While arriving in a new country is beyond exciting, it can also pose challenges — especially if you don’t speak the local language. Even leaving the airport can be difficult when you can’t communicate where you need to go.
And while we all learn a second language in school, many of us end up forgetting it later on in life. But learning a new language has huge benefits — including making travel an easier and more immersive experience (not to mention helping you get a job) — so we've rounded up seven of the best language learning apps on the market.
“When you're preparing to visit a foreign country, learning the language of your destination can go a long way,” Michaela Kron, a spokeswoman for the free language app Duolingo, told Travel + Leisure by email. “Not only will it help you better understand your surroundings and get around more easily, but it'll also make a big impact in helping you connect with the people you encounter while there. In general, it's a great sign of respect and empathy when you make an effort to say even a few words in the local language — and the effort will not go unnoticed.”
Matt Hulett, the president of language for Rosetta Stone, echoed the sentiment, adding that locals will appreciate it if you learn the basics.
“Learning even a few words in a new language can help when you travel because you'll find confidence in being able to communicate about basic things — say hello and thank you, order food and drinks, ask how to find the bathroom, etc.,” Hulett told Travel + Leisure in an email. “Rosetta Stone makes it easy with our in-app phrasebooks, which teach language learners how to say useful everyday phrases and can be used offline, so they're very convenient for traveling abroad."
There are many tricks to learning the ins and outs of a new language, and while not every person learns the same way, there are different language learning apps out there to help.
Download one of the best language apps before your next trip and you’ll know exactly what you’re ordering off the menu and can even say thank you — or merci — for the meal.
This free app includes more than 30 languages and is set up like a game, with users earning points for lessons. You can choose to start as a beginner or take a placement test, and decide how much time you want to dedicate to learning each day. After you learn the basics, you can learn vocabulary for topics like travel and food.
Download it: Duolingo
This app first asks you to choose your level and then repeats key words and phrases with videos and text. You earn points for things like accuracy and speed and set a goal for how long you want to spend working on the language each day. There’s even a leaderboard for competitive learners. To access all language courses and features, pay for a monthly, quarterly, annual, or lifetime subscription — a yearlong subscription costs $89.99.
Download it: Memrise
This is one of the oldest language-learning programs on the market, and it offers a subscription-based model that starts at about $11.99 per month for access to one language during a 3-month subscription. The app doesn’t use any English, conducting the lessons in the language you are learning (there’s around two dozen on the iOS app) with pictures to help.
If you’re going to opt for this app, set aside some time each day as core lessons tend to take about 30 minutes each.
Download it: Rosetta Stone
This subscription-based app offers lessons that take between 10 to 15 minutes each and focus on matching up phrases as well as correct spelling. Users are asked to repeat basic phrases and fill in the blanks to make sure they really grasp the vocabulary. Subscriptions start at $6.95 per month for 12 months with over a dozen languages available.
Download it: Babbel
This language app has only 12 languages, but they are some of the most common: think Spanish, French, and Chinese. Busuu promises to teach you the language in just 10 minutes a day and prompts you to determine your goal: do you want to feel like a local when you travel, or are you hoping to communicate better with friends and family? The app encourages learners to pick a regular time of day to practice (and will even send you a notification when the time comes) and provides you with a study plan.
You can study one language for free with limited access, or pay for a subscription to access more features.
Download it: Busuu
This free app offers users five minutes of learning every day. Why only five minutes? The app says that it helps people maintain a “laser focus” and is an easy habit to maintain (users who want longer lessons can upgrade to a premium package). The app offers over 35 different languages and includes exercises like dragging words to a matching photo and connecting letters like a word search. The basic app is free to use, but you'll want to upgrade to the premium version to unlock an ad-free, unlimited experience.
Download it: Drops
This app offers a whopping 50 languages (including variations on certain languages), and the Pimsleur method has been around for decades. The app asks learners to commit to 30 minutes a day but the lessons are done over audio, making it easy to tune in during your commute or while at the gym. This app offers monthly subscriptions or packs of courses to purchase.
Download it: Pimsleur
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