Apps to help you learn a new language and kickstart the brain

There’s an app for every learner – and what a way to get the brain into top gear.

man with headphones on looking at smartphone

If self-isolation has taught us anything, it’s that there are two types of people in this world. You’re either in the camp that’s struggling to focus on anything other than mindlessly bingeing on Netflix boxsets, or you’re one of those annoyingly efficient people who has managed to make it your most productive period yet.

If you’re part of the latter group, you’ve probably spent the extra downtime at home working up an impressive new skill. As well as baking sourdough bread and sprucing our gardens, according to new research by Savoo, ‘learning a new language’ is up there with the most popular. The site reports a 143 per cent increase in people searching for the term on Google since lockdown began.

Thanks to technology, learning to speak in another language is no longer reliant on memorising vocabulary from a stuffy old textbook. There’s an app for every learner out there, and the tools featured on this list will help you to master it faster than you ever imagined – all from the comfort of your sofa.

1. Duolingo
This free mobile app uses a combination of interactive pictures, words and sounds to make learning really simple. Much like a language course, it’s split into modules and, as you continue on your journey, it cleverly figures out your learning style – tailoring each bite-sized lesson to your individual needs. It also has a fun gaming element, which makes upskilling super addictive. You can earn virtual coins, unlock new levels and watch your fluency score rise as you master new words, phrases and grammar.

2. Babbel
The cool thing about Babbel is that it engages you in conversation and gives you real-time feedback on your pronunciation as you learn. Users can talk into the app and the voice recognition software will correct any glaring mistakes. There are 14 languages to pick from and the lesson topics are ones that are useful for everyday life, like introducing yourself, asking for directions and ordering at a restaurant. Lessons take around 15 minutes on average, so it’s really easy to form a daily learning habit in a short amount of time.

3. Drops
If you’re someone who struggles to fit hobbies into a busy schedule, Drops is the app for you. Five minutes per day is all you need to complete its daily challenges, so you can easily get your learning out of the way while you’re eating your breakfast. Every morning, Drops will send you a game to test your vocabulary words in your chosen language, asking you to pair an image with its name – which is both written out phonetically and recited to you. While it doesn’t really get into the ins and outs of grammar (which you’ll eventually need to speak fluently), it’s a great intro tool for picking up new words and phrases across 32 different languages.

4. Memrise
One of the best ways to learn a new language is to listen to someone who fluently speaks it. Memrise works by playing short clips of people speaking in a language, which will help you to pick up the correct tone and pronunciation. It then provides a written translation of the script, and continues to repeat the audio so you can match the words to the spoken phrases. Once you’ve heard and read it a few times, you’ll then need to type the phrase back to the app to complete the learning lesson. There are 19 languages to choose from, including French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Mongolian.

5. Gus on the Go
If you want to get kids involved with learning a new language, Gus on the Go is a fantastic sensory tool for parents and grandparents. Children can join Gus, the friendly owl, as he travels around the world and picks up new phrases along the way. Colourful animations and fun exercises make learning basic vocabulary, such as numbers, colours and shapes, easy for children to digest. Each lesson review also unlocks a bonus vocabulary game that reinforces everything they’ve learnt. Choose from 18 different languages, including Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hebrew.

Have you picked up any new hobbies during isolation? Which language would you most like to learn?

– With PA

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