"The limits of my language
mean the limits of my world."
Traveling abroad, whether it be your first or one-hundredth international trip, is always an exciting and memorable experience. Tasting new cuisine, exploring unfamiliar streets, and interacting with different cultural norms are just a few of the reasons why venturing outside the US is worthwhile. There is one thing though that we’ve found makes international experiences extra meaningful and transformative: learning the local language.
Visiting a country where English is not the primary language can seem daunting if you don’t already speak a second language, but don’t let that scare you away. Technology companies have been hard at work over the past decade creating some of the best mobile applications for learning a new language—and many of them are free.
As conscious travelers, learning the native language for the places we visit is not only important for our own experiences, but it’s one of the ways we can practice cultural respect and mindful travel. And you don’t have to be fluent to practice this. Simply learning greeting, manners, and key phrases show the locals that you respect and care about their customs and cultures. Even if you think a person may know English, you will find locals appreciate your efforts and attempts to speak their language.
So, before you travel abroad this summer, consider downloading one of these apps to begin learning the language of the country you plan to visit. Learning the basics of a new language will not only better equip you for your journey, but it will honor the people you interact with abroad.
Languages | 31 languages including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, & Russian
Price | Free
With more than 200 million users learning new languages with Duolingo, it is one of the most popular and accessible language apps—and the best part is, it's entirely free! The creators of Duolingo are passionate about equality and giving every person access to language education, whether it be to benefit their relationships or further business opportunities. The app, using analytics and a science-based approach, teaches vocabulary and grammar through fun and interactive games that can be completed on your phone or a desktop. With daily reminders and scheduled activities, Duolingo is the perfect app to prepare you for your trip this summer.
Review | “Love using this app for brushing up and keeping my mind sharp with the French I took through college. Super exciting when they added a Chinese course and looking forward to when they offer Cantonese!" - Jennifer Johnson
Languages | 100+ languages including Spanish, French, German, Italian, & Dutch
Price | Free
Want to learn a new language from a native speaker to help you prepare for your international travels? At HelloTalk, millions of members teach one another their native tongue through text, voice recordings, video calls, and more! With more than 100+ languages currently on the app, HelloTalk is an interactive and personal learning experience that allows you to practice and exchange language skills with other learners all around the world.
Review | “Love this app…I am learning not only a language naturally, but coming to better understand a different culture and peoples that live 7 time zones away. A social app with true educational value as well as uniting people globally.” - Missy Ann Eldrige
Languages | 19 languages including Spanish, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, & Thai
Price | Free
For a language app that teaches you basic phrases and has a voice translation feature, check out TripLingo. An app created specifically to help travelers connect with locals abroad, TripLingo teaches users key phrases for travel and essential vocabulary words. The app also includes impressive travel features, such as the safety tool (provides critical information, like how to dial 9-1-1 in the country you’re visiting), a tip calculator for restaurants abroad, and cultural notes to help you maintain respect and etiquette.
Review | “I used Trip Lingo (TL) while traveling in Brazil last year. Not only did TL help me interact with "Cariocas" in Rio De Janeiro, but it also was a fun way to make friends at the hostel I stayed at. Pretty cool app for anyone who likes to travel and make international friends.” - Sherezad Rehmann
Languages | 13 languages including Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, & Turkish
Price | 4 different plan options starting at $7/month
The first language learning app ever created, Babbel is the ultimate real-life conversation skills mobile platform to help you prepare for your international travels. Catering vocabulary lists and language lessons to your learning style, as well teaching you about relevant and real-life topics, the Babbel Method has a proven record. In fact, 73% of users can have short and simple conversations in their new language within only five hours of use.
Review | “I think Babbel is excellent. I've tried several systems for self-learning German, and this is far and away the best. It is built on the best teaching methods, is motivating, fun, and effective.” - Paulette Jennis
Languages | 20 languages including Spanish, French, German, Icelandic, & Polish
Price | Free, pro option for $5/month
An award-winning language learning app, 30 million people are already using Memrise to further their travel experiences and strengthen their language skills. Using a proven formula of science, fun, and community engagement to help you learn, Memrise also has an extensive library of user-created courses, such as the 500 Most Common French Words and 350 Spanish Sayings for further learning.
Review | “Makes learning fun. I love this app! I used to think I just didn't have the kind of brain that can learn another language. Memrise has given me confidence that I can learn.” - Lisa Morton Whitten
Languages | 9 languages including Spanish, French, German, & Italian
Price | Free, paid tutor options
Tandem is a community-focused language learning app that pairs native speakers with language learners all over the world. Like riding a tandem bicycle, this app focuses on helping users learn through real-life online conversation—via text, audio, and video chat. Users can also choose their tandem partner based on country and city, so if you’re looking for new friends while traveling abroad, this an excellent app for meeting new friends! Additionally, in-depth language lessons with online tutors are available for further study.
Review | “Great app! I've been connected with so many great people eager to help me learn Spanish and enjoy friendly conversation. Highly recommend.” - Philip Lagaris
Languages | 33 languages including Spanish, French, German, Croatian, & Bulgarian
Price | Free
25 million users in 190 countries are currently learning a new language with Mondly—an award-winning language learning app that uses reading writing, listening, and speaking exercises to further your knowledge. Mondly also has a virtual reality speech recognition option, as well as a language app specific for kids, making it perfect for families traveling together this summer!
Reviews | "At the age of 64 I thought it would be difficult for me to learn a foreign language but thanks to Mondly both my wife and are addicted to it…I highly recommend this interesting learning tool." - Hamid Moazzeni, Trusted Pilot Review
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.