When I tell people I am a French and Spanish teacher the number one response I get is ‘Wow, I wish I could speak a language!’ Some people even try and test me on my knowledge to see if it’s true (most often by asking me to say something in French/Spanish, which I find hilarious as they usually have no idea if what I’m saying is right anyway!). Talking to people over the years I have found that, whilst most people would love to be able to speak another language, many feel it’s beyond their grasp for one or more of the following reasons:
- They would feel self-conscious learning with others.
- It’s expensive.
- It’s time-consuming.
- It’s too difficult.
Well, if you can relate to any of that, I want to tell you today that you CAN do it! And, whilst apps aren’t going to be enough in themselves to get you fluent in another language, here’s five tried-and-tested ones that will help get you started! Here’s why apps can make such great language-learning tools:
- You can learn on your own at home, on the bus, on holiday…without the risk of feeling silly in front of other people!
- They can be really affordable or even FREE! The ones I suggest here are all free to download and, although most have in-app purchases available, they still have tons of great content which you can enjoy without needing to pay for anything.
- It’s up to you how much time you want to spend on them and when. Even ten minutes a day is going to make a difference!
- The apps I suggest here are accessible and straight-forward – you don’t have to be an expert or a brain box to benefit from them! I know this because I used them myself when I first started teaching myself Spanish and I still use them regularly to expand my vocabulary.
So here they are! I hope you like them as much as I do. Please feel free to feedback or share any other apps you know of in the comments space below.
I LOVE this app! You can currently learn 9 foreign languages for free. There are different categories and you are tested in listening, writing, reading and speaking (you have to speak at the screen for the speaking questions but you can disable these when in public to avoid getting strange looks! For every category you complete you win ‘lingots’ which you can use to access bonus levels or even trade in for cute outfits for the little owl cartoon which takes you through the course – adorable! You can also set practice reminders and connect with other language-learning friends. My favourite.
Totally free and claims to have courses in over 200 languages. As far as I know courses are created by volunteers so you might notice the occasional mistake but I’ve used Memrise a lot for learning German and it’s never been an issue. It functions based on the principle that in order for information to stick (i.e. for a memory to become long-term) it has to be ‘watered’. Every time you use the app you can decide whether to ‘grow’ new memories by learning new words or ‘water’ topics you have already covered. It also uses ‘mems’, user-generated pictures designed to aid recall – perfect if you have a visual memory.
This one is seriously addictive! Available in seven languages, this app teaches you basic vocabulary through games. I imagine it’s aimed at kids but if you like playing games, beating your high score, arcade-style sound effects and the ability to unlock new games (gasp!) you will love Mindsnacks. And your kids will too.
iLang is available in over twenty languages but you will need to search iTunes for t
he specific language you want as they are not all contained within the same app. The basic app contains loads of vocabulary categories (you can see a sample above) and you can upgrade for a couple of pounds/dollars if you want more. Within each category you can learn vocabulary through
flashcards then test your spelling, reading and listening skills, or just stick to the multiple choice round if you aren’t feeling too confident yet! I have learned a lot of German vocabulary using this app and it has definitely helped my spelling in particular.
I hesitated about putting this in my top five as it has so many in-app purchases which I personally think are quite expensive. However, aside from the flashcards and consequent testing that you find in most language apps, Busuu has one really cool extra: provided you are willing to do the same for learners of English, you can submit pieces of writing in the language you are learning and have native speakers from around the world correct it for you through the app. I tried this myself when I first started learning Spanish and found it really motivational. It’s great to hear feedback from other people and also feel part of a language-learning community.
6. Google Translate
Ok, I know I said five but this one is worth squeezing in as number six! Language teachers, please forgive me! Google Translate is a real pain for teachers because students tend to rely on it to do their work for them. Not only does it mean they are not working sentences out for themselves, but it also has a reputation for getting things wrong. I once had a pupil who used it for his coursework and ended up writing an entire essay about his holiday inside a turkey bird (he had meant to say that he went to Turkey, of course)! However, I have mellowed out in recent years and now there is an app available it has almost won me over! You can instantly translate any text into almost any language, save it for future use and enlarge it at the tap of a button. You can also take a picture of something written in a foreign language and it will translate that too (I haven’t actually tried this myself yet but apparently it works)! It isn’t perfect and it will get things wrong sometimes but the meaning is usually clear enough and kind native speakers will forgive you anyway.
So here are my top five (six) free language apps! Like I said, let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions yourself by leaving a comment below. You can connect with me on Instagram, Twitter & Pinterest or by sending me a message via the Contact Me page.
I also share free French & Spanish teaching resources here.