March is National Foreign Language Month and I, a big fat foreign language nerd, could not be more excited, as I’ve been stockpiling language learning resources, books, apps, and whatever other goodies I can find since I took my first Italian class over a decade ago.
Learning foreign languages has opened doors for me that might have stayed closed to me forever because of my sex, my size, or my socioeconomic status. Because I speak Italian, I got to go to Italy. I’ve seen the inside of the Vatican not once, not twice, but five times, including sections not accessible to tourists. And I got a free dessert from a restaurant in Rome because I helped explain to an elderly English couple what copertina is on behalf of a very frazzled and very Italian waiter.
Studying foreign languages has brought me closer to things I love and things that are important to me. I want to spread that love of language as far and wide as I can and one really easy and effective way to do that is simply to recommend apps that can help you learn whatever language you want (or need). That’s my aim for today.
Here is a round-up of apps to help you learn a foreign language, in honor of National Foreign Language Month.
NOTE: While I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible, this list is heavily skewed toward apps that feature languages I’ve personally studied. Specifically: Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Irish, basically in that order. Sorry about that.
Multiple Language Resources
A god among mortals who needs no introduction. Dozens of languages to choose from—including a few constructed languages, like Esperanto and Klingon—and constantly adding new ones. Duolingo’s also been putting new emphasis on preserving endangered languages like Navajo and Hawaiian. And, call me biased, but they’re based in Pittsburgh, which isn’t that far from my home. 🙂 I’ve been a fan of Duolingo for years and will likely continue to be til death do us part.
Older language nerds may know the Pimsleur Language Programs, which are audio-based and focused on learning to speak. Dr. Pimsleur’s methods inspired a lot of modern foreign language educational methods, among them the Mango Languages programs, which emulates Pimsleur almost perfectly. I believe it’s free to use, but I made an account through my local library.
I’ve talked about Infinite Languages in a previous blog post but it’s a fun way to drill vocabulary if you’re looking for a way to do so. The developer also makes another series called “Write It!” that helps you learn alphabets in various languages. Check them out!
Think Duolingo, but geared specifically toward Eastern Asian languages. Things like Spanish are available now, but when I used it most regularly, Japanese and Korean were the languages it pushed the hardest, and it was my primary study resource of Japanese back when the Duolingo Japanese program was still in beta and… not good. Lingodeer also has a companion app with bonus games you can play, but requires a paid subscription to access all its features. PASS.
Another vocabulary driller app series with a whopping 36 different languages to choose from. I’ve only used the Japanese version, which started with kana before moving to vocabulary, and it’s great fun. You only have to commit five minutes a day with the free version, which I found quite pleasant, as I’m a busy adult with many important things to do, but that might turn some folks off.
WaniKani teaches Japanese kanji through spaced repetition and mnemonic devices. Tofugu, the company that makes WaniKani, is an authority on Japanese language and culture in the West, and I’m a big fan of WK, though I don’t use it nearly as much as I should.
Dr. Moku has a series of apps that uses mnemonic devices to teach you the various Japanese alphabets. Of all the ways I tried to learn hiragana and katakana, Dr. Moku’s methods helped me the most.
Contains, quite literally, everything you’ll need to learn Spanish. I used this website to tutor my cousin in Spanish. Five years before I even started learning Spanish.
Something like a Dr. Moku for Mandarin Chinese, Chineasy has come a long way from the last time I looked at it. Once just a series of mnemonic images to help people learn Chinese characters, now Chineasy has apps that can help you learn. How neat!
My go-to Italian and Spanish dictionary. Also has verb conjugators and dictionaries for over a dozen over languages. And, as a pleasant bonus, there’s a vibrant and active forum community if you find yourself with translation questions a dictionary alone can’t solve. Of all of the language learning resources I’ve recommended today, this one is easily the one I’ve used the most.
An Irish-English dictionary. Also has a pronunciation database but, if you need a verb conjugator, it looks like you’ll need to use Teanglann.
A Japanese dictionary. You can search in English, Romaji, Kanji, and see example sentences. It’s great.
A Japanese dictionary. I find the mobile version works better than Jisho but prefer Jisho for desktop.
A pronunciation database that covers all sorts of different languages. There are also dictionaries and translators.
Other Language Learning Resources
Once you’ve got a fair grip on the language you’re learning, you can go to Beelinguapp and really practice your reading and listening comprehension skills by listening to audiobooks and music in your target language! Enjoy things like folk tales and classic children’s stories. And don’t worry; you can always access the translated version if you get stuck.
Memrise appears to be advertising itself as a foreign language learning tool now, but you can actually use it to learn anything. It uses spaced repetition and mnemonic devices to help you remember concepts. It’s fun! But I find the interface to be a little busy.
Quizlet let’s you make your own flashcards or download other people’s flashcards to study concepts and vocabulary. In addition to just typical flash card drills, you can also play matching games, practice spelling, and even take tests. I haven’t used Quizlet in a while but I got a lot of play out of it in my early college days.
Again, not specific to learning languages, but if you’re studying one of the few it offers, Freerice can be a good way to drill basic vocabulary while also aiding the world hunger crisis. You can’t beat that! But if you play it, be sure to disable your ad blocker.
Obviously this round-up of language learning resources is not exhaustive, but this does cover most of my favorites. Many of these are things I used while minoring in foreign language studies in undergrad and I stand by them. Hopefully, they’ll help you out, too.
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Thanks again for reading!