Just because you can’t explore the world doesn’t mean you have to stop learning about it. The coronavirus crisis has left many people housebound and eager to find productive ways to pass the time. One of the best ways to get in touch with new places and cultures is to study their native languages, and luckily, there are many ways to learn a new language without ever leaving your couch.
U.S. News compiled a list of the best virtual language-learning programs so you can find one that best suits your interests and skill level. Some focus on memorization, while others are geared toward visual learners. No matter how you approach learning, your new skills are sure to boost confidence, brainpower and memory. You’ll be saying “hola,” “ciao” or “ni hao” to the world before you know it.
Duolingo is one of the most famous names in foreign language apps for a reason. The program, which is available on a mobile app and online, boasts a diverse language data set and an intuitive interface where users can play games, earn coins and unlock new levels by mastering skills. Each of the 35 language tracks available for English speakers features an array of learning activities. (Keep in mind, the app supports some fictional languages as well. Dothraki, anyone?)
Before beginning, users indicate why they’re learning the language (for travel, business reasons, family, etc.) and take a placement exam. These indicators help personalize lessons. Users also choose how much time they want to dedicate so Duolingo can send push notifications when it’s time to practice.
Best of all, these language services come at no cost. Still, those who want an ad-free learning experience can opt to purchase a Duolingo Plus subscription for $6.99 per month, which also allows for offline downloads and supports free education for those in need.
While some apps and language programs offer niche vocabulary lessons, Babbel instead focuses on teaching practical phrases and keywords to improve everyday conversational skills. The program centers around a pragmatic mentality: The sooner you can speak, the sooner you’ll feel comfortable learning more difficult skills, taking language risks and asking for help.
Babbel employs speech recognition technology so users can practice talking. In response, they will hear voices of native speakers rather than robotic voices. The native accents better prepare users for real-life conversations.
Like Duolingo, Babbel takes users’ previous language experience into account so they can start learning at the correct level, and the short lessons – which usually last 15 minutes – can easily fit into daily routines. The one-month Babbel option costs $12.95, but there are other deals in place for longer learning periods.
Not only does Busuu allow you to practice a new language independently, but it also puts you in contact with native speakers who can edit and provide feedback on your work. This interpersonal element makes Busuu an exciting option for those eager to converse like locals. The app also allows users to set weekly practice goals, take practice quizzes and opt for travel courses, which prepare them for upcoming trips.
Although Busuu offers just 12 language options, there are more than 1,000 lessons available, and the software provides personalized study plans based on the user’s skills and goals. Once users are confident in their language abilities, they have the option to take an end-level test through the app and earn a McGraw-Hill Education language certification.
Users can access Busuu online or download the app on their mobile devices for free, but they must pay 9.99 euros (about $11) per month for the three-month Busuu Premium plan or 11.66 euros (less than $13) per month for the three-month Busuu Premium Plus plan to enjoy many of the aforementioned features. There are discounts available for purchasing 12 or 24 months at a time.
Memrise emphasizes fun. Rather than using a simple flashcard memorization method, the program employs audio, imagery and bright graphics to help users stay engaged.
In-house linguists design lessons in more than 20 languages, and questions come in a variety of formats. Additionally, the site offers videos of native speakers in their native environments, so users can listen while observing a relevant area’s scenery. Memrise is also interactive: If you find a specific trick (mnemonic or other) that works for you, you’re encouraged to share that with other Memrise users, resulting in an interpersonal online environment where real-life hacks help people master new languages.
While Memrise is free to use, the company also offers the Memrise Pro option, which opens the door to more personalized lessons and difficult word lists. Rates for Memrise Pro vary by subscription (monthly, annual and lifetime plans are available), but expect to pay $6.67 or $8.99 per month for most plans. Instead of a monthly charge, the lifetime option incurs a one-time fee of $119.99.
Rosetta Stone is a household name in language-learning programs and is widely used by businesses and organizations to teach new languages. However, it’s also an excellent option for those trying to learn at home on their own.
A free seven-day trial will open up a world of unique education techniques in 24 languages, including recorded conversations, pronunciation guides, scavenger hunt-style practices and personalized lessons. After the free trial, pricing differs based on package length. It costs $11.99 per month for a three-month package or $7.99 per month for a yearlong package. For $5.99 per month, you can gain access to unlimited languages for 24 months. Meanwhile, paying a one-time fee of $199 will grant you unlimited access for life.
Elementary, middle and high school students are eligible to enroll for free in a three-month package. Users can access Rosetta Stone’s language programs on desktop devices, as well as through the app, which is free to download to Apple, Android and Kindle Fire devices.
In addition to its plethora of courses across all subjects, the online learning platform Coursera offers an excellent selection of language courses for users of all levels.
Courses come with specific objectives, such as writing Chinese characters for beginners, speaking Spanish in healthcare settings, composing professional emails in English and learning Brazilian Portuguese with an emphasis on intercultural acceptance. The platform connects users with programs and resources from highly regarded universities around the globe, so the material is tested and reliable.
Basic enrollment in Coursera is free, but select courses cost extra. Fee-based courses that last four to six weeks start at $39.
Drops ditches traditional memorization practices for a unique, visual method that helps users stay engaged. The app’s language games are fast-paced and emphasize picture/word association rather than translation. Plus, the program operates with a five-minute time limit per day, which users say makes practice time more thrilling and easy to fit into a daily routine.
Drops is an excellent option for all ages. It has a Droplets program for kids and a companion app called Scripts for learning new alphabets. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Drops is offering a new option for educators so they can enroll up to 50 students in a virtual language class.
The 35-plus language options Drops offers are available for free on Apple and Android devices. More dedicated learners can opt for a premium one-month subscription for $9.99, which includes unlimited playtime, listening tests, offline access and an ad-free experience. Extended packages with reduced monthly rates are also available.
If you’ve ever wanted to hone your language skills while watching TV, Yabla can help. With interactive subtitles and playback controls, users can study while watching movies, TV shows, interviews, documentaries and music videos with native speakers. The content is always changing and growing, so users won’t be stuck watching the same videos multiple times.
Yabla also offers other interactive learning techniques, such as listening games, vocabulary reviews and practice quizzes.
Users can try the program, which covers six languages (including English), for free for 15 days before enrolling for $12.95 per month. There are also options for educators who want to enroll their students in a classroom-style program. Yabla, which is available on desktop and mobile devices, is offering free enrollment for 90 days to individual students in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pimsleur aims to produce well-rounded linguists who can read, write, speak and interact easily with natives. The program is ideal for those looking to learn a language in their downtime: Participants can listen to the 30-minute audio lessons while commuting, cooking or cleaning.
Users can choose from 50-plus languages, and the program offers reading guides, flashcards and educational games to support the audio lessons. The method is based on research from Dr. Paul Pimsleur, an accomplished 20th-century linguistics professor, and uses precisely timed intervals and repetition for optimal memorization. The program also emphasizes cultural learning and gives users the chance to incorporate history into their education.
The Pimsleur app is available on desktop and mobile devices, and prices and program styles vary depending on the language package. Most five-lesson packages cost about $20. Start with the free trial lesson before deciding whether or not to purchase the program.
Udemy offers a mix of free and paid language classes that fit users’ specific needs. For instance, instead of basic English classes, Udemy offers classes focused on business English, English pronunciation and English grammar. The program even offers courses in sign language.
Classes provide online lectures, slideshows, videos, quizzes, assignments and tests. There are no deadlines in the courses, so participants can take their time and work at their own pace.
Once users are well versed in their chosen language, they can choose to enroll in some of Udemy’s other classes taught in different languages, such as entrepreneurship. Each fee-based class costs at least $19.99. Before purchasing a class, users can opt for a preview. Those who’ve already purchased a course that they don’t find useful can ask for a refund within 30 days.
With traditional schooling suspended in most areas, Gus on the Go is a great way for youngsters to continue developing their language and cultural skills while at home. Whether parents want their children to learn the language of their overseas ancestors or study something new, the interactive lessons and educational games in this program are sure to help.
Lessons come in 30 different languages, and the app costs $3.99 in the app store. It’s compatible with Apple and Android devices.
Children can also enjoy the Stories by Gus on the Go app, which features short films with foreign language-speaking characters (subtitles included) who embark on various adventures. The Stories app is free to download, but there are in-app purchases available.
If you want to learn a new language and need some social interaction, HelloTalk is an ideal choice. The program, which is compatible with Apple and Android devices, allows users to connect with each other and start chatting instantly.
To help you learn a language like French, the app connects you with a native speaker. You can opt to talk, video chat, write or even draw to communicate with your chosen partner. HelloTalk provides built-in translation aids and correction tools to help conversations flow, and you can use the program to post social media updates and statuses in your target language.
There are more than 100 languages represented on the app. HelloTalk is free for all users.