Our top foreign language apps

If your work often takes you overseas, you'll know that a few words of the local language can take you a long way. Fortunately, the huge range of apps out there means that learning a language has never been simpler. In fact, the biggest challenge is deciding which app is right for you. Take a look at our list for a breakdown on some of the best apps out there.  

Learn at your own pace

Duolingo is one app that injects a fun factor into learning a new language.  You can even use it to learn Klingon. It's an activity based app that keeps each lesson short and uses gaming techniques to keep you engaged. You'll gain points when you get something right, get it wrong and you lose a life. DuoLingo claims that 34 hours on the app is equivalent to a whole semester’s tuition, so get going now.  

Prefer to speak with a real person? Then check out HelloTalk. This clever concept lets you be student and teacher by connecting you with people who speak the language you want to learn and who want to learn English.  A range of options are available from instant messaging to voice messaging and it includes a range of tools for correcting grammar and pronunciation.  HelloTalk caters for students at all levels works best if you have some familiarity with the language.

Take a slightly different approach

It’s one thing to learn new words and phrases, it’s another to remember them long-term. Memrise has drawn on scientific research about how the brain works to construct its learning program. That means an emphasis on getting the basics right and plenty of repetition and testing to ensure you're remembering what you've learned. It might sound a bit rigorous but the fun lessons, like Being Human and Food, make this a great way to learn.

Beelinguapp takes a different approach by letting you revisit some of your favourite stories in another language. For instance, choose The Three Musketeers and the app will display the text in English and French with the French text being read aloud. A karaoke feature lets you follow along as each word is pronounced. It also offers everything from news reports to scientific papers.

Some last minute help

For on-the-ground use, there's some terrific portable translators out there. The iTranslate Voice app instantly translates a phrase, written or spoken, into any one of 44 languages. It's super helpful for anything from finding the right platform at a train station to when you need something specific at a store.

The ili is a small handheld device that looks like a single button remote control.  All you have to do is speak a phrase into the mic and the ili will do the talking in Japanese, Mandarin or Spanish.  While there's only a few language options, the ili doesn't require an internet connection to work which means you can keep the conversation going without racking up the roaming charges.

Another cool app made especially for visitors to Japan is Japan Goggles.  It'll help you make sense of all those signs written in Japanese characters. Just snap a pic of the sign and the app will translate it into English for you.

Don't forget...

Those old stalwarts, the phrasebook providers, are still around. Companies like Collins have repackaged their material into great bilingual apps filled with pre-recorded audio of native speakers to help you get your pronunciation right. 

Before you start testing out your new language skills, find out how you can make getting to your destination simpler, faster and easier.