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The Best Language-Learning Apps and Websites to Try

Technology + Gear Languages
by Dayana Aleksandrova Mar 25, 2020

As most of us have been ordered to stay home to help control the spread of COVID-19, we’re all looking for ways to pass the time and learn new skills from the confines of our own houses. Because we will travel again when this is all over, and because speaking a foreign language is an incredibly useful part of our explorer’s toolkit, using our time at home to learn a new language is time well spent. Using a language-learning tool is a cheap, easy, and social way to pick up a new skill. You can team up with a partner across the globe in your efforts so that you can still communicate and hang out without needing to board a plane. Here are the best tools to learn a new language while in self-isolation.

1. Italki

If you’re one of those people who’d love to pick up a new language but needs the human aspect of learning, try Italki. The online platform helps you connect with a real human tutor as opposed to a virtual chatbot. You can ask your teacher any question and dive into the rules of grammar, while they make sure that you follow along. The catalog of teachers includes more than 10,000 native speakers from all across the globe. Each tutor has a video introduction along with a bio, a calendar with their availability, and an hourly rate. Some teachers offer a trial rate for a single lesson where you can evaluate your compatibility.

The advantages of Italki are that you’re not just learning a language but also making a friend who will help hold you accountable for showing up to class and pronouncing your new vocabulary properly. The cons are that unlike an app on your phone, you can’t just pull a class up whenever you like. You actually have to arrange a time and coordinate availability with your tutor. Italki can also be pricey since each tutor charges individually.

2. Speaky

Speaky is a social language-exchange platform that lets you select your language partner based on your shared interests. If you’d like to learn Spanish and enjoy dancing salsa, you can find a native Spanish speaker who dances as well. This way, they’ll not only guide you through the basic grammar but also enlighten you to the particular terminology of your shared hobby. On Speaky, you’ll find an average of 5,000 people chatting online at any given time. You can see the real-time numbers on your screen and jump in by simply creating a profile.

You’ll find each of the community members’ interests on their profile and will be able to shoot them a message to connect. The major pro of Speaky is that it’s free. The con is that since you are talking with regular people, as opposed to professional teachers, your lesson will actually feel like a casual conversation and might lack the structure a tutor would provide. But it will give you a better sense of how people really communicate outside of a textbook.

3. Tandem

Think of the Tandem app as Meetup’s version for online language practice. All you need to do is choose the language you’d like to learn and offer your own to teach. That way, you’ll match up with your study buddy and exchange conversation to help each other out. Instead of only browsing by language, you can choose your practice friends based on where they live — from New York City to Sao Paulo, Moscow, Tokyo, and more. The app has over 150 countries participating, so you’ll have plenty of options.

Tandem’s pro is that you don’t have to pay for practice. The potential con is that you’ll need to allocate time to help your partners in return since language-exchange is a two-way street. And if you prefer to spend some money to get a trained tutor, you have that option too; the app will match you up with a teacher based on your language level and requirements.

4. Reddit language exchange

Reddit has always been a source of inspiration for social discussions, and language-learning is no exception. In the site’s language-exchange channel, you’ll find plenty of native speakers, many of them in a social-isolation right now too, willing to call you up and practice. The community you’ll dive into is an eclectic mix including Germans who seek Mandarin experience, Korean-natives wanting to improve their French, along with plenty of Spanish and English native speakers offering to volunteer their free time to guide you.

The pro for Reddit is that you can establish contacts quickly and easily, arranging informal calls with other language enthusiasts. Unless stated otherwise, this is free and on a friendship basis. The con is that since there is no payment involved, you’ll just have to hope that your study buddy shows up for your language meeting.

5. Duolingo

Duolingo has gained a large following due to its many gamification features that make learning easy and fun. You can choose from 35 courses, including French, Turkish, Indonesian, Gaelic, and more. The app focuses on teaching phrases that are useful in real life, such as asking where the nearest subway station is, ordering food at a restaurant, or locating your luggage. With Duolingo, you will not only learn new words and sentence constructions, but you’ll also master the pronunciation of your new foreign vocabulary like a pro.

Thanks to a “club” feature implemented in 2016, language-learning on Duolingo has become a team sport. You can add up to 15 people in a social “club” to compete with each other, motivate yourselves with custom emoji, and track your overall score on the leaderboard. Choose a language, invite your friends and family to your Duolingo club, and go at it together which in the end will lead to faster results.

The pro for the app is that learning is made fun thanks to the colorful and animated platform features. The major con of Duolingo is that there isn’t a grammar explanation when you make a mistake, so you might be left wondering why you failed an exercise, playing the guessing game the next time around without actually understanding how to correct yourself. Still, it’s a more productive game than Candy Crush.

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