5 Free Language Learning Apps for the Culture-Obsessed Traveler

5 Free Language Learning Apps for the Culture-Obsessed Traveler


By Daphne Auza

Hotel and flight bookings, transportation services and converting currencies are just some of the reasons why the smartphone has become one of the frequent traveler’s most vital companions. However, the smartphone now provides another service that can prove helpful for your next international venture. Several developers have created innovative language learning apps for smartphone users who want to pick up a new language or practice previously learned skills on the go.

The purpose of language learning apps is more than translation. Their lessons are centered around conversational skills and building vocabulary, although some may focus more on one than the other. Since each individual learns languages differently and no app can compare to gaining fluency through real life interactions, users should browse for a program that works best for them. There is a variety to choose from, most attempt to cater to a variety of language learning needs.

These language learning apps exemplify how technology has helped humans connect with one another on a global scale. Most also incorporate a social aspect to them, such as games or interaction with native speakers. By using these apps, users not only develop language skills that help them relate better to people they encounter while abroad, but also those they might meet through an online network.


Duolingo is currently available in Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German, however the online version’s Language Incubator allows users to volunteer to teach language courses that are not currently on offer. According to their introduction video, Duolingo asks users to translate sentences taken directly from the web. The difficulty of these sentences is adjusted to the user’s level, and the app will provide possible translations for each of the words. Users can also see how others in the Duolingo community translate the same sentence. It deviates from the typical in-class grammar lesson, but it resembles how a native speaker might have learned the language in real time.

The app still provides conventional lessons meant to build users’ vocabulary and understand grammar. Skills are organized into different topics like food, nature and expressing emotions. Users can also compete with friends by tracking one another’s progress.

Audio visual learning is a major component of Duolingo lessons. Pictures always accompany new vocabulary, and users can replay words and sentences to reinforce proper pronunciation. Some of the major complaints pertaining to Duolingo include the lack of a variety of languages and in-depth lessons centered around grammar.

Language learners interested in Duolingo can purchase the app for free. They might also appreciate the fact that there are no ads, so that you can complete your lessons without distractions.



Busuu, named after a disappearing language spoken in Cameroon, provides courses in 12 different languages. Users interested in learning or practicing multiple languages might find it a little inconvenient that a new Busuu app must be downloaded for each language. Compared to Duolingo, it utilizes visuals a bit more and has a store of more than 3,000 key words and phrases that correspond to these images. Busuu works to accommodate users that are constantly on the move. You can download exercises from the app and complete them offline or synchronize your learning progress with an online profile.

The beginner to upper intermediate lessons consist of vocabulary, audio dialogues, and fun interactive texts. One of the social elements to Busuu is the user’s ability to interact with native speakers who can correct their writing samples, but a few reviewers have complained about receiving tardy or unhelpful feedback.

Like most other language learning apps, Busuu cannot guarantee that users will develop fluency, but it can still serve well for people that want to start a new language or for those who have not practiced in a while and want to brush up on their skills. You can download Busuu for free from the iTunes app store.



Memrise is not just limited to learning foreign languages. Users can also work on lessons relating to geography, history, pop culture and more, so there is the possibility of immersing yourself in various elements of a culture beyond its language. Nearly all of the content on Memrise is crowd-sourced. Members of the community create courses, which allows any remaining gaps to be filled based on the individual needs of each user.

As suggested by its name, Memrise does place a good amount of emphasis on memorizing vocabulary. Lessons are structured around a spaced repetition scheme, and users can complete them using an offline mode.

One of the unique qualities about Memrise are its “mems”, described by the app’s website as snippets of imagination and humor to help users remember words and phrases. You can create your mems to suit your personal needs or look at mems created by others. Therefore the process of creating these images and text in itself aids with memorization. Memrise also has a competitive aspect where users can earn points and compare their progress with friends’.

Memrise currently offers introductory language courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portugese, Russian, and Mexican Spanish. However, a few advanced lessons created by other community members are available. The app is available for free download, and users can also access the website for even further integration.


Rosetta Course

Rosetta Stone has already made a name for itself as a leading software for language learning, so the app was well received when it was released this past October for both iPhone and iPod touch use. Although users can first purchase the app for free, there are additional costs to buying a set of courseware. The program, is optimized for people who are already Rosetta Stone users and want to practice while on the go. What sets Rosetta apart from some of the previously mentioned apps is its emphasis on speaking. Much of the core lesson requires  users to echo the computerized voice through their microphone. Some reviewers complained about problems with audio when practicing proper pronunciation, but many longtime users of Rosetta Stone expressed satisfaction over the app version.

The free demo account has 24 languages for users to choose from, but a couple of these options take geographical differences into account. For example, there are different courses offered in British English, American English, Latin American Spanish and European Spanish – a feature that is perfect for travelers who want to have an intimate understanding of the various dialects within languages.



HelloTalk attempts to simulate complete language immersion through an online network, as it is the first language app designed for social exchange. It would best serve people interested in developing their conversational skills and local lingo. Language learners interact with their native speaking partner though either text or voice. According to the website, HelloTalk also encourages native speakers and language learners to share different aspects of their culture through the app’s photo sharing option. The app supports a wide variety of languages, including Afrikaan and Hindi. It is also programmed to spell out words in the appropriate characters.

HelloTalk’s exchange mode also makes it unique compared to other language learning apps; users either write 500 characters or spend five minutes talking in one language before switching to the language of their partner. In this way the app encourages practice through constant communication. Some reviewers complained about problems with the integrated translation service, but nonetheless an app like this could serve well for travelers who want to learn colloquial nuances before going abroad.


About the Writer

Based in Los Angeles, Daphne Auza is a current student at Occidental College pursuing a major in English and Comparative Literary Studies. Her interests lie in travel, poems, and the intersection between the arts and social justice, but her curiosity extends far beyond those realms as well. She likes to think that many of her passions are founded on her seemingly insatiable restlessness. You can check out her daily musings and other writings at candidkandu.tumblr.com.

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