There are many benefits to learning a new language. But the process can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially if you live somewhere without a lot of native speakers. Fortunately, language learners have access to more resources than ever before, including tons of language apps and learning software that allow you to teach yourself at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home. There are quite a few different options out there right now, and the best language learning apps will help individual learners work on vocabulary, pronunciation, and comprehension so you’ll be fluent in no time.
With so many different language apps out there, there’s likely a program that best suits your learning style and schedule. The best language learning apps are also economical, especially when compared with formal schooling or tutoring with a language expert. Many have speech recognition, which is key to ensuring you have the right pronunciation. Others offer several language options, which is ideal when you want to pick up multiple languages.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of our absolute favorite language learning apps so you can find the one that’s best for your needs.
Duolingo/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
As a regular Duolingo user, I enjoy the app’s colorful interface and short, game-like exercises. The app doesn’t restrict how many languages you can try to learn at the same time (personally, I think two is a good maximum if you want to retain anything). I use Duolingo to practice Spanish and German.
I found Babbel to be the most like a foreign language course you’d see in an online school curriculum. The minimalist layout of the Babbel app helps prevent a new language (French for me) from seeming overwhelming, without making it boring. Each lesson takes you through translations, and includes variations of the word or phrase, pictures and whether it’s formal or informal. If it asks you to spell a phrase, the letters are included.
Drops/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
I tried my hand at Greek on the Drops app. The app’s fun, colorful layout definitely made the language (which has its own alphabet) less intimidating. The app shows users each word in the Greek alphabet and the English alphabet, and says the word and shows an image of it. Drops is constantly adding new languages, most recently, the app brought on Ainu, an indigenous Japanese language.
Mondly/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
Similar to Drops, Mondly is a fun, colorful app that has multiple features to take advantage of even if you don’t subscribe to premium. I tried beginner Hungarian on this app, and I liked how it offered to show you different conjugations if you tapped on verbs. The app packs images, translations and auditory aids to help your specific learning style.
Memrise/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
One of my favorite parts of Memrise is the app’s use of short videos to show how real locals express different phrases in conversation. I tried the French course, and the first lesson alone let me listen to the tone of voice and casual pronunciation, as well as showing me the phrase’s literal translation and explained its gendered usage. The app also helps you spot patterns in the language to make it easier to improve your skills. If you’re brushing up on a language you’re familiar with, you have the option to skip phrases you already know.
Busuu/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
When you sign up for Busuu, you select the language you want to learn, and the app helps you determine how advanced you are with it and why you want to learn it, and to what level. From there, you set a daily study goal, and if you subscribe to the premium plan, it creates a study plan so you’ll reach your goal by a set date. For example, Busuu says if I study three times a week for 10 minutes a day, I’ll be pretty fluent in my chosen language in about eight months..
Lirica/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
If you listen to any song enough, you’ll learn all the words through repetition — even if they’re in a different language. But how do you figure out what they mean? This is where the Lirica app comes in. This app is unique in how it approaches teaching Spanish and German. Instead of traditional teaching methods for learning a language, Lirica uses popular music by Latin and reggaeton artists to help you learn language and grammar. On top of learning the language, you’re also immersing yourself in the culture behind it. The app also includes facts about the artist while you’re learning.
Netflix/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
While not technically an app, the free Language Learning with Netflix Chrome extension can be helpful on your journey to becoming multilingual. Install the extension and click the icon to launch the catalog of movie and TV show options. You do need a subscription to Netflix though.
Pimsleur is an app that offers 51 languages to learn, but delivers the information in what is basically the form of a podcast. Essentially, you’ll choose the language you want to learn and begin a 30-minute auditory lesson (which are downloadable and Alexa-compatible). The app also has a driving mode, so you can improve your language skills during long commutes without looking at a screen.
Perhaps the best-known language learning service, Rosetta Stone has come a long way since it started in the ’90s. My parents still have a box set of discs for learning Spanish somewhere in their house. It’s a lot easier now with the Rosetta Stone app, but you still need at least 30 minutes to complete a Core Lesson.