Language learning apps have made learning a new language more accessible, efficient, and fun than ever. Not all language programs are created equal. Some are similar to taking a class, others work best for extra practice in addition to other sources.
Your goals, budget, and how you learn best will inform which apps are the best choice for you.
Table of Contents
- Duolingo: Best for Gamified Learning
- Anki: Best for Flash Card Memorization
- Memrise: Best for Quality Content
Duolingo: Best for Gamified Learning
Duolingo may not have the most robust curriculum, but it’s one of the top language apps on the market for a reason: it’s fun. From the bite-sized lessons to the curriculum layout to their sense of humor, every aspect of the program is designed to make it like a video game that players want to keep coming back to.
How does Duolingo work?
Duolingo’s learning content is arranged in a “skill tree.” The skills on the tree have titles like “Basics”, “Travel”, or “Adverbs”. Each skill is made up of five levels. Each level is made up of three to five lessons. The language learning activities in lessons include translating words and phrases, listening exercises, and speaking exercises with voice recognition.
What is gamified language learning?
Here are a few of the features that make Duolingo designed like a video game to make learning fun and motivate users to keep coming back:
- XP: Every time you complete a Lesson or use the Practice feature to practice skills you’ve already learned, you earn experience points, XP for short. XP is used as a rough measure of how much you’ve studied on the platform.
- Leagues: Leagues are groups of 30 randomly assigned players who compete to study the most in the week. foster friendly competition between Duolingo players. Players who finish in the top 10 advance one “Level” in the following week’s League competition. There are 10 Levels total. This friendly competition can be a powerful motivator for a lot of learners.
- Streaks: When you meet your XP goal, they begin a study Streak that keeps track of how many consecutive days you’ve practiced. If you skip a day without a streak freeze in place, you lose your streak. It never feels good to see that number reset to zero. The notifications and emails focused on keeping your streak can get aggressive in a way that is often parodied in memes.
- Lingots/Gems: Lingots, or Gems on mobile, are Duolingo’s in-game currency. You can earn Lingots by completing Lessons or reaching daily XP goals and can spend them on in-game items like Streak Freezes and outfits for your owl.
- Achievements: When you reach milestones in the skill tree, they unlock achievements. These keep players focused on long-term goals in addition to meeting their daily practice goals in the short term.
What languages does Duolingo offer?
Duolingo currently offers 39 languages for English speakers. They frequently add more. Here is the complete list:
- Haitian Creole
- High Valyrian
- Scottish Gaelic
How much does Duolingo cost?
Duolingo is completely free to download and use. The free version has ads and some limited features. The premium subscription, Duolingo Plus, costs $6.99 per month. Duolingo plus removes the ads and offers additional features like unlimited hearts and monthly streak repairs, which are nice to have but not essential.
Anki: Best for Flash Card Memorization
Anki is a digital twist on an old-school studying method: flash cards. If you prefer memorization over a game-like format, Anki is one of the best supplemental apps on the market. You can use it to review vocabulary you learn from another program and keep track of new words you find in the wild. It’s website may look basic and dated, but hear us out!
How does Anki work?
Anki functions as a big digital flashcard deck that you can access across devices. Unlike using physical flashcards, the app keeps all of your cards organized and its spaced repetition algorithm shows the cards you need to review at the right times and hides the ones you already know well. The goal is to make sure you never truly forget the material you learn. You can use more than text in your deck. You can embed images, videos, audio clips, and scientific markup to any card.
Anki categorizes the delay times between each review into Learning Steps. For a new card, they show it every 1 minute. In the next Learning step, they show it every 10 minutes. Next, they show it once every day. The final step is the review stage, where they show it less often.
Every time Anki shows you a card, it also asks how well you know the material with four Rating Buttons. Each button has a corresponding action in its categorization system:
- Again: shows the card again
- Hard: keeps the card in the same Learning Step
- Good: moves the card to the next Learning Step
- Easy: moves the card into the Review stage
How to use flashcards to learn a language
Flashcards are a classic for digital and analog learners for a reason. It would be nice if we could learn new concepts and simply remember them forever, but that’s not how our brains work. Repetition is necessary to get new concepts to stick. Reviewing traditional flashcards every day is a fine way to do this. An app with a spaced repetition algorithm, whether it’s Anki or another app, is even better because you don’t have to think about how often you need to review words.
The ways you can customize your deck with Anki offer another advantage over physical cards. You can embed images, videos, and audio clips to any card. If you include audio in your cards, you can work on pronunciation of your vocabulary words. Using pictures will help you associate the word with the concept itself and not the translation.
What languages does Anki offer?
Anki does not create any card decks of their own, so you can use it for any language you want to use it for. You can also use it to study anything you can create flashcards for. The website even lists “Memorizing people’s names and faces” as a use case.
How much does Anki cost?
Anki is completely free to download and use for desktop and Android, but the iPhone app costs a single payment of $24.99 to download. The iPhone app is called AnkiMobile and the Android app is called AnkiDroid.
Memrise: Best for Quality Content
When it comes to depth and quality of content, no language practice app can beat Memrise. They offer a robust curriculum at all proficiency stages, video and audio of native speakers to encourage authentic pronunciation, and more choice in your areas of study than other language practice apps. Whether you’ve just Googled “how to learn a language” or you’re looking for more than an app you’re already using can offer, you can jump into Memrise.
How does Memrise work?
Memrise introduces new words and phrases through short video clips of native speakers pronouncing the word or phrase slowly and clearly. After you learn the new content, you put it into practice with reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities. Memrise also uses a spaced repetition algorithm, though the specifics of how it works are different from Anki’s.
Memrise’s curriculum for each language is made up of multiple courses. Most languages have seven courses, but there are some exceptions. The more popular a language is, the more. Each course is made up of anywhere between 10 and 30 Levels that each cover a different topic. Levels are made up of Lessons that introduce 10 to 20 new vocabulary words and phrases. The number of Lessons in every Level varies. That adds up to hundreds of new words and phrases to learn at every Level.
Why choosing your own areas of study makes language learning faster
Not every language learner has the same goals. Though in general, you do have to start with the basics and build on them, knowing how to talk about the same things you talk about often anyway in your target language is a way to quickly set yourself up to use it in the real world.
What languages does Memrise offer?
Memrise has official courses for 19 languages. This is the complete list:
- Japanese (with and without script)
- Portuguese (Brazil & Portugal)
- Spanish (Mexico & Spain)
How much does Memrise cost?
Memrise isn’t a free app, but it does offer a content-limited trial. New users can usually complete the first Lesson of any Course for free and upgrade to the Premium subscription to continue learning. Currently, Memrise offers three subscription options:
- 1 month: $8.49
- 12 months: $59.99 ($4.99/month)
- Lifetime: $119.99
No matter which of these three language practice apps you prefer, it’s always a good idea to use more than one tool in your language learning journey. See our other language app reviews for more ideas. A varied, robust arsenal of language programs and tools will give you a wider variety of knowledge and allow you to take advantage of multiple programs’ strengths.
– Luca Harsh is a Chicago-based freelance content writer. They speak a lot of French and a little of whatever language they’re currently trying out on an app.