You say tomato, I say tomato – get to grips with a foreign tongue with our look at the best language apps
Bonjour! ¿Cómo estás? Danke schön! It’s never been easier to learn a language than it is in 2015.
There certainly are ample opportunities nowadays to get familiar with a foreign tongue (not like that), so why not take time out from your busy schedule to become something of a global citizen? You never know, a second or third language may come in handy one day – it could give you an upper hand in meetings with international clients, for instance. It might be useful in a misunderstanding over a sunbed at the Mauritian hotel you’re staying at. Or, when you’re arguing with the Portuguese bus driver over the fact that he’d said, in very broken English, that he’d grunt and gesticulate when you were meant to get off, and now you’re on the other side of town. See, millions of uses.
So here, pentru plăcerea noastră de vizionare, is our guide to the best language apps around.
This particular language app is enjoying something of a purple patch in the App Store, with the people over at Apple HQ deeming it to something of an ‘Essential’ (and free!) purchase to add to your ever-accumulating washing line of apps. And it’s with some justification, too: Duolingo is an amusing platform for you to learn any or all of Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, and English. Via the medium of bite-sized, match-the-word lessons that you can dip in and out of, the aim is for you to complete 34 hours’ worth of lessons – the equivalent, apparently, to an entire semester’s worth of learning at a top University. No wonder TIME Magazine, upon reviewing the app, boldly declared that “Duolingo may hold the secret to the future of education.“
- Google Translate
Perhaps your go-to translation service already, Google’s foray into languages has opened the gateway to better understanding for millions of users across the globe (how about that for a bit of PR, eh?) Alongside the browser service, Google Translate also comes in app form, permitting you to type in up to 90 languages’ worth of words for translational purposes – but that’s not the coolest thing about it. No, that comes with how the app works in tandem with your camera: you can take a picture of some text and, providing it is one of the compatible 26 languages, Google Translate will transform it into your desired language. You can also use the app to have a conversation with someone via its two-way automatic speech translation feature, which is available in 40 languages.
Get memorising with Memrise, the ‘scientific learning system’ that can purportedly boost your brain to learn up to 44 new words per hour. Is that really possible? It is with the multiple game modes that can ‘drill’ different aspects of your memory – alright, so maybe their wording could do with a little bit of softening, but the process of learning a new language surely requires something of a rigorous brain workout? With thousands of courses in hundreds of languages to choose from, Memrise seems suited to those looking to be yelled at by their foreign language app for slacking in class.
- iHandy Translator
What’s iHandy is this translator app, which is priced at the snippy cost of £1.49 for its no-holds-barred pro service. ‘The most powerful translator app IN THE WORLD’ (slight embellishment there) claims its bio, with provisions for the user to translate text into any of the 52 languages it carries. Features include text-to-speech, phrase book, and an intuitive and attractive interface that makes learning and understanding new languages loooads of fun.
‘Play your way to a new language’ is Mondly’s slogan, which sounds like a stress-free way of conducting affairs – it certainly gets off to a good start, promising to only take a few minutes out of your day. Why not learn Danish whilst queueing in Starbucks for your Danish? Once you accumulate 20 hours’ worth of learning, Mondly claim that you’ll be proficient in the foreign language of your choosing: so much so that you’ll be armed with a set of conversational tools that’ll help you when “meeting people and spending a night on the town”, so now finally you can avoid all the tourist traps whilst on holiday, guaranteed.* (*not a guarantee)
Chinese! Or, to be more specific, Mandarin! One of the most complex languages to learn in the entire world is an assumption that the ChineseSkill app – and its friendly panda mascot – are trying to disprove. A completely free service, it features game-based and task-driven learning courses that are entirely suited to beginners. You’re also subject to testing as you learn – a comprehensive experience that, whilst still gets the job done, doesn’t miss a trick in helping you master Mandarin at whatever pace best suits you.
- British Sign Language – Finger Spelling
A slight curveball here, but arguably one of the most important entries on our list. Sign Language is undoubtedly an excellent skill to have at your disposal, and, should you ever wish to learn it, you could do much worse than downloading this introductory service. Made by Duchy Software, it introduces the user to the British two-handed fingerspelling alphabet via the method of a clear scroll-through picture guide.
- Learn Japanese
Japanese! Another seemingly difficult language to master, the Learn Japanese app from MindSnacks presents the user with ‘8 addictive games designed to build essential reading, writing & conversation skills’ in the Japanese tongue. Flit between the three Japanese writing styles – that’s kana, kanji, and romaji, FYI – as you work your way through 800 words and phrases. The only setback is that you’ll need to fork out some dough to access all the features of the app, but in terms of specialist Japanese platforms, this is surely one of the best.
Not named after the former Liverpool and German right-back Markus (as far as we can tell, anyway), Babbel is in fact a language app that gives you access to 14 of the world’s major languages (including, rather interestingly, Indonesian). It differentiates from its competitors by providing a system that is based around your daily life – so essentially, the words and phrases that you learn would help you get by if you did what you did everyday, but in another country. Handy, no? Using their interactive trainers and speech recognition technology, it’s certainly a powerful proposition. But the drawback? The hefty subscription fees – it’s £44.99 for a year’s subscription to one of Babbel’s language services. Mon dieu!
- 50 Languages
50 is a nice, round number, isn’t it? That’s why the 50 Languages app is such an agreeable concept to digest, as it offers provisions for you to get to grips with the likes of German, Spanish and Chinese. Featuring 100 lessons that combine audio and text-based learning, it helps you make sense of certain situations in a foreign land: such as “small talk”, going to the doctor’s, and ‘complaining about the weather’ (probably).