In the past few years, when the world was under lockdown, people found themselves working from home, and what this did led them to explore other interests as well. Something similar happened to us as well, and what we decided to do was learn a new language. Now, offline classes were obviously closed, but what we discovered was that there are apps on the Android and Apple App Store, that is actually capable of teaching you new languages to a conversational level and sometimes even deeper. We decided to give these apps a swing and soon enough, we found ourselves spending hours every day, completing the exercises and getting better at new languages.
Today, with the world slowly opening up to offline education, we still use these apps and in this article, we are going to talk about 3 such apps, that can help you start learning a new language.
Number 1. Pimsleur
Pimsleur is a course that is nearly entirely audio-based. You listen to a 30-minute audio track every day. The track casts you in several characters — a tourist asking for directions, a consumer buying beer at a restaurant, a shopper bargaining over a price, a worker booking lunch with a colleague — and has you engage in a simulated dialogue with that character. When your fictitious conversation partner talks to you in the target language, you react in that language, and a native speaker says the proper answer, which you repeat a few times after them. The (English-speaking) narrator will occasionally provide new words and phrases for you to learn, which you will also repeat several times. The simulated chats become more complicated as you learn more phrases.
When it comes to pronunciation, Pimsleur is by far the best tool we’ve used. The program forces you to repeatedly repeat words and phrases after a native speaker. While this can be tedious, it is really beneficial for improving your pronunciation.
Pimsleur is also an excellent choice if you need to study survival phrases for an upcoming trip. The first phrases taught by Pimsleur are popular tourist phrases (“Do you speak English?” “Excuse me,” “How much does this cost?” and so on). It also swiftly teaches you a large vocabulary.
However, Pimsleur has a big flaw: reading and writing. The app includes some supplementary reading exercises, but they are quite basic. Pimsleur’s true strength is as an audio tool; if you also want to learn to read and write, you should use something else.
Pimsleur also requires a larger time commitment than other resources. It requests 30 minutes every day, without the flashcards and other bells and whistles found in the app. It’s a good commute companion (and there’s a dedicated screen for driving), but that’s about as much multitasking as anyone’s brain can manage.
The final issue is that Pimsleur is expensive. If it’s too expensive for you, that’s fine; you may still have a terrific language-learning experience with the more economical resources listed here. We will state, however, that if you have the money to pay for one resource and the time to set aside, we strongly advise you to pay for this one. While other resources spend more attention on grammatical rules and complicated mechanics, nothing else we’ve seen teaches as much useable material in as little time. This is the most expensive app we tested at the start of my journey, and it’s the one we’re currently paying for.
Number 2. Duolingo
Duolingo reinforces basic grammar and vocabulary through bite-sized courses (they take me approximately two minutes on average) and a visually appealing interface. You’ll learn or practice a few words per course, reading, writing, and speaking them.
Duolingo was once one of our favorite sites, but it suddenly moved its review functionality behind a paywall, rendering the free version useless. Previously, you could do new lessons every day as well as go back and review previous ones (and the app pushed you to go back and study lessons you hadn’t done in a while). This is not possible with the current version, as a lesson is locked once completed. The review exercises are kept behind a separate “Practice Hub” page that requires a paid subscription to access. The free Duolingo app now feels more like a short method to dip your toes into a language every day than a thorough course. It’s also become much more difficult for free users to climb the leaderboard, which has knocked a lot of wind out of our sails when using it. We’ve tried the paid version for free, and it’s better, but not excellent enough to recommend it as the only item you’ll pay for.
The utility of Duolingo varies greatly depending on the language. We recommend reading reviews, visiting your language’s subreddit, or consulting with other learners you know to see whether it’s a suitable fit for your target language – especially if you plan to pay for it.
We like that there is an option to report if you believe an answer tagged incorrectly by the app should have been approved. If the company deems your complaint to be valid, they will notify you via email that they will accept your response going forward.
When it comes to the free version, we generally say, “Why not?” While it may not be the most useful or thorough resource, the fact that you can use it at any time is a plus. While you wait on the subway, do some Duolingo. Wait at a crosswalk and play Duolingo. It’s an excellent approach to keep your attention on your target language throughout the day and sneak in some practice whenever you can. However, we would not utilize the free version by itself.
Number 3. Rosetta Stone
The advantage of Rosetta Stone is that it does not utilize any English. It shows you photos, describes them in your target language, and then lets you practice doing the same, eliminating the need for a translator. Speaking, writing, listening comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary are all covered in the course. There are separate lessons for each element, as well as cumulative lessons that include all of them. The length of the classes varies; some are less than five minutes long, while others might go up to 30 minutes.
We believe that among the resources described here, Rosetta Stone’s content is the most similar to what you may learn in a high school language program. Rather than the conversational phrases taught in Pimsleur, it begins by teaching you fundamental vocabulary that you’d expect children to learn (“cat,” “dog,” “tree,” etc.) and basic descriptive grammatical constructs (“the boy drinks milk,” “the woman drives a car,” etc.). It is also more concerned with hammering out precise grammatical rules. Pimsleur will tell you things like, “This sentence should theoretically have an object marker, but it’s fine if you omit it,” whereas Rosetta Stone will never tell you that.
We genuinely believe that Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone complement each other extremely well due to their very diverse approaches. However, they are the two most expensive courses here, and we understand that many people will not want to pay for both. If you have to choose between the two as your major course, we recommend Pimsleur if you’re learning for a vacation, if you want to converse with native speakers of your target language, or if you just want to see results quickly. If you want a truly complete long-term foundation or to practice reading and writing, we recommend Rosetta Stone.