Most of us would love to learn a new language. It opens the possibility of meeting a lot of new people learning a new culture. Perhaps we would like to get in touch with our roots, or better understand a friend or loved one. Regardless of the reason, learning a new language can be a daunting task.
Back in the day, options were limited to language classes and self-study books. The chance of finding a native speaker with whom to practice was usually low, and more so if your desired language had a small number of speakers. But in this information age options abound, and we are only limited by our own determination.
The following apps can be used in iOS or Android, and while they may offer premium services for a fee, their most useful features can be accessed free of charge.
One of the first hurdles when starting out in a new language is the lack of vocabulary. You have so much to say, but you just don’t know any words!
Duolingo contains a broad set of exercises designed to help you learn new words based on different categories, such as clothing, people, traveling, etc. Some of these ask you to associate spoken words to their corresponding written form, while others may ask you to translate a sentence. All the exercises come in bite-sized collections, a crucial characteristic when you can only dedicate five or ten minutes at a time to studying.
To keep you motivated, Duolingo sports an XP system, which you can use to compete in leaderboards against other users. There is an XP goal for each day, usually achieved by completing two sets of exercises, and every day you reach it your current streak grows. If you fail your goal in a day, you lose your streak. It may not sound like much, but you can be surprised at how these incentives keep you coming back.
Practicing by yourself is fine, but to truly learn a foreign language, it’s almost necessary to interact with native speakers. Whether it’s by text messages or by phone call, being exposed directly to your target language in a casual setting will take you to the next level.
Tandem is a simple but powerful tool that allows you to locate people who are fluent in the language you’re learning, while at the same time being students of the language that you speak. This language exchange is enabled by a messaging system, complete with translation and transliteration tools, and voice and video chat options.
If you do have extra cash to spare, Tandem also features professional tutors, who will help you in your language of choice for a set hourly fee. These fees range from $10 to $20+ USD.
HelloTalk shares many features with Tandem but adds one important piece of functionality. Not only can you engage other users directly, but you can also post ‘Moments,’ similar to Facebook’s status feed. Here you can try your skills in your target language by sharing your thoughts with the community, complete with text, audio recordings, and pictures. Other members may then comment on your post and even correct your mistakes with a handy correction tool.
This option is quite handy for people who are too shy to engage in one-on-one communication, or when time zone differences make real-time contact difficult.
As with any language exchange program, you must be careful in your interactions with other people. As with any other place on the internet, divulging personal information is risky. While most users are there to learn a new language, some are lonely people who will demand constant attention. These people are a reality of the medium, and they shouldn’t deter you from using these apps. The block button is your friend in this case, and you shouldn’t feel bad for using it.
There you have it, three wonderful apps that’ll get you talking in a new language sooner than you think. Along the way, you’ll make some new friends, learn about other cultures and hopefully have a ton of fun!