The Best Language Learning Apps

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It's said you don't truly understand your own language until you learn another because until then you never think about all the rules you use to express things. Why does 'ding dong' sound right but not 'dong ding'? Same with 'bad big wolf' vs. 'big bad wolf'? Contrasting your language with another is an enlightening experience, and some say even good for democracy.

The general way to learn a language is to first understand fundamentals like grammar, reading, writing, etc and then learning all the vocabulary to go with it from basic to advanced. The apps mentioned here are usually used in some combination with each other and can take you all the way to being an expert.

  • Classes and learning apps are great, but nothing will beat how fast you learn actually using a language intensely in person
  • Another excuse to Netflix and chill: watching a show in another language is a great way to supplement especially if it's an engrossing show you want to fully understand. Most streaming services like Netflix/Hulu have a good collection of foreign shows.
Did you know?

Languages across the world have a different base number of colors. English has 11, but some only have 3. For example, the Wobé language used in Ivory Coast describes blue, purple, and brown all using one word. The order in which they're named though does follow a trend. Check it out »

Disagree? Know of another great option?


Duolingo works offline but limited

Best overall language learning app

Duolingo is by far the most popular and modern way to learn a language today and deservedly so. It's free, fun to use, well designed, and effective when starting out with a language. Their science based approach lets you learn via listening, translation, and some speaking and specifically is set up not so you just memorize vocabulary but so that you actually understand how a language works, like usage and grammar. However, many quickly outgrow it and want more advanced vocabulary, which is why it's usually combined with apps like Memrise and Tandem.


Memrise works offline

Best flashcard app for learning vocabulary

Memrise is a well designed and easy to use flashcard style app that's great at helping you remember vocabulary words through a variety of methods including associating them with images. An effective strategy that many use is to learn the basics with Duolingo and then master advanced vocabulary with Memrise.

Official Memrise courses are guaranteed to be high quality, but anyone (including you) can make flashcard sets. These community created ones are plentiful, easy to find, and many are great quality. The best ones have audio spoken by native speakers, which is a big time saver.


Anki works offline

Great for remembering hard vocabulary long term

Anki is a powerful flashcard system that advanced students of all academic pursuits swear by, not just for learning languages. It's great for helping you remember difficult items like your anniversary using a technique called spaced repetition (which other apps use, but not this well) and by letting you customize it to your heart's content.

However, Anki's design isn't as user friendly as apps like Duolingo and syncing between multiple devices is a pain, so it's harder to set up and get right. The iOS app also costs $25 (although the rest is free). If you're set on becoming a master though, investing the time and money into Anki can be worth it.


Beelinguapp works offline

Learn by reading and listening to books

David enjoyed reading and listening to books as a way to learn languages but found it slow to constantly look up words he didn't know, so he decided to fix his own problem and create Beelinguapp. It displays a story in two languages side by side while giving you the option to have it be read out loud. The stories are translated and narrated by native speakers so you know it's right.

Currently Android only, but an iOS version is on the way. Some stories do cost money to read, but they're cheap.

The original Kickstarter for Beelinguapp »



Learn through conversations and talking to people

Tandem is a fun service that pairs people who are interested in speaking each other's languages and improve together. They add nifty features to make it easier like setting a desired topic, being able to correct each other, and providing multiple ways to converse (text, audio call, video call, photos). You can also pay to talk to professional language tutors. Assuming you already understand the basics, Tandem is an effective way to get to the ultimate goal of any language learner: to have fluid and rich conversations with another person.

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