Welcome back, everyone! We hope you’re enjoying our Travel Resource Series thus far and that you’ve come across some great stuff you’re utilizing on your adventures!
For this post, we’re tackling a pretty extensive topic: language learning. While we know that no program, app, website, course, etc. can take the place of immersion in a native speaking environment, we do know they can provide a great deal of help!
This post is pretty long (after all, that’s what we do here at Upgraded Points!), but we wanted to include various solutions because we know everyone learns differently. This is clearly evidenced by the vast array of language resources available. So stick with us!
From game-based apps with quirky cartoons; online news sources, podcasts, and videos; one-on-one lessons with certified teachers; to tried and true language program software – we’re confident there’s something here for each and every one of you!
Table of contents
- BBC – News In Your Language
- FI3M (Fluent in 3 Months)
- FSI Language Courses
- Google Translate
- iTranslate and iTranslateVoice
- Living Language
- Mango Languages
- Pimsleur Method™ (Simon and Schuster)
- Rosetta Stone®
- TinyCards (by Duolingo)
(FREE -basic; each language also offers 4 subscriptions from $9.99 – $59.99)
Babbel boasts “the shortest path to real-life conversations,” and reports that 73% of users are able to hold a brief, simple conversation within the first 5 hours of beginning a new course. We don’t know exactly how “brief and simple” that may be, but it sounds promising!
Babbel offers 14 languages with courses based on your native language and personal interests. Each lesson is presented in a quick 10-15 minute time frame meant to fit conveniently into busy schedules. Alternatively, if you have plenty of time to learn, multiple lessons can be completed back to back.
You’ll start with vocabulary aided by pictures, then go on to utilize the vocabulary words in phrases and dialogues (recorded by native language speakers, not automated computers). Babbel also utilizes speech recognition technology to assist with proper pronunciation, and a “Review Manager” automatically reminds users when content is due for review based on the method of spaced repetition. Babbel prides itself on addressing all learning types with an individualized path to success.
online access to foreign language BBC news reports
While BBC previously provided free access to language learning tools through BBC Language, that portion of their website has been archived and is no longer updated (meaning some aspects no longer function). The BBC does continue to offer alternative content that can help when you’re learning a new language.
For example, they offer all their online news in a range of languages on their website; even their videos offer closed captioning in the language of choice. At the close of 2016, BBC announced an expansion to include a number of new languages (40+ once complete), more foreign language mobile and video content, and a greater social media presence.
Hot Tip: If you’re wondering why this lands on our list of language learning resources, check out this neat little article: “If you are learning a foreign language then you should be READING in it” on brainscape.com. (Read more about Brainscape below…)
(FREE -basic; in-app purchases/upgrades $3.99 – $79.99)
Brainscape claims to double your learning speed with “smart flashcards” and touts this product as the most effective study system on the planet. In a nutshell, Brainscape personalizes the proven learning method of spaced repetition by timing each exposure with exactly the right interval for your brain. Their website reports one study at Columbia University showing a 2x increase in retention using Brainscape vs. traditional books and flashcards.
With Brainscape, you can utilize a number of pre-created flashcards in multiple languages, or you can create your own. Plus, Brainscape promises to continue along their innovative path and has dropped hints at updates based on the latest cognitive science research (like sounds, humor, animations, social interactions, rewards, etc.) that improve the brain’s speed of learning.
(FREE – basic; full versions, bundles, & ad removal $1.99 – $19.99)
bilingual dictionary and phrasebook apps
Bravolol phrasebooks come in separate apps for each language and a “catch-all” app for the most common phrases in all languages. This app provides useful phrases and vocabularies with authentic pronunciation in a clean and inviting interface. Users can save and manage their favorite phrases and even record their own pronunciation for comparison.
The free app includes access to multiple categories like greetings, eating, and even romance. With the paid version, you’ll have access to hundreds of additional phrases in even more categories. Bravolol’s bilingual dictionaries are pretty self-explanatory, offering definitions, example sentences, audio pronunciations, flashcards, and more.
The app is fairly plain, but remember it’s supposed to function as a dictionary and not a language course – so there’s not a lot of fluff or extra tools. The search component is quick and includes predictive suggestions, and the app has capabilities for offline use as well.
(FREE – Busuu Limited; premium services starting at $5.41/mo)
social network-based language courses
Busuu is a language course that merges learning with social networking. Busuu’s tagline (“Don’t just learn languages, fall in love with them!”) hits us right in the feels. With 12 different courses offered, Busuu combines high-quality content and interaction with native language speakers… over 60 million of them to be exact!
Busuu’s course content is broken down into skill sets and covers the 4 main language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The social media aspect comes into play with the native language speaker component: users can send their writing samples to reviewers and receive personalized while getting to know people from around the world. Users have the option to add these “correctors” as friends in order to receive future feedback from them. Additionally, users can correct other Busuu learner’s samples in their own native language.
The social media aspect comes into play with the native language speaker component: users can send their writing samples to reviewers and receive personalized while getting to know people from around the world. Users have the option to add these “correctors” as friends in order to receive future feedback from them. Additionally, users can correct other Busuu learner’s samples in their own native language.
The desktop version of Busuu allows premium users to utilize BusuuTalk, a platform that connects users in a real-time chat situation for conversational language practice.
DuoLingo has been praised as one of the best language learning apps out there. While it uses traditional methods of language acquisition, nothing about DuoLingo’s lessons screams boring. With a clean, colorful interface and a game-like path toward proficiency, DuoLingo is charming and instantly addictive. Plus, it’s ridiculously straightforward: sign-up is simple, and learning is broken down into “bite-sized” manageable skill sets.
For English speakers, DuoLingo currently offers 18 full courses, 3 that are in beta, and 6 that are “hatching” (on their way to an upcoming rollout). Lessons are based on speaking, listening, translation, and multiple choice challenges, which are graded in real-time. The gaming aspect is in full swing as users earn feedback and points based on optimal performance. This platform constantly measures success and returns often to content the user finds difficult.
Another perk within the app is the new “Bots” interface. This allows users to “practice without pressure” by using AI bots as virtual language tutors. These bots react differently to thousands of possible conversational exchanges in an online chat format. All this in a free app? Yes, please!
Within each course, users can start as a beginner or test out of lower levels if they’re more proficient. More awesomeness? Right off the bat, DuoLingo also asks users to set a goal for the amount of time they aim to spend learning each day – aka motivation (an area where many users drop the ball)! The program has also introduced study reminders, a great little “streak” component, and an activity timeline that lets users visualize their achievements.
Hot Tip: Turns out you can now create and join “Clubs” for the major language courses. The “Clubs” feature is still fairly new and undergoing improvements, but the initial idea is to create groups where family and/or friends can come together to learn a new language. Help each other out by tracking group progress, indulging in a little friendly competition, or cheering each other on through chats.
(Main content, FI3M Premium – $97; additional content varies)
rapid language hacking; alternative approach to language learning
A lot of people get frustrated with language learning for good reason – it’s tough! Many of those same people resign themselves to thoughts like: “I just don’t have that language gene…” or “languages are just too hard.” If this sounds like you, Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months may just change your mind (or at least encourage you to think differently).
FI3M offers a couple of products including a free “Speak in a Week” email course, which then drives users towards the FI3M Premium (2.0) program. The Premium program includes a wide array of products like video courses, extended interviews, tutorials, immersion resource kits, language hacking guides, etc. This not a specific language course, but a program built on Benny’s method of language learning/hacking.
There are also the “Why _____ Is Easy” programs geared toward specific languages that revolve around his alternative approach (again, not a language course). Lastly, the FI3M blog provides a wealth of information on helpful resources, language and culture related blog posts, language hacks, success stories, and more.
Hot Tip: Love TED talks? You can see Benny’s here.
FSI Language Courses
Foreign Services Institute language learning courses/materials
The Foreign Services Institute (FSI) is the U.S. government’s primary training institution for officers and support personnel of the U.S. foreign affairs community. The School of Language Studies (SLS) is the specific organization responsible for language and culture training. Courses offered between these organizations teach over 70 different languages, provide a wealth of information, and are pretty straightforward since they’re built for the government by professional linguists.
Unfortunately, while these course materials are in the public domain (read: free for public use), the U.S. government itself does not provide an easy way to access this information without being a government employee or an enrollee at the SLS. Luckily, there are a number of wonderful sites (named above) that have independently taken these raw materials and published them in an easy-to-access format for public use.
To note: these websites are not affiliated in any way with the government entity FSI.
Hot Tip: With courses in over 70 languages, these resources are great for individuals learning a lesser known language not available in other popular programs/apps.
(FREE – web; app $2.99)
pronunciation guide; translation with pronunciation
“All the words in the world. Pronounced.” That’s a pretty lofty goal, but Forvo is well on their way to accomplishing it!
Forvo is the world’s largest pronunciation guide, where users can find the correct pronunciation for millions of words across 330 languages. The great part about Forvo is that these words are said to be created/produced and maintained by native speakers – which means you don’t get an awkward computer automated (read: useless) pronunciation.
Within the website and app, users can search for a word and listen to its correct pronunciation often in multiple accents. Users can also create their own recordings, vote on pronunciations, add/request words for native speakers to pronounce, chat with other Forvo users in real time, and more.
Forvo’s “Translate + Pronounce” is in beta version (web only at this time), but it’s working great so far… imagine the possibilities!
(FREE – trial & basic app; in-app purchases & upgrades $29.99 – $239.99)
language immersion; alternative approach to language learning with real world videos
FluentU assists with language learning by providing access to the web’s best foreign language videos and audio content. Through exposure to engaging content (think: movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks, news, etc.), FluentU reinforces the fact that you learn more when something’s important or interesting to you.
Forget traditional closed captioning, videos come with interactive captioning that provides users with in-context definitions and example sentences.
FluentU also offers quizzes using videos to test your knowledge. The only downside we can see at this point is its limited number of languages; it currently offers about 10 languages, but we imagine this will expand. An Android app version is supposed to be coming soon!
Yes, Google has a translation service. Yes, it’s pretty great. Yes, it can do things we once only dreamed of. Google translate is certainly usable on the web, but we find it most helpful in app form where users can translate between 103 languages by typing. It can even translate an incredible 52 languages while offline.
Then there’s the instant camera translation, which allows you to point your camera at a word/sign/menu/etc. and have the text translated instantly in up to 30 languages (for higher quality translations, just snap a photo of the text).
In conversation mode, the app offers 2-way instant speech translation in 32 languages, and you can draw characters instead of using the keyboard if needed. PEOPLE, THERE’S MORE: you can now use Google Translate’s magic in any app on your phone – simply copy text in any app and your translation will pop up.
Hot Tip: No, it is not foolproof…but they’re working on it! In November 2016, Google announced a switch from the previous operating system to Google Neural Machine Translation, which should generally improve fluency and accuracy.
Want to improve Google Translate? They’d love your help!
(FREE – basic; in-app purchases & upgrades $1.99 – $74.99)
global language and culture exchange; direct conversation with native language speakers
HelloTalk provides a platform to practice conversational skills with native language speakers. In contrast to other resources that require the use of Skype, Google Plus, etc., HelloTalk provides a direct interface to converse via text/audio messages as well as free audio/video calls.
How it works: Download the app, search for speakers of the language you wish to practice, get connected, and start speaking! The app provides a basic platform for language exchange in over 100 languages. Of course, paying for premium features allows access to all the perks including registering for more than one language, translation, transliteration, and voice recognition.
A few cool points: With the text message option, you and your partner can assist in correcting each other’s written sentences to improve structure/grammar. The app also includes camera and doodle sharing for a fun way to get your point across. Another great feature is the option to search for language partners “nearby,” which provides an avenue for users to meet up for in-person conversation practice.
Hot Tip: Remember this is a language exchange, so you aren’t the only one searching for help – other users may contact you for learning opportunities as well!
(FREE – basic; in-app purchases & upgrades $6.99 – $9.99)
global Q&A community for language learners
HiNative provides a platform for users to “ask whatever you want and learn for free.” Users can choose from a number of features to ask questions for over 110+ languages. Audio Uploads allows for pronunciation checks, accent comparison, or any other question presented in an audio format.
Question Formats is a simple interface for those who aren’t sure how to ask their question in another language. HiNative translates these questions (and responses) into each respective language. Have a question about a road sign or menu? HiNative allows for photo uploads too.
Lastly, the app provides a platform to ask locals about destinations, culture, basic customs/traditions, travel tips, restaurant recommendations, etc. The language learning aspect comes into play when users ask questions about vocabulary, sentence structure, listening comprehension, pronunciation, etc. Answers from native speakers are likely to be a lot more accurate than standard web searches.
All this being said, please note that HiNative provides these interactions in a Q&A format instead of an individual messaging format.
Hot Tip: HiNative prides itself on the kindness and helpfulness of its user community. Reviews tell us this is pretty spot on – native speakers appear to be truly invested in helping others learn and provide polite, friendly responses.
(variable depending on course/content utilized)
language courses; additional language learning content
Innovative Language LLC is a company that provides language courses in addition to supporting other tools including mobile apps, sister websites, audiobooks, digital books, and downloadable software. It’s pretty much a one-stop shop for language learning!
InnovativeLanguage offers 34 languages and focuses on speaking from the very first lesson. They supplement these courses with additional audio/video content based on each user’s preference. Want an on-the-go app? Done. Podcasts? Sure. Kindle Books? Yup. Innovative Language TV? That’s a thing.
These guys provide a wealth of materials because they understand everyone learns in a different and personalized way. They also pride themselves on their courses and lessons being produced by real native-language teachers who are enthusiastic about educating. Plus, InnovativeLanguage.com gets some seriously great reviews within the online language learning and app communities.
(FREE app; lessons vary by teacher/tutor $5 – $30+)
one-on-one language lessons with native language speakers
iTalki utilizes over 1,000 teachers and 2,000 tutors to provide private one-on-one language lessons for its users in over 75 languages. Each iTalki teacher has been professionally certified or has a degree in education, while tutors are native-speaking individuals passionate about sharing their language and educating others.
To find a teacher/tutor, search your desired language and choose from a number of results; you can view each educator’s video introduction and read reviews from previous students. Once you choose an educator, request a date and time for your individual lesson. When agreed upon, connect via Skype or other video chat software (iTalki does not provide an in-app video chat platform at this time).
In terms of fees, users pay in credits for each lesson, and the price varies depending on your instructor. iTalki also provides a “community” component with language learning articles, community discussions, a forum to ask language-learning questions, a “notebook” to give/receive corrections on writing samples, and a language exchange where users can find a language partner (not a teacher/tutor) to practice their conversational skills.
(FREE – basic; in-app purchases & upgrades $0.99 – $29.99)
translation assistance; dictionary
iTranslate claims to be the leading translation app in circulation, with over 50 million downloads and over 100,000 app store reviews. iTranslate offers the ability to easily translate text in over 90 languages, full websites in over 40 languages, and start voice-to-voice conversations in many popular languages.
iTranslate also offers a dictionary for definitions and synonyms as well as a verb conjugation platform (‘cause we all know that’s where things get dicey!). Newly added is the offline translation option, which is uber helpful when you’re abroad with a patchy internet connection.
iTranslateVoice boasts “magical voice to voice translation,” which allows users to speak a word/phrase/sentence directly into their phone, and then have it spoken back in the desired language. This all happens in real-time with very little delay. Offering over 40 languages and dialects, this app can certainly come in handy.
In addition, the app also offers Phrasebook, a quick and easy way to access your most utilized phrases. This is handy if you travel a lot and are using the same phrases over and over in various languages. iTranslate Voice also offers the ability to connect to other users nearby, utilizing AirTranslate for communication back and forth in each user’s respective language.
(FREE; in-app purchases/upgrades $9.99 – $109.99)
language courses, alternative language approach
LingQ aims to break down barriers that prevent people from learning languages. Instead of learning via textbooks, classrooms, and grammar rules, LingQ utilizes The Linguist Method (produced by co-founder Steve Kaufman). This includes individualized learning in topics that interest you via articles, stories, novels, radio shows, etc. The method also involves dramatically increasing your vocabulary by exposing you to the language often, utilizing a specific LingQ writing system, and setting/measuring goals.
LingQ utilizes authentic content, native speaking tutors, and an online community of learners to get the job done. You can download content and listen on the go, review vocabulary with flashcards, join live conversations, get help from personal tutors, and a whole lot more! Of course, like most resources, for full functionality, you’ll need a pro membership.
Hot Tip: Steve also runs a great blog called The Linguist for people who love languages, or think they could learn but have felt discouraged in the past. You can find it here.
Living Language has been around since 1946 and was initially developed to help teach service personnel and diplomats bound for assignments overseas. When you consider this fact, it starts to make sense that their product is a bit archaic compared to the new world of apps and on-the-go learning.
Living Language offers courses that include a varying number of print books, compact discs (you heard that right), online courses, and a basic app (depending on which product level you purchase). While it isn’t new-fangled or spectacularly designed, we include it in this resource section because we realize some individuals may be happy relying on the classic methods of language learning.
(FREE with organizational subscription; available for purchase)
Mango Languages is a fantastic software program built mainly for use by public libraries, schools, businesses, and government agencies. If your public library has a subscription to the Mango Languages software, you likely get it for free with your membership.
Similarly, if your school, business, or government agency has a subscription, you may have free access that way as well. However, Mango Languages has been so successful that it’s now offered for individuals to purchase without these connections.
So what is it? Mango is a language and cultural learning software system that was PhD-created and linguist-approved. This system is based on a number of key concepts including: learning relevant information (via real-world communication skills), breaking down lessons into bite-sized chunks, teaching meaningful sentence construction, perfecting pronunciation, and learning about culture.
Mango utilizes a number of platforms including their website as well as desktop and mobile apps to educate learners in up to 70 available languages. What’s more, the interface is modern, clean, and user-friendly. Plus, We love that Mango Languages promotes public libraries as an integral part of the community and encourages the use of modern language learning techniques in schools. Bravo, Mango!
Hot Tip: Have a tiny language learner? Mango Languages has teamed up with Little Pim® to create an online language learning system for kiddos 0-6 years old. How cool is that?!
(FREE – basic; in-app purchases & upgrades $8.99 – $59.99)
flashcard-based language learning; game-based language learning
Y’all… Memrise is some seriously upgraded flashcard learning! We’re talking next-level stuff like incorporating a game storyline and interface to your studies. You’re basically an undercover spy in a distant universe protecting the diversity of languages from the sinister Uniformis Front (we’re not joking!). Through this role, users complete tasks and earn points to make studying a lot more exciting.
Memrise states their strategy for effortless learning lies within 3 basic concepts: brain science, fun, and community. Memrise teaches you through the latest neuroscience-based language learning concepts paired with a playful game-based platform, supported by a “multimedia wonderland of learning.” Doesn’t that sound great? Memrise gets some pretty fantastic reviews, and with good reason – we’re hooked.
(FREE – basic; in-app purchases & upgrades $4.99 – $19.99)
game-based language learning
MindSnacks promotes language learning via game play. Currently, MindSnacks only offers 7 languages, but at the rate they’re succeeding we’d be surprised if they grow exponentially in the near future. MindSnacks offers 9 different games within each language lesson and 50 lessons per language (although you’ll need a paid upgrade after the first free lesson).
Each language lesson is based on a “category” such as: Nightlife, Family, Taking a Taxi, At the Pharmacy, etc. Users can choose which order they wish to learn in and pick which content is most relevant to them. These games may seem elementary at first, but they’re far from boring: they’re colorful, playful, and certainly addictive! Not to mention you’re focusing on essential vocabulary and conversational skills. Pretty neat if you ask us!
(highly variable $120 – $1,200)
Chances are if you’ve researched learning a new language, you’ve heard of the Pimsleur Method. It’s been around for awhile, which can be both positive and negative in the eyes of reviewers.
Dr. Paul Pimsleur was one of the first individuals to focus on organic learning using spaced repetition combined with recall and user interaction for improved retention. Pimsleur offers ~50 languages and advertises that 30 minutes a day of Pimsleur learning will do the job.
The Pimsleur Method essentially focuses on speaking the language, e.g. the structure and framework. Therefore, some reviewers feel it lacks content on reading and writing (even with new interactive software). Additionally, many reviewers state the breadth of vocabulary is a bit limited, although it now includes up to 5 levels compared to the previous 3.
Generally, those who are a bit more traditional tend to enjoy the Pimsleur products, which include: audio downloads, an interactive software program, or compact discs (we told you it was a bit archaic). By contrast, those who are looking for a shiny new language program or game-like app are more often than not deterred by Pimsleur.
DESIGN TEAM: please use this website for images – http://www.pimsleur.com/
(FREE – app + first lesson; subscriptions $79 – $249+)