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Five Best Language Learning Tools

Five Best Language Learning Tools


Learning a new language is difficult, which is why there's a huge market for tools and apps to help you do it. Some of them are really helpful and help you get up to speed quickly, others are a money sink. This week we're looking at five of the best, based on your nominations.


Anki, Japanese for "memorizing," is a flashcard program that's been around for years (as early as 2006, although it could very well have been initially developed before that). Because it's a flashcard style program, its focus is on memorization. It'll display you a word, phrase, image, or even play a sound, and then leave it to you to make the connection, repeat it, interpret it, and commit it to memory. Anki is great for languages, but it's also useful for studying equations, diagrams, names and faces, and more—its strength is in the fact that you can load it up with custom card sets depending on what it is you want to memorize. There are tons of shared decks available in the app that you can download and start memorizing right away.

Lifehacker reader Gabriel Wyner was tasked with learning four languages in the past few years for his career as an opera singer, and in the process… Read…

Anki is free (although donations to support the developer are accepted) and cross-platform (available for Windows, OS X, Linux/BSD, iOS, Android, and there's even a web client). If Anki seems familiar to you, it should: We've featured it before, in Gabriel Wyner's guide to how she learned four languages in a few years. It worked for her, and she shows you how she made it work so you can try it yourself.2


Memrise is a language learning program that extends beyond vocabulary and language to things like history and science, but at its core it's a flashcard-style program that's augmented with memory tricks, images, and other useful tools to make learning a new language easier. Its focus is largely on memorization, but it's also designed to help you have fun learning the language you're trying to pick up. Memrise gamifies the process a bit, awarding you points and reputation as you learn, and the opportunity to compete against other users while you learn and complete activities. If you're interested in seeing what you can learn before you sign up, you can browse some of their courses before you give it a try.

Memrise is free, web-based, and has iOS and Android apps so you can take your lessons on the go. Those of you who praised Memrise pointed out that it's free, fun, and even though it too has a focus on memorization and repetition, the courses are numerous and there are some really great ones to sign up for that will help you pick up a new language quickly. However, since the courses are largely crowdsourced, you have to make sure you find a great one.


Duolingo takes a different approach to learning a new language than just memorizing words and phrases. Duolingo allows you to essentially learn a new language while translating sites on the web. Duolingo has language learning programs and lessons for its users, and as you take the lessons, you'll find yourself translating the web as you browse—effectively learning to read and speak the language you're interested in by looking at and hearing what native speakers are writing and saying. Of course, as with most programs you'll spend most of your time translating, seeing the language visually, and dictating. There are some speech exercises too though, although they're not the primary focus. Duolingo has courses in a handful of languages right now, which is a bit smaller than some of the other contenders, but the courses in those languages are incredibly complete. The courses are structured in a way like games as well—you earn skill points as you complete lessons, and if you make mistakes you lose "lives." If you lose too many, you'll have to re-take the lesson.

One of the coolest features about Duolingo is that it checks your progress as you go forward. It learns from where you make mistakes and which types of questions you have trouble with, and goes from there. It's completely free, available on the web, Android, and iOS, and it's earned a lot of praise. We've mentioned it before, and again when its mobile apps came out.


Duolingo is a fantastic new way to learn a new language for free—while also helping to translate the world wide web. The interactive lessons teach… Read…

Duolingo Teaches You a New Language on the Go

Android/iOS: Previously mentioned site Duolingo is one of the best tools for learning a new language, and today the company has rolled out a… Read…

Pimsleur Method

The Pimsleur Method is an audio-based method that focuses on participation in speaking and sound exercises than strict memorization and flashcards. If you've ever seen a parody of someone learning a new language by listening to a tape that encourages them to parrot back phrases and words after a native speaker says them aloud, you're familiar with the Pimsleur Method. The method definitely has reading and vocabulary exercises, but it also focuses on speaking exercises and learning to speak a language aloud as well as learning to read one. Each exercise is about 30 minutes, where you speak phrases in the target language and your own language, and as new phrases and words are introduced, your memory is reinforced with older ones. Pimsleur is available in over 50 languages, has a massively long track record (going back to the 1960s), and has been used by individuals and large organizations to train people in new languages.

Pimsleur is a commercial product, so you should expect to pay for it. How much varies on the type of program you want to take, whether it's conversational or not, any added features, and so on. There are webapps and mobile apps designed to complement your lessons, too. You can grab a 30-minute lesson for free to see if it's the kind of thing that would work for you, and after that you have to pick a language and pay up. Even used in concert with some of the other methods in the roundup for vocabulary and reading, Pimsleur does well at teaching you to speak.


Pore over self-study language lessons and practice chatting with other language enthusiasts at web site LiveMocha. If you need more individual… Read…

Livemocha is an extremely comprehensive language learning community and program, packed with native speakers (over 12 million people from close to 200 countries) and offering instruction in over 38 languages. It's relatively new, having launched in 2007, and much of its content is completely free. The approach is almost entirely web based, with live classes, conversations with native speakers, tutorial videos, and more all available right at your computer. You can even get private tutoring through Livemocha. Part of Livemocha's charm is that it encourages you to use the internet in the language you want to learn. The service also harnesses the power of social media to help you learn your target language as well. You learn from native speakers, are graded by other students who are fluent in the language you want to learn, and you can give back as much as you get.

Livemocha was recently acquired by Rosetta Stone, but that hasn't slowed it down. While the courses are incredibly complete, with dozens of hours of coursework available for each language, you can sign up for free and take a handful of lessons without paying anything. Eventually you'll hit a point where if you want to continue your lessons you'll have to open your wallet. Paying members shell out $99 per year, or $9.95 per month to unlock everything available. Individual courses can set you back $25 each, and if you use Livemocha's built-in credit system and help other people learn your language, you can unlock courses to take.

Five Best Language Learning Tools

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