Some students have the blessing of fluently knowing a language before they move abroad to use it, but most of us will struggle to learn as much as we can before we leave.
It is, of course, not easy to learn a language, but with the recent upsurge of apps and websites designed to help you brush up on your language skills, or even start from scratch, now is a great time to review all the options and see which one is the best.
Babbel offers 13 languages, mostly European: German, Italian, Dutch, Polish and so forth but also Indonesian and Turkish.
The free version comes with 40 classes (more than Busuu), with a focus on pictures to build vocabulary, then use of those phrases in dialogue exercises, to improve the user’s conversational skill.
These dialogue tests are very useful at understanding the context in which certain phrases are to be used and generally broadening your understanding of the language. Compare that to Duolingo, for example, which only really offers words and short phrases outside of any context.
After completing the free classes, students can then pay a subscription fee, but after paying the fee, users can focus on specific skills like grammar or vocabulary, or even specialised courses like idioms, tongue-twisters or sayings.
Pros: Good context for language, Reasonably priced, Unique courses
Cons: Subscription based, Can be a little tricky for beginners
Perhaps the best known and most used of the language learning apps, Duolingo has aimed to gamify the language learning experience and to that end, it is very successful. Lessons are broken up into 5-10 minute exercises, and you can set how many you have time for per day.
Duolingo is very successful at encouraging users to stay committed to the app with incentives likes streaks and points and bets to ensure users return each day. However, due to the nature of the lessons (which are short), the time it takes to learn a language (particularly the more detailed, complex areas, like grammar) can be exceedingly long.
For that reason then, Duolingo is great for beginners to see if they can maintain interest in a language or for speakers to practice their vocabulary a little. But if you’re serious about learning something new, you really need to use Duolingo in tandem with some other form of language learning.
Pros: Adaptable, Free
Cons: Not great for learning grammar, Takes a long time to approach fluency
Busuu offers courses in 12 languages. The app is free, but there is a premium service which requires a payment of $17USD monthly. Much like Duolingo, users are presented with short lessons based on themes, organised in a way that is useful for beginners who are looking to learn specific contexts very quickly.
What sets Busuu apart is that users can speak with one another online, correcting each other’s grammar. By taking part in these lessons, both as student and teacher, you are rewarded with points.
Ultimately, Busuu is quite similar to Duolingo, but the Premium features mean that it does make a deeper understanding of a language possible. The downside, of course, is that you have to pay for those features.
Pros: Conversations with native speakers, Unique courses
Cons: Monthly fee, Takes a long time to approach fluency
Not a traditional language learning app like Duolingo or Busuu, Google Translate still offers an interesting, unique way to learn a language.
Typically used to translate the odd phrase or passage here and there, by suggesting sequences of words and phrases you think will be most useful, or even passages of text you find personally interesting or important (perhaps you want to go through and translate all of Harry Potter, or your favourite poems), Google Translate offers a very personalised way of learning a new language.
The downside to all of this, of course, is that not being a traditional app means that you have to do a lot of the organising of lessons yourself, which can be time consuming.
Pros: Free, Limitless Potential, Can download entire language to phone
Cons: Not always 100% accurate, Have to form lessons by oneself
Rosetta Stone is one of the old school methods of learning a language via the internet. Founded in 1992, it could be suggested that Rosetta Stone is the model that Duolingo, Busuu, Babbel and others based their technology on. Originally designed just for PCs and laptops, courses are now available which contain mobile apps.
The downside to Rosetta Stone is its cost. Whereas most language apps are free (with ads), Rosetta Stone requires money down. Some of their courses even have an expiry date, meaning that you have to pay again every year or two. Currently, prices hover around $250USD for a 24-month course.
However, you do get what you pay for. Rosetta Stone is the language app of choice for businesses and users can therefore expect a professional-grade education.
Pros: Long term success, Extensive course, Professional-grade
Cons: Expensive, Focus on desktop rather than mobile