Learning languages
September 5

TOP-23 Language Learning Apps

There are hundreds of language learning apps and hundreds of reviews and comparisons. Actually most of the comparisons are about the same programs. Are the apps really helpful or this is only ad and marketing? Yes, and Yes.

I have been studying English using various methods and resources over five years. Language learning is not my greatest talent but I have achieved B2 level (from A2) using only my smartphone and PC. I found a set of features that really helps you study a foreign language. Some of them are crucial, others are just useful. Under the cut you will find a rating of the language learning apps that I composed by analyzing these features, As Objective As Possible.

Methodology


If we want to get an Objective rating then we need Objective metrics. The rating is not about nice design or cute helping animals, as I mentioned before there are a set of features in apps that helps you to study languages. Each feature can be implemented in several ways and not every way is useful. So, each way can be estimated according to the next table:

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Let's look at each feature in detail.

1. The most important functions


1.1. Repetition system

You need to repeat words every day and the repetition system is crucial. Only one way is efficient: Spaced repetition (50 points). Unfortunately a lot of apps offer you to repeat all words that you know randomly (15 points) and this is a waste of time. Any repetition system will help you learn 1000 words but if you need 8000 or more then Spaced repetition is mandatory.

1.2. Prepared cards

If you want to become a fluent foreign language speaker then you need to know several thousand words and the same amount of words in your application (50 points). Books and movies are not as efficient as cards because rare words are rare, only apps force your education. Many popular apps provide you with only 3000 words (25 points), so be careful. Some apps does not contain cards at all and they are useless (-100 points).

1.3. Multiple meanings

The word «green» is not only green but also green and green. Good apps give you all popular meanings. The best apps should give you rare meanings at a higher level (50 points). Unfortunately a lot of apps provide only one meaning for one word and this is enough only for beginners (10 points).

1.4. Examples for words

Examples of using words are very helpful in most cases. «Acquisition» and «Virtue» were incomprehensible words for me without accompanying phrases. Good apps contain the examples for the most word meanings (25 points). The best app here is Lingvist: words are always in examples (50 points).

1.5. Idioms and phrases

Knowing words is not enough, you need the ability to speak and some apps are extremely useful for this skill. Trainings with phrases and idioms (translation of cards with them) let me speak without thinking (50 points). This feature is crucial.

1.6. Grammar — Syntax

You can study grammar with textbooks or with cards in an application. The second way is usually more efficient because you really don't need to know what is «adverb» but you just need to use it correctly (25 points). This is very similar to the cards with phrases but focusing on grammar.

1.7. Grammar — Morphology

Sometimes you need to practice how to make a plural form from a singular and this type of tests is helpful (15 points).

2. Negative factors


2.1 Useless lessons

This is a pain! Tapping test for words and phrases is extremely popular and absolutely useless (-100 points). If you need to learn how to write a word then just type it using standard keyboard. If you need to translate a phrase then just do it in your mind and check the result with the answer in the card. Unfortunately only a few apps do not contain the tapping test or allow you to disable it (-10 points). The best application must contain all types of tests (even tapping) but allow you to disable any of them (0 points).

2.2. Voices — words, phrases

Without voices the application is useless (-100 points). A lot of apps use robots instead of professional speakers and this is enough for words (0 points) but not for phrases (-10 points). The robot will read a single word and the same word in a phrase similarly. This won't prepare you for real life situations. Ideally you need several voices from different speakers (including non-professional speakers) for every word. It is very expensive to collect all the voices but not for Yarrow.

2.3 Custom start level

If you know a language a little then you don't need to study trivial words and grammar. The application should adjust itself to your level (0 points) or it will waste your time (-25 points).

3. Nice features


3.1. Speaking — words, phrases

Speaker voices for words are usually enough for pronunciation training (0 points) but if an application can also listen to you it is very helpful (10 points). The best application should detect and indicate your accent (20 points).

3.2. Uniform training

When you have a lesson of grammar, another lesson of new words and a third repetition lesson there is always a chance that you will forget about one of them today (0 points). Some apps offer you one button for all these lessons: you get grammar, new words and known words randomly and nothing will be lost (5 points).

3.3. User words

Sometimes you meet a word that you need to learn right now. Just add this word to your application if it supports this function and study it today (10 points).

3.4. Special courses

You need languages for a reason: travels, work, online games etc and accordingly you need special vocabulary. If the application is good it will provide you with additional specialized lessons (10 points).

3.5. Learning content

Words and grammar are not enough for your progress, they can even become boring. Books and movies in a foreign language will save you mood and a good application will tell you where to get them (5 points). The best application includes a user rating for all content to save your time (10 points).

3.6. Teachers

Language learning apps save your budget but some things can only be explained to you by a personal teacher. You can find a teacher on italki.com or right in your application (5 points).

3.7. Social network

This is not Facebook but a network of people who learn languages. They can talk to each other (5 points) or check your articles (10 points).

3.8. Offline study

What to do in the subway on your way to work every day? Of course study language! But you application should be stable when working offline (10 points).

3.9. Web education

PC keyboard is much better than a mobile phone keyboard. You can study faster if the application provides you with web trainings (10 points).

Table of all the metrics

Rating


The rating contains the most popular apps for Android (>1M downloads) and iOS (>1K votes). I have tried all these apps myself. My resources are limited and I can't analyze all programs in the world, so if you know some useful app that is missing then just contact me.

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The source of this rating is available at Google Sheets. You can make a copy of the document and correct the rating yourself using the methodology that described above. The perfect apps start from the score of 350 points and as you can see there are no existing ideals.

TOP-5 apps are all very useful, the difference of 25 points does not matter. They can help you reach B2 level but not more. I know how to write «have been studying» but I am still not an Advanced English speaker. Memrise, Duolingo, Babbel and Parla are good, you can use them if B1 level is enough for you and you like the design, lessons or price. I don't recommend the apps with the score of 60 and less but if you need to learn 500 words and some simple phrases then you can use any application from the list.

A few words about some interesting apps:

  • Duolingo is the most popular application. Obviously this is because Duolingo is really free (with ad) and its score is relatively high, so it's useful.
  • Anki is free (for Android and Desktop) and the score is very high but it's not so popular. What is the problem? it lacks usability. This is the program that I use for learning now but I am an experienced IT specialist and I used Python scripts to make Anki good for me. Do you know Python/Java/etc? If yes, then Anki is for you.
  • Skyeng is good but only English language is available.
  • Rosetta Stone uses pictures instead of words for trainings. It can be perfect for kids to study English but not for you (because you can read). Rosetta Stone is the only application that can detect an accent in your speech: this is the most powerful program for improving your English pronunciation.
  • Yarrow is the best language learning application with the highest score of 400 points. The only problem is that it does not exist yet. This is my own project and if you are interested in a perfect language learning application please visit the project web site yarrow.club. Yarrow aims to free (Pay or Say) like Duolingo, highly efficient like TOP-5 and better according to the methodology, with perfect speech engine like Rosetta Stone but for all popular languages, and user-friendly unlike Anki. I can create this application only with your help.

I will be glad to discuss the methodology and the rating with you.
Thank you for your attention.

Update: MosaLingua Crea actually has «User words» in paid version, +10 points in the rating.

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