Looking for the best online language learning programs for your kid(s)?
Whether you’re a language learner yourself or just an awesome parent/caretaker, giving children access to the joys and endless benefits of acquiring a new language is one of the best things you can do for them.
Let’s look at the best in online language learning for kids.
- When Is the Best Time to Start Learning a New Language?
- 3 Characteristics of a Kid-friendly Language Learning Program
- 13 Online Language Learning Resources for Kids and Kids at Heart
When Is the Best Time to Start Learning a New Language?
It’s no secret that it takes significantly less effort for a child to learn a new language compared to an adult. It’s even easier for babies to learn two languages at the same time, considering that they’re a blank slate, whereas adults have to make a conscious effort to not apply grammar and pronunciation in their mother tongue to their target language.
This begs the question of when the optimal age is for learning a language to fluency. Is it during infancy? Does the probability of reaching native-level proficiency significantly decrease if a kid only starts learning a second language as a teen?
For a while, most people believed that kids must start learning in early childhood in order to become bilingual. However, an MIT study from 2018 indicates that it’s highly likely for children to become fluent in another language if they start before the age of 10. In addition, after the age of 18, learning grammar concepts in a new language become increasingly more difficult.
To be honest, the results of this study aren’t all that surprising. And while the research states a cutoff age or a critical period for foreign language acquisition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t become bilingual, trilingual or even multilingual as an adult. It mostly depends on the learning strategy.
Think about it. Kids will easily learn their mother tongue or parents’ native language because they’re constantly surrounded by the language either at home, school or both. They pick up languages quickly through this immersive environment and they don’t spend as much time analyzing grammar structures.
Although immersion is definitely a learning method that adults can benefit from, maturity also comes with the ability to do better with explicit rules and explanations of language concepts.
So when is the best time, you ask?
The earlier you or your kids start, the better. Starting before age 10 is recommended.
But at the same time, know that it’s never too late to learn a new language!
3 Characteristics of a Kid-friendly Language Learning Program
Before I list the resources that you’re looking for, I’m going to give you the three most impoerant characteristics of a kid-friendly program. Think of them as the three equally supportive legs of a stool.
A language learning program tailored for kids is highly interactive. It engages the senses and imagination and makes the kids an important part of the learning process.
When dealing with children, a straight-up passive lecture isn’t effective. They barely can sit still, much less keep their eyes on the lesson. You’re dealing with short attention spans and so you need to use activity after activity to keep them engaged in the lesson.
A kid-friendly program gives children something to do—with their hands, their eyes, their imaginations. It doesn’t expect them to get through the whole thing without a fuss.
So an online resource full of boring text won’t be a hit. It’ll barely register. If a language learning program is full of paragraphs, then move on.
Kids don’t think of language learning as a linguistic goal made up of words and phrases. They think of it as an activity—a game, a dance, a song or an audiovisual experience. They engage in the experience and forget that they’re already learning about the language.
So it’s like you’re layering the lessons behind some fun activities.
This is unlike the adult programs where the language lessons are so explicit and in your face. It’s not like kids are going to say to themselves, “Okay, today I’m gonna memorize 10 vocabulary words about food.”
I’m sure you’ve had the experience of asking your little one to do something she doesn’t want to do. You’re feeding her, for example, and she stops opening her mouth, resisting you at every turn. So you start getting creative. You turn that tiny spoon into an airplane, doing backflips and somersaults in the air. Sometimes it’s a train “choo-choo-choo-ing” into her mouth.
Eating is an activity, but your way is more fun and creative.
Memorizing a list of words from a sheet of paper is also an activity. But it’s hardly creative. When dealing with kids, a program has to rise to their level of creativity and imagination. I’m talking about bright colors, moving objects, talking animals, cartoon characters, changing scenery, storylines, rescue missions, interplanetary drama, etc.
Suddenly, your kid isn’t just learning about numbers, he’s counting gold coins in Czech so he can buy the flying pony he’ll use to rescue the princess. And when he’s done saving her, he gets to meet her family—the king, some rowdy uncles—and along the way, learn about family vocabulary. That’s an activity, and a creative one!
They say that variety is the spice of life. If the same thing is done over and over, the novelty soon wears off. It’s not a challenge anymore. It becomes a chore.
Kids will only engage with material if it still interests them. If there’s something new, something unexpected.
They don’t care if they learn the language lessons you want them to or not. They don’t look far into the future and think, “Being bilingual will raise my value at work.” They’re in the present, thinking, “What’s in it for me right now?”
And if it’s the same thing over and over, they’ll want nothing to do with it.
A good online language learning program for kids knows this. That’s why the creators throw in plenty of different activities. They try to teach the same lesson in different ways. For example, a lesson about numbers can be taught in a song. It can also be taught in a story, or a game, so the kids don’t get sick of the same lesson. Because hey, it’s not really the same lesson. (Wink!)
Resources can also test for the same vocabulary set in different ways, even involving different skills. They can test for pronunciation by asking the children to speak into a microphone, they can do word pairs and they can make the activity more interactive by asking the kids to type in the answer. They can also tap into that competitive spirit and facilitate language contests with other students online.
A good rule of thumb is that a really good online resource for kids will have at least five different types of creative activities.
With all that being said, I’m now going to show you some of the best online resources for kids today.
13 Online Language Learning Resources for Kids and Kids at Heart
Some of these programs are specifically made for kids, while others are all-ages programs that just happen to have features that are great for kids.
Both types of programs have their advantages. With programs designed for kids, you can rest assured that your children are being catered to by experts, whereas with general programs, you may be more inclined to join in on the fun!
Recommended age: 1-6
Available languages: Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, German, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and English/ESL with English or Spanish.
Adults might run for dear life at the sight of a bear, but kids think they’re cute and cuddly.
Little Pim, that lovable panda, can be your children’s video guide to learning any or all of the 12 languages on offer. What used to be recorded on multiple DVDs can now be video streamed or digitally downloaded, but you still get that Little Pim cuteness and goofy goodness that won the program over 25 awards.
Their learning system, the Entertainment Immersion Method, was developed by top language teachers and neuroscientists. It employs repetition, play and child-friendly themes to tap into toddlers’ natural love for learning. The videos are a combination of animations and live-action clips that introduce topics like colors and numbers. They run for only five minutes to accommodate a young audience.
The program has a single subscription for all the languages, which also includes offline activities and printable, as well as more resources and learning tips. A subscription will set you back $9.99 per month, or $69.99 for the whole year. You can also access the companion guides to each lesson for free for a visual representation of the language taught in the program.
Android | iOS
Recommended age: all ages
Available languages: Chinese, Spanish, French, English, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean, Russian, Portuguese in development.
FluentU is your best bet for using authentic language learning videos and audio clips to teach languages the whole family will enjoy. While other programs often only have a handful of videos, FluentU has a wide variety of video clips that cover all language levels—from absolute beginners to advanced learners—as well as all ages.
FluentU takes real online videos and turns them into lessons that are personalized and digestible. You won’t have to struggle to get your kids away from the TV to do their language practice, because they’ll be able to watch the same sort of stuff they’d be entranced by on TV, anyway—but in the target language.
Videos range from content made specifically to appeal to children—like cartoons, music videos and movie trailers—to content you may enjoy yourself—such as politics, news and TED talks. This means you may want to help select content that’s appropriate for your child’s age, level and interests, but this is a great opportunity for you to get involved in the language learning process and for you and your kids to learn both individually and together as a family.
Each video comes with interactive subtitles that allow you to get an instant translation of unknown words as well as dictionary entries for each word. You can also practice these new words with personalized quizzes that allow for written and voice input.
FluentU takes authentic videos videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Android | iOS
Recommended age: all ages
Available languages: Online: Spanish (Latin America or Catalonian), French, English (British or American), German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese and Korean. On DVD: Spanish, French, English, German, Italian and Mandarin Chinese.
MUZZY is the BBC’s answer to language learning for all ages. This immersion program, described as “The World’s #1 Language Course for Children,” is centered around animated characters and stories in video “episodes.” The episodes are designed to naturally build on one another, enabling your child to learn through an engaging, interactive method, rather than traditional “teaching.”
You can get started with the online program for $14.66 per month, or save by going with a semi-annual or annual plan. You also have the option of a DVD set with a risk-free trial period and payment plan. You can watch the videos wherever is convenient, whether that’s on the website or the apps, or through an on-demand service like Roku, FireTV or Chromecast.
The program will introduce your child to 600+ vocabulary words and cover everyday topics like telling time, talking about food, transportation, occupations, basic tenses (past, present and future), asking questions and more.
Since Muzzy BBC is effective for all types of learners and is meant to let your child learn the language naturally, it’s a great low-pressure way to expose kids to a second language at any age.
Android | iOS
Recommended age: all ages
Available languages: 37 languages (some in beta), including some unique options like Navajo and Scottish Gaelic, as well as fantasy languages like High Valerian and Klingon.
Duolingo is one of the most popular language-learning programs online. It’s so successful because it’s (mostly) free, and it gives adults permission to learn like little kids!
The app divides lessons into bite-sized game-like experiences. It uses repetition and different interactive activities to embed vocabulary into your mind and keep it fresh. Learners are given little tasks. The idea is, the more of these teenie tiny tasks they do, the better they’ll remember the target language.
Duolingo also uses audio prompts and pictures, as well as animal cartoon characters to keep things fun.
This combination of fun and learning makes Duolingo an excellent option for kids as well as adults, so you can easily participate in it with your child. You can guide him and give instant feedback, making for some great joint language learning!
Duolingo may look simple and straightforward, but there’s actually a lot going on under the hood. Learners may be asked to choose the translation of a word from the given choices. Sometimes, the actual translation needs to be typed. Sometimes, the task goes the other way and learners are given the English translation and are asked to supply the target language equivalent.
Duolingo repeats the tasks, goes back and forth between languages, mixes and matches previously learned words and keeps learners on their toes. It also does a good job of remembering the words learners have difficulty with so they can be offered for review.
Duolingo is free, but a premium subscription is available for $12.99 per month (or less if you commit to more time), and includes perks like no ads, offline access and unlimited use of the app.
Android | iOS
Recommended age: 2-12
Available languages: 51 languages including popular languages like Chinese, Spanish and German, and less popular choices like Danish, Pubjabi and Hawaiian.
Dino Lingo is an award-winning language program for kids, named so for the cute dinosaurs who introduce your kids to their target languages. The program gets children learning new languages through games, songs, videos, worksheets and more. Languages come with a wide range of excellent resources created with kids in mind, like audiobooks and storybooks, flashcards and games such as memory games and word wheels (for vocab acquisition).
The program covers everyday topics like household items, family, body parts, clothes, nature and actions. It does so in a colorful and fun way that’ll have your kids happily repeating these lessons over and over.
Dino Lingo offers a subscription for $19.99 per month, or $119 for a full year. You can also stream videos on your Smart TV
Parents can also print some easily downloadable worksheets and activity books, so you can not only work closely with your little one, but also get a window into the things that they’re learning. This way, you can gauge a child’s progress and give them a helping hand.
Recommended age: 3-10
Available languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, German and French.
PetraLingua is a multimedia vocabulary builder. Each course has 21 lessons that teach a range of vocabulary, from colors and clothing to fruits and vegetables. You can actually check the full list of topics covered before committing.
All told, each course features around 500 basic words, 80 animated language-learning videos, 11 songs, 140 interactive online games, a talking picture dictionary and a downloadable activity book.
Each lesson opens with an introductory video that identifies the vocabulary set that can be learned in that lesson. This is then followed by a parade of reinforcing activities, exercises and games that’ll help kids learn the new words. These include listen-and-repeat, listen-and-click and word-matching tasks that allow the kids to deal with the words in different contexts.
All told, each course features around 500 basic words, 80 language learning videos, 11 language learning songs, 140 interactive online games and a talking picture dictionary. For as low as $7.99 a month, or $47.99 if you commit to a year, you have yourself a great deal.
You can now purchase physical learning sets for each language for $89.99. These sets come with DVDs, CDs, books, songs and games, and include a year’s access to the PetraLingua online program.
Android | iOS
Recommended age: 6 and up
Available languages: 70+ languages, from popular options to lesser-known options.
Your kids are going to need headphones for this one. The uniqueness of the program lies in its focus on conversational skills. If you want your kids to study in the morning and try out their newly learned phrases on the whole family in the afternoon, go with Mango Languages. It has that effect on children.
Each lesson starts by listening to a few lines of basic dialogue or conversation. The audio is accompanied by clear text of the whole exchange, and everything is color-coded so you can easily see which words correspond to their translations.
In the remainder of the lesson, the whole dialogue is deconstructed and broken down into lines, phrases and words. There’s a “Play” icon on every line so learners can self-pace and repeat the lines as often as needed. The learner is guided line-by-line and hears how each word is correctly spoken. If you hover the mouse on a particular line, up goes a translation of it.
You can even try using your microphone to compare your pronunciation to the native version you just heard!
Parents will appreciate the tracking tools, which let you see how your child is doing in their learning, and gives gentle reminders when it’s time to study some more.
For $17.99 a month, you and as many as five kids can start learning practically any language in the world. You can also choose to focus on just one language at $6.67 per month, instead.
Recommended age: 5-14
Available languages: Elementary school learners: 23 modern foreign languages, including English, French, Spanish, German and Mandarin. High school learners: Spanish, French and German.
Languagenut is the perfect vocabulary builder, pronunciation partner and spelling teacher. The program amply covers all bases and touches on all four key linguistic skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The program has specific games that address each.
It’s widely used in schools in 32 countries around the world as a supplemental language teaching tool. But the program can be equally valuable for homeschooling families.
Languagenut may tackle the same topics (numbers, colors, greetings) as many other language programs, but it has some of the most graphically compelling interfaces on this side of language learning.
The elementary school program will teach your kids 440 words and phrases through 23 units. Target words are taught through 13 speaking, listening, reading and writing games. You’ll also find verb conjugation exercises, stories, songs and more.
There’s also specific content created for high schoolers who are learning Spanish, German or French. These programs take into account the learners’ age and provide engaging games, exercises and activities.
Plus, each program across their entire selection comes with 31 support languages—that means you can learn your target language from the comfort of your native language.
Pricing is available on request, and you can book a demo before committing.
PBS Learning Media
Recommended age: 2 and up
Available languages: Spanish, Japanese, French, German and Chinese.
Although this program doesn’t offer as many languages as the others on this list, PBS Learning Media does well in tackling all the different language skills in their audio and video lessons.
The clips are divided by grade levels: PreK-K, K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. There are only 16 videos available across all the languages in the PreK-K section, but the rest of the levels have a substantial amount of content with around 200 videos.
The section for grades 3-5 contains almost 400 videos, so PBS Learning Media would be particularly useful for elementary-aged kids. This level is also great for adults who want to learn like kids but find the early childhood content too simple.
Other than language and level, you can filter your search further by audio, video, interactive or themed collection.
The audio clips tend to be short, mainly focusing on listening and speaking skills, while the videos are a mix of songs, conversations and standard lessons. The standard video lessons are quite handy since they also come with supporting materials for teachers, such as the lesson plan, video transcript, flashcards, assessments and more.
There are also interactive video lessons which are normally part of a series. These interactive lessons allow you to learn new vocabulary through cute adventure games where you can explore with the arrow keys and select correct terms with the mouse.
All the videos and activities are free to use, but you’ll get additional resources if you sign up as a teacher.
Unuhi: Bilingual Books
Android | iOS
Recommended age: 2-10
Available languages: English, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin (Simplified), Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Thai. Audio narration: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Mandarin Chinese.
Meaning “translate” in Hawaiian, Unuhi is a remarkable app for teaching a foreign language to children. Not only does it allow your kids to learn in their native tongue, but it also does it through the art of storytelling. Reading is crucial for cognitive development, and letting the little ones read bilingual stories in early childhood will also form their ability to think in the second language.
To help them read out loud, audio narration by native speakers is available for some languages, with more options currently underway.
The stories are short, with each page containing only one sentence in dual languages, accompanied by beautiful illustrations to let the kids visually connect with new vocabulary words. To reinforce these new words, Unuhi has numerous sets of flashcards that you and the kids can practice with.
Once you open up the app, you’ll be asked to select your two languages, but you also have the option to remove the second one if you want to focus on one language at a time.
The app is completely free to download and it gives you access to one e-book. You can either purchase moe e-books individually or select a bundle. Once you’ve purchased them, you can download them directly onto your device so you can access each story without an internet connection.
Android | iOS
Recommended age: 3-10
Available languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French and German.
Created by a language teacher, artist and game designer in 2000, Studycat was a small classroom program that became a hit among the students. Because it was so popular with the kids, the founders turned it into a digital curriculum that they could share with fellow language teachers, schools and parents. Then, in 2011, the app was born to reach learners across the globe.
Studycat is the virtual teacher and learning buddy that’ll guide kids through phonics and more than 500 vocabulary terms and grammar points which align with the Cambridge Young Learners Starters program.
But instead of Studycat taking over the lesson, kids learn through fun and play—specifically interactive games, original songs and relatable cartoon characters with different voices so learners can listen to the language in different accents.
And the best part of it is that you can use the apps offline, with no pop-up ads or external links for distraction-free learning.
There’s also the Studycat Club, which grants you access to a wide selection of resources, great for family and classroom learning, students and teachers alike. These additional resources help to balance screen time and inspire teachers to create their lesson plans and diversify their teaching methods.
Pricing is available upon request. You can also sign up for a free trial.
Gus on the Go
Recommended age: 3-7
Available languages: 30 languages, from popular options like Portuguese to vulnerable tongues like Ingush.
Gus is a friendly owl that helps children explore the languages of the world through interactive exercises and adorable animations. Each language has its own app, so feel free to download as many languages as you want.
After every lesson, there’s a lesson review composed of fun exercises. Completing the review will unlock a cute game and trophies, which is very helpful in keeping the little ones motivated to learn more vocabulary words. The words taught in these lessons are very basic, themed around animals, food and colors, among others, making this a very good starting point for complete beginners.
Some of the languages also have free printables, such as flashcards and crafts, to supplement what you’re learning from the apps.
And once you or your kids are ready to move past the basic vocabulary, you can go on to their latest innovation known as Stories by Gus on the Go. As you can guess, this app lets you learn your target language through classic stories, brought to life with the introduction of new characters and audio narration so you can read and listen to the story.
So far, Stories by Gus on the Go is only available in four languages: French, Greek, Hebrew and Spanish.
Android | iOS
Recommended age: 5-12
Available languages: 33 languages, from popular choices like Korean and Spanish to less common options like Farsi and Afrikaans.
Known for its innovation in language education technology, Mondly now offers gamified lessons for kids. In addition to the regular Mondly features (quick daily lessons and audio by professional native speakers), the Mondly Kids app has really kid-friendly illustrations and cool sound effects to keep them engaged with new vocab words.
And unlike the original app that includes a leaderboard, the statistics on the kids’ app are exhibited on a brain map. It’s a smart move to remove the competitive element of the original Mondly app, as having the little ones participate in this kind of competition might add unnecessary stress and pressure to a program that’s meant to be fun.
The Mondly app for kids is quite impressive in terms of the topics they cover. Other than the standard food, animals, colors, numbers and parts of the body, they also have categories such as buildings, leisure and professions.
On top of the free daily lessons, there are 77 premium lessons, with a total of 400 words and 75 new phrases to learn. There are also weekly quizzes that still follow that gamified format.
The app is ad-free so that you and your kids can simply focus on language learning.
Pricing information can be found on their website.
Check out these 13 programs and test them for yourself.
Each program has its strengths and specialties, so choose whatever fits your situation.
And if you really want to make the best of it, learn a language with your kid. Two birds, one stone.