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4 Really Best Free Apps to Learn Languages

As a globetrotter, I know how useful it is to speak the local languages. It’s also cool. And as a grown-up who has to earn his living, I know how much easier it is to get a job if you got couple extra languages on your resume. I also used to teach English, so I already wrote an article about flashcard apps. Here are Best Free Apps to Learn Languages with more advanced techniques than just flipping flashcards. Firtst three apps – for Android. 4th – for IOS.

Duolingo

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Skip setting your goal, just pick up the app and start learning every day. Duolingo has the biggest following at it is free, and it works. No ads or hidden charges here. The app makes it fun to learn on your own or in a group, surrounded with friends. There are levels and competitions that you can use and can get addictive, and addicted you need to be when learning a new language. Duolingo is a free language-learning and crowdsourced text translation platform. In 2013, it was chosen by Apple as its iPhone App of the Year. That feels like a little too long ago. How does it work right now?

After you choose the language you wish to learn, you have the option of starting right from the beginning (Basics 1), which presumes you have no prior background in the language. You also have the option of “taking a shortcut” and directly jumping to laterChoose-your-level lessons in the app version, or passing a short placement test in the web version, to see what Level you might best fit in.

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Through Duolingo, you get to learn languages in a traditional way. You learn vocabulary in stages, starting with simple things like the present tense, animals, food, plurals, clothing, conjunctions, and so on. Within each of these levels, you have anywhere from one to 8-9 or more lessons, which in turn comprise a number of exercises. As you progress, the phrases you practice in the lessons/exercises get progressively more complex. Additional verb tenses are introduced much later as you progress through many levels.

Each lesson is composed of 4 types of exercises (see picture below): a. a translation exercise where you are translate from your native language (L1) to your target language (L2) or vice-versa; b. a listening exercise where you listen to a short phrase being spoken and you write what you hear; c. a matching exercise where you are introduced to new vocabulary and need to match it with the right photo or vice-versa; and d. a speaking exercise where you have to read out loud a sentence in the target language. This process is a bit of playing a game: each lesson is composed of about 15 such exercises, and you have three “lives” (hearts) to complete each one. If you make mistakes more than three times in a level, you have to restart from the beginning of the lesson. One lesson takes anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to complete, on average (obviously, it gets harder as you progress).

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Duolingo does not provide any grammatical explanations whatsoever in their lessons. (The teacher is not available). You do translation, listening, matching, and speaking exercises, but nobody tells you why words are used this or that way. However, if you’re using the web version of Duolingo, you will have access to helpful forums where you can ask questions to fellow language learners. And that’s a whole bunch of languages I might add.

Cons:

a. you are not exposed to natural sounding conversations and sentences (at least, not until very much later as you reach more advanced lessons). In this respect, Duolingo is in dramatic opposition to other language methods such as Assimil,  Teach Yourself, or Berlitz.

b. As mentioned before, because the program progresses in set stages and introduces vocabulary in sets as well (animals, food, jobs, furniture, etc.) rather than in a more natural fashion, the sentences the app comes up with, in a quite a number of early lessons, are essentially useless and at times nonsensical. For instance: “My snake eats your cake,” “I have our cow,” “Their elephant drinks milk,” “The knife is in the boot.” It might help you to form a very unique semse of humor though.

c. For some stints you are only exposed to short phrases/sentences. You might start thinking that Duolingo has no natural sounding conversations, the stuff you would normally find in most good textbooks.

d. Duolingo uses a robotic voice system for all of its listening exercises, so you don’t hear how the language really sounds.

Languages: English, Arabic, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese.

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Memrise

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We would use Memrise to learn Chinese, Mandarin in particular and found it to be very effective. The app uses planting analogy in learning; plant, water and grow. Start planting new memories in your garden, water and grow them into long term memory. We love the imaginative learning function with mnemonics and morphing images as well as quizzes to help you learn. There is talk about the app offering more than languages; extending to geography, history, science and pop culture through crowd sourcing.

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Languages: Mandarin, German, French, Russian.

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Busuu

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This one is more interactive. Practice speaking with native speakers and apply what you have learned. Use the listening, reading, writing and speaking task to improve your language skills. Also, Busuu allows you to take on interactive learning exercises and quizzes. Regular feedback keeps you motivated. The community has over 35 million native speakers, so you can practice speaking the lingo all you want.

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Vocabulary usually comes with the definite article, which is crucial for getting used to the noun gender in many languages. Although you don’t want to be bombarded with too much information when starting off, it’s important to get used to this idea of associating some article/gender with a noun. You don’t have to remember it from the first time over, but eventually you do.

Next, Busuu has integrated an excellent keyboard control system.

Busuu also gives you the individual word you need to learn, followed by an example in context (with audio for your first week).

For the first week, Busuu gives you free access to normally-paid content, such as audio in dialogues and in the sentence examples for the flashcards. After that first week, you can still read these even if you can’t hear the audio. You also have access to the grammar course in the first week and really good grammar points indeed.

Busuu also lets you go through a review of your lesson for free immediately.

One last thing. Paid version is not that much better.

Languages: English, Spanish, German, Italian, French, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Turkish, Chinese, Portuguese.

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Babbel

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Babbel truly works. It actually works for one of the most difficult languages like Russian. Here we go.

Babbel provides in-depth explanations of grammatical concepts. That’s important for Russian specifically, as it contais things like cases, verb conjugation, adjective/noun gender/number/case agreement. The Cyrillic alphabet will look as easy as it can (and it is not), but accompanying keyboard techniques will make it fun for you.

After introducing you to a new concept, Babbel presents you with exercises, often consisting of singleletter fill-in-the-blank lessons focusing on this new concept exclusively:

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This works better than Duolingo for many people.

Babbel actually guides you through these concepts, with no supplementary materials needed. Not only is this far less annoying, but it’s also significantly faster.

Iteration techniques of Babbel fit well for Slavic languages like Russian. Verb conjugation is one of the more problematic areas, especially in Romance languages, which often have dozens of different ways to conjugate a single verb (English examples being I go, he goes, I went, I have gone, and so on), but in many languages, it’s often just a few letters at the end of each word that change.

With Babbel, you’ll often have exercises that focus just on the relevant letters at the end of the verb, which is the only part you need to practice, and thus a more efficient form of repetition. After that, exercises get longer, such as those that ask you to write the entire word:

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Surely, Babbel gives you exercises where you have type full words too:

Babbel-Russian-verb-conjugation-practiceAnd alphabet with alphabet conversion is still right there for you.

By incorporating these focused fill-in-the-blank exercises before moving on to complete sentences, Babbel rapidly reiterates on the new concept, giving you lots of practice in just a few seconds.

There is a sizeable problem with explanations, though, as they completely disappear after the early level of “Beginner’s course”.

These apps are really awesome compared with heavy dusty textbooks. But there is nothing better than getting a girlfriend or two who speak the language you are interested in.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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