How to Choose the Best Language Learning App? featured image

How Do I Choose the Best Language Learning App?

Knowing how to choose the best language learning app is of utmost importance for you to achieve effective language acquisition. Each app offers different features and approaches, and your choice can significantly impact your learning journey. Selecting a well-suited app can boost your motivation, engagement, and overall progress towards your language goals.

When you tailor the learning experience to your specific needs, preferences, and learning style, you ensure a personalised and enjoyable journey. An app that aligns with your individual goals helps you develop a deeper connection with the language. It also maximises the efficiency and effectiveness of your learning process.

So, take the time to carefully evaluate and choose the most suitable app as you embark on a successful language learning adventure.

A Personalised Approach

Babbel recommends courses that match your goals and timelines.

When it comes to enhancing your language learning experience, a personalised approach plays a crucial role. By tailoring your language learning journey to match your specific goals, preferences, and learning style, you unlock the potential for greater success.

A language learning app that allows you to set clear objectives and customise your lessons accordingly focusses your learning process on areas that matter most to you. Choose different apps for improving conversational skills, mastering grammar, or expanding your vocabulary.

This individualised approach takes charge of your learning and progress at a pace that feels comfortable and rewarding. As you interact with content that resonates with your interests and needs, you’ll find yourself more motivated. Then your language learning journey becomes a truly enjoyable and fulfilling experience.

1. Identifying Your Language Learning Goals

 A. Defining your language goals

Screenshot of Babbel's onboarding - choosing language goals.
The Babbel app asks you to define your language learning goals during signup so it can offer you relevant courses.

When it comes to choosing the right language learning app for your goals, the first step is to identify what you want to achieve. Start by defining your language goals clearly.

Do you want to attain conversational proficiency to interact confidently with native speakers in day-to-day situations? Do you strive for fluency to express yourself naturally and effectively? Or do you require language skills for specific purposes like travel needs or business interactions?

Understanding the specific purpose and context behind your language learning journey will help you narrow down the options and find an app that aligns with your objectives.

B. Understanding your timeline

You can choose how much time per day to use the Babbel app. To learn more intensively in a short period, choose 60 min / day. To learn over a long timeline, choose less.

Equally important in the process of selecting the perfect language learning app is assessing your available time, and timeline. Determine whether you have short-term or long-term language learning goals.

If you have a limited timeframe, such as preparing for a trip abroad or a language proficiency exam, you may prioritise apps that offer intensive and focused learning experiences.

On the other hand, if you intend to stick with a language long enough to achieve a significant level of proficiency, you might prefer an app that provides a comprehensive and progressive curriculum, allowing you to grow your language skills steadily over time.

Understand your timeline and you can make an informed decision to ensure that the language learning app you choose fits seamlessly into your schedule, and aligns with your desired pace of progress.

2. Analysing Language App Features

The next step in choosing the right language learning app is to carefully analyse its features. Look for these key aspects that will significantly impact your learning experience:

A. Core Language Lessons

Start by evaluating the availability and quality of core language lessons for your target language. Check if the app offers comprehensive lessons that cover all essential language skills, including speaking, listening, reading, and writing. High-quality lessons should be well-structured, engaging, and designed to help you make steady progress in your language proficiency.

B. Interactive Exercises

An effective language learning app should provide a variety of interactive exercises to practise your language skills actively. Look for apps that offer exercises for reading comprehension, writing practice, listening comprehension, and speaking exercises. Interactive activities that apply your language knowledge in real-life scenarios make the learning process more dynamic and enjoyable.

C. Vocabulary and Grammar Support

Building a strong foundation in vocabulary and grammar is crucial for language learning. Assess how the app supports vocabulary expansion and grammar comprehension.

Some apps offer spaced repetition systems that help reinforce vocabulary retention. Others may provide explanations and examples for grammar rules. Choose an app that offers comprehensive support in these areas to ensure a solid understanding of the language’s building blocks.

By examining the language app’s core lessons, interactive exercises, and support for vocabulary and grammar, you can identify an app that meets your specific learning needs.

An app with diverse and effective features results in a rewarding language learning experience, and helps you progress towards your language goals.

Rocket Languages app - Russian course outline
Rocket Languages course cover all essential aspects of language learning. The lessons are well structured, progressive, and comprehensive across all skills.

3. Learning Style and App Interface

Understanding your learning style is crucial when selecting a language learning app, as it can greatly impact your progress and engagement. Here’s how each type of learner can benefit from specific app features:

A. Visual Learners

For visual learners who thrive with images and visuals, language learning apps with engaging multimedia elements can be a game-changer.

For example, Drops presents vocabulary through iconic graphics, and FluentU uses real-world videos with interactive captions. Visual learners can immerse themselves in captivating visuals and context-rich content, making the learning experience more enjoyable and memorable.

B. Auditory Learners

Memrise courses have specific speaking & listening tasks.

If you learn best through listening and speaking, apps that focus on audio content and pronunciation practice are ideal.

Memrise and Mango Languages offer audio components in their lessons, allowing auditory learners to hone their listening skills and practise accurate pronunciation.

Additionally, HelloChinese, with its step-by-step Mandarin Chinese learning, provides ample audio support for learners keen on mastering tones and sounds.

C. Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners thrive with hands-on activities and interactive elements, so it’s important to consider this when choosing apps.

Duolingo faciliatates the use of a stylus for handwriting answers, particularly useful for languages with other scripts. The physical movement of writing the language can be very useful to integrate knowledge of the language as you learn.

Consider your learning style and you can optimise your language learning journey to make the most of your chosen app. Experimenting with different apps to find the best match for your learning style will significantly enhance your language acquisition progress and overall satisfaction with the learning process.

4. Gamification and Motivation

Gamification has become a powerful tool in language learning apps to keep learners motivated and engaged throughout their language journey. Let’s explore how different apps use gamified elements and progress tracking to enhance motivation:

A. Gamified Elements

Duolingo, known for its gamified approach, incorporates various game-like features to make language learning fun and addictive. Learners earn points, progress through levels, and unlock new content as they complete lessons and exercises. This sense of achievement and progression serves as a constant motivation for users to continue learning.

Similarly, Drops uses a game-like interface with time-limited sessions and rewards. This encourages learners to engage in short bursts and makes language practice feel like a playful challenge.

B. Progress Tracking and Rewards

Tracking progress is a fundamental feature in many language learning apps. Learners can monitor their improvement over time. When you see how far you’ve come, there is a sense of accomplishment and motivation to keep going.

Many apps provide rewards and badges for completing milestones or mastering certain language skills. For instance, Duolingo are accompanied by a streak system that rewards learners for consistent daily practice.

Screenshot of Duolingo Lesson Path
The Duolingo interface is gamified by its cartoon images, ‘Leaderboards’ for high achievers, and ‘Quests’ for individual motivation.
The ‘flame’ icon at the top right indicates the number of days in your current ‘Streak’ of usage, and the red Gems next to it are rewards points.

By incorporating gamified elements and progress tracking into their interfaces, language learning apps tap into learners’ intrinsic motivation. The journey becomes more enjoyable and it encourages you to stick with your language learning goals. The sense of achievement, progression, and the thrill of competition fuel learners’ determination to continue learning and ultimately succeed in acquiring the target language.

5. Assessing App Suitability – Beginners vs. Advanced Learners

When choosing a language learning app, it’s essential to consider whether it caters to beginners or advanced learners. Let’s explore how different apps address the needs of learners at different proficiency levels:

A. Beginner-Friendly Apps

Almost all language learning apps target beginner learners.

Duolingo is renowned for its user-friendly interface and structured approach, making it an excellent choice for beginners. Its step-by-step lessons gradually introduce basic vocabulary and grammar, providing a solid foundation for language learning.

Babbel is also beginner-friendly, offering personalised lessons that focus on practical conversations and essential language skills. These apps understand the needs of beginners and strive to create a comfortable and supportive environment for learners taking their first steps in the target language.

B. Intermediate Level Language Apps

Many apps include up to a CEFR B2 level of language within their most popular languages, including Mondly, Busuu, and some of the Memrise, Babbel and Duolingo courses.

Screencap of the Busuu French Courses dashboard, showing the CEFR levels of each course.
Busuu is very clear about the level of language taught in each course.

Busuu in particular is very transparent about the CEFR levels that each course covers. Each level is clearly marked in the thumbnails for each course, so there can be no doubt.

C. Advanced Level Content

Once you have achieved a solid intermediate level of language through a progressive course in an app, you may wonder if there are apps for advanced level skills. Let’s have a look at what is considered a ‘Proficient’ level of language.

C1Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
C2Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.
Global description of language abilities at the CEFR C1 and C2 levels.

This is a level of fluency that is not really ‘taught’, but rather is ‘acquired’. Consequentially, to advance your foreign language skills to the proficient levels, there is very little in terms of coherent ‘course’-like material available with apps. Instead you will need to engage in more specialised activities that use texts for the native speaker. Clozemaster, FluentU and LingQ are three niche apps that cater to advanced language learners.

Clozemaster is an app that uses “most common words” lists to provide context-based exercises, where you fill in the missing words in sentences.

Screencap of Clozemaster app showing >50,000 Most Common list.
Screencap of Clozemaster app showing a cloze exercise from a more advanced French activity.

It offers a wide range of languages and is best suited for learners who have a foundational understanding of their target language. You will enhance your vocabulary, comprehension, and overall language fluency through contextual practice.

It is particularly beneficial for intermediate to advanced learners looking to consolidate their knowledge and gain exposure to real-world sentences.

Screencapture of an advanced French lesson in FluentU language learning app
FluentU uses native video content and supplements it with a printed dialogue and quizzes to test comprehension.

FluentU is a language-learning app designed to help learners improve their language skills through authentic content like videos, movie trailers, news, and more.

By offering a vast range of engaging materials with interactive subtitles, audio, and quizzes, even advanced learners can immerse themselves in authentic language and refine their comprehension skills.

LingQ focuses on (mostly written) language immersion. It has a vast collection of authentic and challenging reading and listening materials.

Supplemented with transcripts that allow you to assign words as known or unknown (and needing revision in the future), as well as definitions for words and phrases that can be sourced from online, or community curated in the case of idioms and expressions, Lingq is great for progressing at advanced levels.

Lingq has a library of native video, audio and text content at all levels to advanced.

These apps recognize the importance of catering to learners at different proficiency levels and offer engaging content to keep advanced learners motivated and continuously improving.

By assessing the app’s suitability for beginners or advanced learners, you can find an app that matches your current language proficiency level and provides the appropriate content and learning structure.

The right language learning app will ensure that your language learning journey remains challenging, rewarding, and aligned with your level of expertise.

6. Language App Reputation and Reviews

When evaluating language learning apps, one of the essential factors to consider is their reputation and reviews. Here’s why paying attention to user reviews, ratings, and expert endorsements is crucial in making an informed decision.

A. User Reviews and Ratings

Checking app reviews and ratings from other learners offers valuable insights into the app’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall user satisfaction. Users often share their personal experiences, highlighting what they liked or disliked about the app.

App platform ratings give you an idea of how useful others have found the app.

Positive reviews can give you confidence in the app’s effectiveness, while negative reviews can raise red flags and help you identify potential issues.

Take note of trends in the reviews; if multiple users mention the same positive aspects, such as engaging lessons or effective progress tracking, it’s a good sign.

Conversely, consistent complaints about app bugs or lack of support might indicate potential drawbacks.

Additionally, consider the overall app rating on app stores or language learning platforms as a general indication of user satisfaction.

B. Expert Endorsements

Recommendations from language experts or educators can carry significant weight when choosing a language learning app.

Language learners or polyglots who have used the app themselves might share their experiences. Their insights offer valuable perspectives beyond typical user reviews.

Independent recommendations give a more comprehensive understanding of the app’s credibility and potential to support your language learning journey effectively.

While user reviews and expert endorsements are valuable resources. But it’s essential to keep in mind that individual preferences and needs can vary.

To benefit from MY experiences as a language learner, you can read a detailed comparison between Babbel and Duolingo in my comprehensive article Babbel vs Duolingo: Which Language Learning App Reigns Supreme?. Discover the key differences and features of these popular apps to help you make an informed decision that aligns with your language learning goals.

What works well for one learner may not be the best fit for another. Combine the information from reviews and endorsements with your own language learning goals and preferences to make a well-informed decision and choose an app that suits you best.

7. Compatibility and Accessibility

When selecting a language learning app, considering its compatibility and accessibility is vital to ensure a seamless learning experience. These days it is unusual to find platform differences, but it is always worth checking.

A. Device Compatibility

Before committing to an app, make sure it is compatible with the devices you plan to use for language learning. Most language learning apps are designed to run on smartphones and tablets, but it’s essential to verify compatibility with your specific device and operating system.

Icons of Apple App Store, Google Play, Huawei AppGallery and Web App.
Make sure the language learning app you want to use is available on the platforms you prefer.

Check whether the app is available for iOS or Android mobile devices. And don’t forget other platforms like Windows or macOS if you prefer to study on a computer.

Compatibility ensures that you can access the app easily on your preferred devices, allowing for flexible learning whether you’re at home or on the go.

B. Offline Access

If you don’t always have access to the internet, apps that offer offline learning capabilities are a valuable asset.

Duolingo, Babbel, and Memrise, among others, provide offline access to selected lessons or downloadable content. But be aware – offline access is often not available in free versions of the app.

With offline access, you can download lessons and practice materials when connected to the internet and study them later.

This feature is particularly useful for language learners who travel frequently or have limited internet connectivity. Having the app’s content available offline ensures continuous learning opportunities regardless of your location or internet access.

By considering device compatibility and offline access, you can select a language learning app that seamlessly integrates into your daily routine. It offers the flexibility to study on your preferred devices, whether online or offline.

A user-friendly and accessible app ensures that you can make the most of your language learning time and progress steadily towards your goals.

8. Language App Cost and Free Trials

When it comes to language learning apps, the cost and availability of free trials can significantly influence your decision-making process. Let’s weigh the benefits of free apps versus the advantages of premium subscriptions, as well as the importance of utilizing free trials:

A. Free vs. Paid Apps

Many language learning apps, such as Duolingo, Drops, and Memrise, offer free versions with essential features.

Free apps are an excellent starting point for language learners on a budget or those exploring multiple options. They provide access to basic language lessons and activities, making them suitable for casual learners or those seeking introductory language exposure.

Before you make a decision to buy an app subscription, read this post that outlines 5 questions you should ask about free language learning resources.

However, free apps might have limitations, such as advertisements, limited content, or fewer advanced features.

On the other hand, premium subscriptions, often unlock more comprehensive content, personalised learning paths, and additional practice exercises.

Subscribing to a premium plan may be beneficial for serious learners. Especially those aiming to achieve specific language goals and seeking a more tailored and immersive learning experience.

B. Free Trial Options

The availability of free trials is a valuable opportunity to test an app’s suitability before committing to a paid subscription. Free trials allow you to assess the app’s user interface, teaching approach, and compatibility with your learning style.

Additionally, they enable you to gauge whether the app’s content aligns well with your language proficiency level and long-term learning goals.

Utilising free trials empowers you to make an informed decision, ensuring that you invest in an app that resonates with your learning preferences and offers the features you require for successful language acquisition.

By considering the cost and potential benefits of free versus premium apps, as well as taking advantage of free trial options, you can choose the language learning app that best matches your needs and resources.

Whether you opt for a free app to get started or invest in a premium subscription for a more comprehensive learning experience, the right choice will set you on the path to language proficiency and success.

9. App Support and Customer Service

App support and customer service play a pivotal role in helping language learners choose the right language learning app for their goals. Here’s how these aspects contribute to an enriching language learning experience:

A. Customer Support Availability

When selecting a language learning app, it’s crucial to ensure that the app offers accessible and reliable customer support channels. Babbel, Drops, and Memrise prioritise user assistance and typically provide multiple support options, such as email, live chat, or a comprehensive FAQ section.

Prompt and helpful customer support becomes invaluable if you encounter technical issues, have questions about app functionalities, or require assistance with billing or account matters.

A language learning app with strong customer support can address users’ concerns efficiently, allowing learners to focus on their language goals without unnecessary disruptions.

B. Community and Forum Engagement

Language learning apps that foster a sense of community and offer interactive forums or social features can significantly enhance the learning experience.

Many apps create spaces where learners can interact with one another, share insights, and seek help from peers or native speakers. Joining such communities opens up opportunities for language practice, cultural exchange, and mutual support. When you have a supportive environment, learners grow and stay motivated.

Community engagement also provides learners with valuable language practice beyond the app’s structured lessons. It allows them to engage in authentic conversations and immerse themselves in the language.

By considering app support and customer service offerings, as well as the presence of interactive communities, language learners can confidently choose an app that not only offers effective language learning resources but also provides the necessary assistance and engagement to support their language goals.

A strong support system ensures that learners have a smooth and enjoyable language learning journey, knowing that they have the guidance and support needed to overcome challenges and succeed in their language endeavours.

10. Summary – Making an Informed Decision

Selecting the right language learning app can make a significant difference in achieving your language learning goals effectively and with satisfaction.

To make an informed decision, consider the following key factors:

  1. Language Learning Goals: Start by defining your language learning objectives. Determine whether you seek conversational proficiency, fluency, or specific language skills for travel or business purposes. Understanding your goals will help you narrow down the apps that align with your desired outcomes.
  2. Learning Style: Assess your learning style—whether you are a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. Look for apps that cater to your preferred learning approach with engaging visuals, audio content, or interactive activities.
  3. App Features: Analyse the app’s core language lessons, interactive exercises, vocabulary and grammar support, and any gamified elements that can keep you motivated and engaged throughout your language learning journey.
  4. Compatibility and Accessibility: Ensure that the app is compatible with your devices and operating system, and check if it offers offline access for uninterrupted on-the-go studying.
  5. Language App Reputation and Reviews: Pay attention to user reviews, ratings, and expert endorsements to gain insights into the app’s effectiveness and credibility.
  6. Language App Cost and Free Trials: Weigh the benefits of free versus premium apps, and take advantage of free trials to test an app’s suitability before committing to a paid plan.

With these factors in mind, don’t hesitate to explore multiple language learning apps. Trying different apps will allow you to experience their unique approaches, content, and user interfaces.

Every learner is different, and what works best for one person might not be the ideal choice for another. By experimenting with various apps, you’ll gain valuable firsthand experience and be better equipped to find the app that best aligns with your learning style and language goals.

Cate is a language enthusiast sharing her language learning journey here. Apart from her native English (albeit 'Strine'*!), as an adult she has also learned Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to approximately a C1 level, Dutch to around B1/2, French to around A2, and has a smattering of other languages.

B.A. (Anthropology/Marketing), Grad. Dip. Arts (Linguistics), Grad. Cert. Entrepreneurship & Venture Development, (CELTA).

Auslan Interpreter (NAATI), and general Language Nut.

*For more information on 'Strine', visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strine