Learning a new language has been proven to kick start your stagnated brain into thinking anew. Little-used parts of your brain get much-needed exercise, and in turn, you come up with new ideas and solutions. Of course, learning a new language is hard work. But there are some apps and tools to make it easier.
If you’re serious about picking up a new tongue, then Duolingo is the best app to systematically learn it. But you might not have the time, energy, or inclination to do it so seriously. There has to be a more fun way, right?
A few developers have come up with creative solutions to this problem. Some apps integrate themselves into your daily routine. Others turn language-learning into a game. Choose the method that works for you, and you’ll soon find yourself with the ability to speak a whole new language.
1. Flash Academy (Android, iOS): Short Lessons, Games, and an “Object Translator”
Learning a language as an independent adult is much different from learning in school. You don’t have a dedicated time slot, you probably have short bursts of time instead. You can’t take tests, but you could try a few exercises. And you don’t have a teacher to ask random questions to. Flash Academy has cool solutions to all these problems.
Flash Academy presents five-minute lessons for you to learn one aspect about the chosen language, and then move on. You can keep doing this as long as you want. The app also encourages you to play excellent word games instead of taking tests. It’s a fun way to practice what you’ve picked up.
The impressive part of Flash Academy is the “Object Translator”. Point your camera at an object and it’ll attempt to figure out what it is, and give you the translated word for it.
2. Wordeys (Web, Mobile): Make Your Own Flash Cards
You might not always need to learn a new language entirely, but only a few words or phrases in it. Wordeys lets you make customized flash cards which you can then use to learn and review your lessons.
Flash cards are exceptionally useful for short lessons. Log in to Wordeys and you’ll get a list of empty slots. Write something in English, and write the translation for it in the corresponding box, or ask Google Translate to fetch it for you automatically. Once you prepare your list, you can fire up Wordeys at any time and start learning your language. Choose either your local or foreign language from the list to test yourself; basically, you can use either side of the “flash card”.
Wordeys works beautifully on both desktop as well as mobile web browsers, so you don’t even need an app to use it. Plus, it’s completely free to make as many words and lists as you want.
3. Flipword (Chrome): Changes a Few Words on Any Web Page to Help You Revise Lessons
Once you have picked up the basics of a language with any of the above apps, you need to keep using it on a regular basis. That’s the only way you remember it and improve upon it. Flipword, a free Chrome extension, helps in this by changing a few words in every page to your desired language.
By doing this, the bulk of the page remains the same. So, it’s not like using Google Translate for a cold-turkey lesson or revision. It’s easier and more accessible. The changed words are clearly marked. Hover over them to see the replaced word, its pronunciation, or even small lessons. Flipword also includes typing practice, speaking practice with your computer’s microphone, and YouTube lessons.
Currently, Flipword supports only English, Spanish, and Chinese as its languages. Still, its simplicity makes it wonderful to use. And remember, you can use Chrome extensions in Opera or other Chromium-based browsers.
4. Lingvo.TV (Chrome): Watch Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube to Learn a Language
Forget “Netflix and chill”, it’s time to Netflix and learn. You’ve probably seen a few foreign language movies, but the subtitles help you out. If you already learnt the dialect, though, then test yourself. Even the subtitles are going to be in the foreign language now!
Lingvo needs you to install the Chrome extension on your browser, and its mobile app on your phone. Once the movie starts, its sound and subtitles will both be in the foreign language. Lingvo says this makes learning easier and activates your visual memory. Meanwhile, on your phone, you can tap the subtitles to get the English translation of any word or phrase.
It’s a radical method to challenge yourself as you learn. Lingvo currently works with select movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube. Of course, you’ll need a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription to use either.
Download — Lingvo TV for Chrome (Free)
5. Duolir (iOS): Human-Crafted Subtitles for Foreign Language Books
A movie with subtitles might not exactly be the flow you’re looking for. So how about reading a book in a foreign language? Only this time, you’ll be able to tap on any sentence to get a translation, written specifically for that by an actual person.
Subtitles in foreign languages can get messy, after all. When left to a computer algorithm, it sometimes loses the nuance of the language, which is essential for books. That’s why all Duolir’s translations are curated by humans who know both the languages.
Only a few of the books on Duolir are free though. Once you finish with those, which can be a decent trial of the app, you’ll need to buy the rest to read them.
Download — Duolir for iPhone or iPad (Free) [No Longer Available]
How Has Learning a Language Helped You?
All right linguists of MakeUseOf, let’s weigh in here. Which of the above or other apps do you swear by when you want to learn a new language? More importantly, we would love to know what effect it had on you.
Did you learn something new about yourself? Did it help you think outside the box or think more creatively in general? Was it useful when you travelled?