7 Language Apps To Prepare You For Your Trip Abroad
One of my favorite parts about traveling abroad is learning bits of a new language—when you pick up vocab words here and there, or when you can connect with someone new by speaking some of their native languages. If you’re feeling daunted by the thought of visiting a country where you don’t speak the language, the below apps will help you get prepared and feel more confident during a trip abroad.
As we think about how to be more conscious, mindful travelers, learning some of a country’s native language shows cultural respect. It helps you get more out of a trip, too, when you come away with a better understanding of the world beyond your own experience. And that’s really what travel’s all about—immersing yourself in a new culture.
The following apps will help you practice a new language at a beginner or intermediate level, perfect for brushing up on your high school French or Spanish, or for learning the absolute basics of a language you don’t know. Some are game-based, some are listening-based, and some link you with different native speakers all over the world, so you can practice and start making new connections right away.
Languages | 43 languages including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, & Russian
Price | Free
Duolingo remains one of the most popular ways to learn a new language—they boast over 300 million users and claim that 34 hours of their lessons equate to a semester of formal language study. While it’s completely free, they also offer a paid version for $7 per month with no ads and more personalized lessons. Duolingo is an easy-to-use app that works on desktops, too, teaching vocab and grammar through fun, bite-sized lessons that touch on reading, speaking, writing, and listening skills, with some listening-only or speaking-only sessions. Keep in mind that Duolingo is best for beginners, not advanced learners, so it’s especially great to learn the basics of a new language before a vacation.
Review | “Using the free version of Duolingo has really increased my vocabulary and my ability to structure a sentence in Spanish. It starts out pretty elementary, but picks up the pace to the point that I sometimes go back to repeat lessons. It feels more like a game than a class, and in keeping track of the days practiced, motivates me to keep going. Well worth the time invested!” ––Barbara McElroy
Languages | 150+ languages including Spanish, French, German, Italian, & Dutch
Price | Free
HelloTalk, a language exchange app, lets you practice a new language with a native speaker. You’ll have the chance to message with, send voice memos to, or call folks who speak the language you’re learning—they’ll help you learn their native language, and you’ll help them learn yours. The app has millions of users (13 million, to be exact), along with built-in aids to assist you with translation, pronunciation, and corrections, to help you learn a language organically. And they offer a whopping 150+ languages!
Review | “Making friendships while learning a language! I have truly made new friends and have visited them in Italy in June 2019. HT gives you the choice to write a message or to send an audio message. You can also send general comments in the Moment section of the app to the entire HT community and read the various responses. It’s fun, but more importantly it’s been very helpful in improving my Italian.” ––Giordan Ratray
Languages | 14 languages including Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, & Turkish
Price | Plans ranging from $15 to $99/month
The world’s best-selling (and first!) language app, Babbel is designed to help you not just learn a language, but speak it in real-life contexts, too. They focus on teaching through real conversations, and their app-based lessons are created by a team of expert language teachers. Along with their app lessons, they also offer live online classes, podcasts, games, and videos, so you can learn at your own pace and in your own style. If you want to get to a speaking level ASAP, Babbel is probably the app for you—just note that a regular subscription only gives you access to one language.
Review | “I’ve tried almost every language learning app out there and have struggled to stay focused and retain information. I decided to give Babbel a try after hearing they are different from others. I am so happy with the layout! It is EXACTLY what I needed. Babbel gives just enough information without making the lessons too long like some apps, and I like how the sentences are real and useful and not silly like other apps. It’s just right! 😊” ––Molly Sgrecci
Languages | 23 languages including Spanish, French, German, Icelandic, & Polish
Price | Free, pro option for $15/month
Memrise aims to teach you a language immersively, like you’re right there with the locals. They have 65 million users and teach via video examples and gamified tests that help you memorize quickly and learn more fully. They utilize user-created content by native speakers, an AI chat feature, a vocab memorization tool, and thousands of videos to help you learn. Their free version gives you access to most of their tools, but with a paid subscription of $15 per month, $89 per year, or $199 lifetime, you’ll get an ad-free experience plus their entire catalog of lessons and native speaker videos. Reviews note that this app is geared more towards beginners rather than advanced learners, making it great to learn the basics of a new language before a trip to a new country.
Review | “The lessons are easy to follow and provide an authentic accent. I have only spent a very minimal time on this app and it has helped immensely with useful phrases. The vocabulary is up to date. My partner, a native Spanish speaker, has been impressed with what I’ve learned in a short amount of time!” ––Lynna Mills
Languages | 300 languages including Spanish, French, German, & Italian
Price | Free, pro option for $14/month
Tandem is another language exchange app that pairs up native speakers with learners from all over the world. For example, if you’re an English speaker who wants to practice your French, you’ll be able to reach out to French speakers who want to practice their English. You’ll have the opportunity for real-life conversations via text, voice messages, and video chatting, and Tandem has online tutors to help you even further. The app works a bit like social media, too—you can search for folks by city, so it can help you make friends in a certain travel destination while also learning the language. You can chat with as many folks as you want to with Tandem’s free version, but note that to filter by city or to have an ad-free experience, you’ll need to purchase Tandem Pro, which goes for $14 per month billed monthly, or $6.67 per month billed annually.
Review | “I have been using Tandem for a few days now, and I LOVE it! The ability to write in English and directly translate to another language is invaluable for learning, not to mention the ability for your speaking partners to directly correct your mistakes. If you’re serious about connecting with native speakers of the language you’re learning, I highly recommend Tandem!” ––Beckie Campbell
Languages | 41 languages including Spanish, French, German, Croatian, & Bulgarian
Price | Free, pro option for $10/month
Headquartered in Brasov, Romania, Mondly by Pearson is an effective and award-winning language learning app that’s been featured on CNN, Bloomberg, and Forbes. The app has a game-like interface to help you learn vocab and phrases quickly, along with lessons on 50 different topics to help prepare you for the most common situations you might come across while traveling. Mondly offers users one free lesson per day, but after that, it costs $10 per month or $48 per year. Mondly also offers language learning software for businesses, plus a Mondly Kids app, perfect if you’re traveling with kids this summer.
Reviews | “I like the layout of this app much better than other language apps, especially how you can click and see how the word changes depending on who is speaking and whether it’s past, present, or future tense … I found myself choosing to learn from Mondly more than any other language app, so I finally got the premium subscription and it is definitely worth it!” ––Melissa Helm
Languages | 51 languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Korean, and Mandarin.
Price | Starting at $15/month
The Pimsleur app uses the scientifically-proven Pimsleur method that focuses on conversation skills—they say that 30 minutes of app use a day for 30 days will get you speaking a language with a “near native” accent. Pimsleur is a listening-based app, using primarily audio lessons to help you improve your listening and speaking skills, with a focus on more natural communication rather than on vocab and memorizing. It’s a great option for folks at an intermediate level, or who want to learn to speak a language with a more native accent.
Reviews | “So far, it’s my preferred language learning method. I’ve tried (and paid for) several apps and companies, but this app approaches teaching in a way that clicks for me. Plus, it’s nice that I can do the daily lessons in the car or while I make dinner. If you’re on the fence, at least do the free trial; I did and really feel the monthly fee is worth the continued use.” ––Meghan Lowrey
Natalie Gale is a Boston-based freelance journalist. When she’s not writing about art, food, or sustainability, you can find her biking to the farmers’ market, baking, sewing, or planning her next Halloween costume. Say hi on Instagram!