.
Summary: These podcast-based courses are ideal for listening to while driving as you’ll hear everything from native conversations to grammar explanations—other features of the program are merely optional.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, chances are you’ve encountered LanguagePod101 before.
Perhaps most popular because of their YouTube videos, LanguagePod101 offers podcast-based courses in more than 30 languages, all available on an app. Some of their most popular include FrenchPod101, SpanishPod101 and GermanPod101.
Each lesson revolves around a podcast, whether an audio clip of a native dialogue or a more lecture-like lesson dissecting a grammar concept or vocabulary haul. While the podcasts can stand alone, the LanguagePod101 online platform features written tutorials, flashcards and transcripts as well as videos that are available in-app and on YouTube. This is perfect for reinforcing the learning you’ve done from listening while you drive!
8. News in Slow
Summary: Something you’d usually do while driving, but with a twist—tune into world news while also learning a language! Great for learners who already have the basics down.
Who doesn’t like to catch up on the news while driving?
News in Slow is not really a language learning course, but rather an app and podcast aimed at upper beginner and intermediate learners. In each 15 to 20 minute lesson, top news stories are presented in the target language in simplified vocabulary and with slow, clear pronunciation.
Currently, News in Slow offers four languages: Spanish, French, Italian and German. Each lesson comes with a PDF document, built-in English translations and flashcards for enhanced learning. I found it most useful to listen to each news podcast first for big ideas (see step 2 of “How to Learn a Language While Driving in 5 Steps”) and then go through the accompanying PDF to fill in the blanks.
The best part is that new News in Slow lessons are produced every day. This means that you have an endless stream of target language content ready for you at your language learning level, and since it is based on current news, the words you learn are directly applicable to your language learning journey.
Summary: This app aims to teach the most commonly used words in a language through both writing and audio activities. With more than 15 hours of conversations to listen to, you’ll be prepared for even the longest of road trips!
Speakly is a relatively new app in the language learning sphere, but it has been enjoying quite a lot of hype. While not solely a listening-based app, Speakly combines many language learning skills with an extensive audio library in eight languages. These include Spanish, French and Russian but also lesser-studied languages like Finnish and Estonian.
The best part about Speakly is that it focuses on teaching what it calls the “4000 most statistically-relevant words.” Otherwise said, Speakly helps learners master the most frequent words in a language. This will make it easy to navigate common conversations in your target language around applicable topics like directions, food and shopping.
While the app does have study options for writing, it boasts more than 350 conversations over 15 hours for listening practice. Each conversation also has speaking input options for learners to focus on pronunciation and fluidity.
Why Learn a Language While Driving?
Who says you need a desk or a classroom to learn a language? Turns out you just need a steering wheel and car speakers.
A Good Way to Use Dead Time
It’s not uncommon for us to see time in the car as dead time: we have to keep our eyes on the road, our hands at ten and two and attention focused on driving safely. However, with more than eight hours a week spent in the car, we can utilize some of our other senses to engage in some meaningful language learning.
In fact, just 100 hours are needed to meet the CEFR A1 level for languages like French. At eight hours a week, you could reach this in 13 short weeks. Talk about turning dead time into language fluency!
Focus on Audio Learning
Since your hands are occupied, learning a language while driving will help you focus on listening skills. This is one of the four major language learning skills alongside speaking, writing and reading, and though it is often overlooked, it should comprise about 25 hours of the 100 hours needed to reach the CEFR A1 level.
So, why not use your driving time as listening practice? With audio-only learning material, driving can train your ear to the language. Repeating the same audio lessons also allows you to retain words and grammar structures more easily.
For extra audio learning when you’re not behind the wheel, watching videos in your target language is also a great idea. The authentic videos in the language learning program FluentU, for instance, let you hear exactly how a language is used in different contexts, and you’ll pick up more natural speech as a result. Plus, it comes as an iOS and Android app which makes for easy learning on-the-go (just not while driving, of course!).
Speaking Practice Without the Pressure
Remember how I said that speaking was a major language learning skill in addition to listening? Well, talking to yourself in the car is a great way to practice speaking skills!
You can repeat words after the resource you’re using, homing in on pronunciation and increasing the accessibility of new vocabulary in your long-term memory. You can even practice speaking all alone. This removes the stress and pressure of speaking a new language with a partner.
How to Learn a Language While Driving in 5 Steps
Follow these five easy steps and start learning a language in the car in no time.
Step 1: Preload and Queue Apps for Learning
This post couldn’t come without a disclaimer, so here it goes.
Learning a language in the car should not be a distraction to driving. I never recommend writing anything down, reading or fiddling with your smartphone during driving. You need to focus on driving safely first and following the steps to learn a language safely.
This is my language learning in the car routine: first, I preload the lesson data from my chosen app before I start driving so I don’t have to do so while I’m driving. If I think the lesson may be too short, I use the “repeat” feature so I can listen to the lesson multiple times. I do this using Android Auto, but similar features are available through Apple CarPlay. In a pinch, a smartphone with an AUX cord will do the trick as well.
I then press play, I throw my car into DRIVE and I’m cruising to foreign language fluency.
Step 2: Listen for Big Ideas
On a first listen to an audio lesson, especially as a learner attempting to reach the CEFR A1 level, don’t get hung up on the details. You won’t understand every word, trust me!
Instead, you should focus on the “gist” or the main idea of the lesson. This should include looking out for key vocabulary or grammar structures, or maybe even attempting to understand the big idea of a listening comprehension activity.
Step 3: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Now you’re ready for a deep-dive: listen to the same lesson many times and repeat new vocabulary as you hear it. This will ensure you hear important target language vocabulary used over and over again, anchoring it in your head.
I also recommend you look up unknown words in between listens—while parked, of course. Write these down and review them often. This will help aid in comprehension, allowing you to fill in gaps you may have missed during a first listen.
Step 4: Write Down What You Remember
After repeating the lesson multiple times, its content should become familiar to you. So familiar, in fact, that I challenge you to write down what you remember the next time you’ve arrived at your destination—all in your target language.
Summarizing information is an important skill to have for A1 and A2 learners, and you should include all main ideas and as much new vocabulary as you remember. You could also turn this into a full-fledged writing activity, focusing on the finer details of the lesson to maximize learning potential.
Step 5: Recite Lesson to Yourself
As a final step, the student becomes the teacher: give the lesson back to yourself as if you’re giving a lecture to someone else about the topic. Don’t forget to do this in the target language.
This will further internalize everything you’ve learned and allow you to create novel sentences with key vocabulary. For an extra challenge, give this lesson unscripted.
Who knew that driving and mastering a language weren’t mutually exclusive? With these nine apps and your new language learning while driving skills, you can commute your way to fluency in your new language. Let’s hit the road!