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Learning a new language: the best apps and hacks for success

If you’re already virtually planning your next big adventure, why not learn the local language while you’re at it? Between streaming binges, working from the kitchen table, and online window shopping, being forced to stay indoors affords you the perfect opportunity to dive into a new language — all from the convenience of your home (and even your phone). Here are a few of our favourite apps and hacks to help you build your vocabulary, practise your speech, and sharpen your conversation skills in the language you’ve always dreamed of learning.

Best language-learning apps

The best language apps will help you develop and build upon a great vocabulary, and best of all, you can do it from the couch!

Babbel

Best language app for: learning the basics in a conversational manner.

If you’re looking for a thorough, curriculum-based way to learn a new language outside of the classroom, Babbel is a great option. Offering a selection of 14 languages — including Italian, Danish, and Norwegian — every course is expertly-curated, and there’s something for every skill level. You can even choose to study solely on your phone if you’d like. The app’s speech recognition software gives you feedback in real-time to help you quickly improve pronunciation, and its timely recognition methods allow for easy reviewing of what you’ve already learned so you can better retain what you’ve covered in previous lessons.

Our favourite thing about this app is that it puts a significant focus on practical conversations and phrases. That means that you’ll be equipped with the essential language basics for your next trip — like how to order lunch or ask a local for directions.

Duolingo

Best language app for: simple and interactive language learning.

The popular Duolingo platform turns language learning into a game. You’ll “study” by matching words, speaking to the app’s voice recognition software, building sentences, and racing the clock. You’ll earn points for getting correct answers and even “level up” your knowledge of your chosen language. It’s a great app if you’re looking for fun, bite-sized lessons to listen to throughout your day.

You can use Duolingo directly from your smartphone, or you can choose to study via desktop. The app is free, but if you’d prefer to study without ads, opt for Duolingo Plus for a nominal subscription fee. You’ll get all of the fantastic features included in the regular program, plus offline courses and a few modifications to make the learning process just a little bit smoother. 

Memrise

Best language app for: learning a new language at your own pace.

Memrise utilises video lessons featuring native speakers to help you quickly learn the words, pronunciations, and local dialects of any one of the 22 languages its offers. The passionate instructors keep it fun yet challenging by using gamified flashcards and proven memory techniques to ensure you stay motivated, learn quickly, and improve your accuracy.

Whether you’re interested in French, Spanish, Japanese, German, Korean, Italian, or otherwise, Memrise has a great selection of options for beginners through near-experts, and it does a great job of keeping things interesting. The course format is also one of the most flexible of all of the apps, as it really allows you to practise at your own pace, on your terms — giving you full control over how you learn. The basic app is free, but you’ll need to pay for a “pro” subscription for full access to all of its features.

HelloTalk

Best language app for: users wanting to practise with native speakers.

HelloTalk is a little bit like a messenger service for learning a new language — one that benefits both the student and the teacher. The app matches users who want to learn one another’s language so they can practise together in realtime. For example, if you’re a native English speaker and you want to learn Korean, you’ll be paired with someone who speaks fluent Korean and wants to learn English. Everyone wins! 

Beyond having over 150 languages to choose from, the interface is full of innovative tools to make practising a language fun and straightforward. You can chat using text, voice recordings, or video, and you can choose to chat with just one individual or as part of a group. 

Available on your smartphone or via HelloTalkWeb on desktop, if you consider yourself a people person who learns best by example, this might just be the app for you. The app is free, but there are extra features you can unlock for a small fee.

Supplementing language learning apps by reading foreign language books, watching movies and listening to podcasts is ideal.

A few language-learning hacks

Apps are an excellent way to quickly pick up a new language. But if you’re looking for an even more well-rounded learning experience, here are a few ways to further immerse yourself in your new language, right from home

Watch foreign language films

Foreign language films are a fantastic way to increase your exposure to the language you are trying to learn. Enhancing your progress is as easy as turning on your favourite streaming service, finding a foreign title that sounds interesting, and pressing play. By tuning in, you’ll pick up key phrases and expressions to help you boost your pronunciation skills and better understand the nuances of having a conversation in that language. 

While most foreign films will help improve your language knowledge, it’s useful to go for something more dialogue-driven, like a drama over an action movie. If you’re a beginner, cartoons can often be a great way to start because of the simple linguistics that cater to a younger audience. For example, try watching something like “The Magic School Bus” in French instead of English. Not only is it practical, but its also quite fun to feel like a kid again! 

Can’t decide on a movie? Search for one of these travel films in your new language.

Read foreign language books

No one’s pressuring you to pick up the Italian version of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” one week into your learning journey. It’s important to start small. Even if it feels a bit silly, starting with children’s picture books is an excellent route to take. It’s particularly helpful to focus on those you’re familiar with or to keep a version in your native language handy. That way, if you’re feeling stuck, you can cross-check by parallel reading. Parallel reading has proven very useful when it comes to advancing to more challenging texts. For example, if you’re trying to learn German and you love the “Harry Potter” series, get both an English and German translation and read them page by page, together. 

Supplement with language learning podcasts

If you’re an audio learner, podcasts are an ideal resource for picking up a new language. Whether you’re on a walk, jog, or commute of any kind, all you have to do is pop in your earbuds and listen — because the more you hear, the quicker you’ll learn. The best part? There are a seemingly endless number of language-learning podcasts for you to choose from.

For example, the “101 Series” covers the basics of several different languages, from Hebrew and Hindi to Danish and Portuguese. The initial sign up is free, but they do offer a few paid options if you’d like more in-depth content.

A few more great options include “One Minute Danish,” “French Your Way,” and “Coffee Break Spanish.” Whatever language you’re looking to become fluent in, there is a podcast out there that can help speed things up. 

The best way to learn a language is to  combine a number of methods into your own language learning plan!

The best way to learn a new language

All in all, the best method for learning a new language and making it stick is to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. A flexible, directive course via one of the apps mentioned above is a key place to start. And once you’ve gotten a bit of a base, supplementing your studies with things like movies, books, and podcasts will only increase your progress and enhance your knowledge. ¡Buena suerte!

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