The top 6 apps for language learning

A little of the local language when you travel can enhance a trip. Regardless of your language goals, there's an app out there to help you achieve them.

by Michael Carl Budd

When you're traveling, a foreign language can be the key to a richer, more rewarding trip and mastering the basics can also help keep you safe and healthy in an unfamiliar environment.  These six helpful apps offer a range of approaches to language learning — there's bound to be one perfect for helping you prepare for your next adventure.

Free (with ads, in-app purchases)

Duolingo leads the pack when it comes to free language learning apps.  Gamifying language learning, the app takes you on a journey through different skills, making you unlock levels and earn 'lingots'.  There are over 20 languages on offer and many more in the pipeline.  Lest you think Duolingo is targeted only to English-speaking language learners, there're English courses for speakers of Romanian, German for Arabic-speakers, Portuguese for Spanish, and on and on.  

Rosetta Stone
$200 annual subscription

Rosetta Stone is language learning powerhouse with a multiplatform suite of offerings.  You can even get live tutoring from a native speaker.  At 200 bucks for an annual subscription, you're definitely paying for it.  There are 6-month and 24-month options too, and there are often sales — it's worth a quick chat with one of their representatives online or over the phone to see what kind of deals are out there.  If you're in it for the long-haul, though, and keen on mastering a language, this is probably the best option short of an in-person class.  

Rosetta Stone
Pimsleur Course Manager
Digital courses range from about $20 to over $300

Though the app itself is buggy, Pimsleur is renowned for quality language teaching.  If the Course Manager app doesn't do the trick, you might consider downloading the MP3s directly and making a playlist on your smartphone.  The finagling is a small price to pay for hours and hours of top-notch instruction in over fifty languages.  In additional to tongues less familiar to English-speakers like Ojibwe and Twi, Pimsleur breaks down major world languages like Spanish and Arabic into dialects.  

Pimsleur Course Manager

HelloTalk provides an interface through which you can practice a language with native speakers.  Through texting and speaking, you can improve language skills you've already cultivated.  Because it doesn't offer courses or the basics of the language, it's probably better as a complement to other courses of language-learning apps.  One downside is a lack of vetting, so you have to use your own judgment when choosing whom to connect with, especially because the app allows you to meet up with people in your area.  With that caveat, the meet-up feature's upside is that you can also connect with locals while traveling, offering, a self-selected group of people who're interested in interacting with foreigners.

Free ($5 for the full version)

MosaLingua, like many language learning apps (including Duolingo), is based on spaced repetition, a method that repeats concepts (or vocabulary specifically in this case) at intervals optimal for memorizing.  MosaLingua allows you learn from flashcards organized by category, including several relevant to travel.  You can hop around the various categories regardless of your level. This is in contrast to Duolingo, which makes you unlock categories by progressing first through basics and then through intermediate levels and so on.  

Free (premium version $9/month)

Where Memrise shines is in its ability to help you memorize vocabulary.  It's less of holistic grammar course and more of a rote learning exercise.  If you simply want to understand as many menu items and street signs as possible, it may even be more helpful than Duolingo, but another selling point is that there's heaps of user-created content.  You can master Klingon or try a host of courses in other fields altogether, like geography, computer programming languages, and more.

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