If you’ve known me for a long time, just met me while traveling, or are getting to know me through my writing, then I hope two qualities reign clear: I don’t like to waste precious time, and I love learning things that make either me more valuable or a more complete.
Also being a “digital nomad” makes me a bit of a tech snob. I like things that cost little, do a lot, and generally make life easier or better. This is great for you because anything I find worth while usually gets passed on to my readers. Well if you want to develop an international tongue, then TODAY IS YOUR DAY!
I’ve recently found and tested two smartphone apps that are great for learning a new language: Duolingo (iOS | Android) and Memrise (iOS | Android). Both of these are free and offer great value when compared to paid services like Rosetta Stone.
My preferred of the two, Duolingo offers a much more comprehensive approach by challenging you to translate from native to foreign writing, translate from foreign to native writing, write what you hear, and even speak what you hear (you have the option to turn off speech challenges as well in case you’ve decided to teach yourself while at the movie theater or something).
It also does a great job in providing a thorough (and quite extensive) lesson plan, providing a nice user interface, and making it fun by gamifying it.
It falls short in two areas though. Right now it only offers six languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and German. It also has a poor offline mode. Lessons are cached in your phone so you sometimes have to reconnect when you finish a lesson. This can sometimes get annoying if you don’t have a data plan and can’t find wifi.
This is an app which I have had just as long as Duolingo, but because I prefer the first, I haven’t had quite as much experience with it.
Memrise seems to me to be several lesson plans put together by other users. This is great because it offers a lot more options for languages and lessons, but sometimes you notice it lacking a bit.
The lessons are a lot easier because you learn only a couple new terms at a time and the is A LOT of repetition. Also, because it the questions are only in the written form (matching, fill in the blank, and translate) I feel like you miss out on a more full learning experience. They do however provide audio read backs.
Where Memorize excels is in the offline mode. You can download the entire lesson plans, which can be large, but once you have them, you can do the whole thing without having to reconnect. This is a big win if you don’t have a data plan.
Memrise only falls short in its comparisons to Duolingo. It’s not as fun and doesn’t seem as comprehensive in teaching, but its still a great app.
The bottom line
Alone, these two apps are great, but they do have their pitfalls. However, by combining the two I feel like learning any language almost fully is possible to do in just your spare time.
If you try them and like them, let me know. If you prefer Rosetta Stone, let me know, and tell me why. Others will value your feedback.