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The 7 best language learning apps: Rosetta Stone it at home

What is the best language learning app? Babbel is ZDNet's top choice! We analyzed usability, content, teaching styles, and reviews to provide you with the best language learning apps available.
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Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

Are you considering learning a second language? Thanks to technology, there's never been a better time to master another language. Gone are the days of signing up for a class or buying textbooks. Now all you need is your smartphone.

There are dozens of outstanding language learning apps to choose from. But the hard part is narrowing it down to the best one for you. We looked at all of the top language learning apps on the market to see which really offer the best features for the price and narrowed it down to our seven favorites. No matter what your language goals or your learning style, there's an app here that meets your needs.

Babbel

Best language learning app

Babbel
Apple App Store

Babbel has quickly become one of the most popular language-learning apps, with more than 10 million subscriptions sold at $13.95 per month. The curriculum is designed by linguists, combining traditional learning with innovative and interactive lessons. The app uses evidence-based, proven teaching methods and offers learning in a variety of formats.

Babbel has several different pricing structures to choose from. First, their monthly subscription method allows you to pay every month, three months, six months, or year. The longer your subscription, the less you'll pay per month. There's also a 20-day money-back guarantee in case you sign up and don't love it.

Babbel has excellent reviews. With more than 257,000 ratings, the app has an average of 4.7 of 5 stars. The developer goes out of their way to respond to customer reviews, both positive and negative ones.

Pros:

  • Interactive dialogue to help with pronunciation
  • 10-15 minute lessons to make it flexible with your schedule
  • Unique and immersive teaching style

Cons:

  • Few features to keep you motivated
  • Similar format to traditional learning, which isn't right for everyone
  • Less content for less popular languages

Duolingo

Best free language learning app

Duolingo
Apple App Store

Duolingo has become the most popular language-learning app today, and for good reasons. The app offers game-like lessons to help you learn more than 35 different languages—all for free. The app uses science-based teaching methods to help you learn. Lessons are personalized to your learning style, and you tackle a variety of language skills.

Lessons are progressive, meaning each one builds off of the one before it. You can't move on until you've unlocked each level by answering enough correct answers. And if you spend too much time away from the app, it will have you repeat certain lessons to ensure your skills haven't gotten rusty.

Duolingo's reviews speak for themselves: the he app has more than 1.2 million ratings on the app store, with an average rating of 4.7 of 5 stars. 

Duolingo consistently earns the App Store's Editor's Choice award.

Pros:

  • Free language learning
  • Well organized, progressive lessons
  • Features designed to keep you motivated
  • Lessons can be done in just a few minutes

Cons:

  • Less content for less popular languages
  • Requires you to learn topics in a certain order
  • Limited opportunity for real-world practice

Rosetta Stone

Best for immersive language learning

Rosetta Stone
Apple App Store

Rosetta Stone has been a leader in language learning for 25 years, so it should come as no surprise that it makes our list of the best language learning apps today. The app allows you to choose from dozens of different languages and build a curriculum plan that best fits your learning style. You can practice speaking the language with audio recognition to determine if you're on track. You can also use audio-based learning when you're on the go. The stories feature also allows you to learn by reading along with native speakers.

Rosetta Stone has modernized its pricing structure to make it more competitive with other language learning apps. Rather than paying a set price for each language, you can now pay for a subscription-based plan. Three- and 12-month plans offer monthly rates ranging from $7.99 and $11.199. But for committed learners, you can pay $179 for lifetime access to unlimited languages.

Rosetta Stone's app has excellent reviews. With roughly 160,000 reviews on the App Store, the app has an average rating of 4.8 of 5 stars, making it one of the most highly-rated language learning apps on the market.

Pros:

  • Various pricing options
  • Personalized lesson plan
  • Proven teaching method

Cons:

  • Limited instruction or explanations
  • Sometimes repetitive lessons
  • Doesn't prepare you for conversational use

Memrise

Best for learning real-world phrases

Memrise
Apple App Store

Have you ever used a language learning app and felt like the phrases you practiced were ones you'd never use in real life? Memrise addresses that problem by designing lessons filled with real-world phrases. In fact, you're learning from native speakers who are speaking in real-life situations. You can learn new words, watch videos of native speakers, and practice using real-world phrases.

Memrise Pro has three different pricing options. The month-to-month plan is available for just $8.99 per month, but if you upgrade to the annual plan, it comes out to just $7.50 per month. Finally, you can purchase lifetime access for $139.99, which is the equivalent of paying for the monthly plan for just over a year.

Memrise's app has excellent user reviews. With more than 175,000 reviews, the app has an average rating of 4.8 of 5. It also has an Editor's Choice Award for being one of the best language learning apps.

Pros:

  • Designed to help you learn real-world phrases
  • Game elements to make learning more fun
  • Lots of content for each language

Cons:

  • Exercises can be repetitive
  • Varying quality of user-created content
  • Focused on vocabulary, not grammar

Busuu

Best for goal-oriented learning

Busuu
Apple App Store

Busuu takes a goal-oriented approach to language learning by allowing you to create study goals and a study plan to help you achieve those goals. The app uses topic-based lessons to help you learn vocabulary and increase your conversational skills gradually. Each lesson builds upon the previous one to help reinforce your memory, helping you reach fluency more quickly.

Busuu has three different plan options to choose from. The free Basic plan gives you access to one language and a limited number of features. The Premium plan (€9,99 per month) also allows for just one language but allows you to unlock more features. Finally, the Premium Plus plan (€10,99 per month) gives you access to up to 12 languages and all app features. Monthly, 12-month, and 24-month plans are available, with the longer plans being cheaper per month.

Though Busuu doesn't have the number of users as some of the more popular language learning apps, it still has excellent reviews by those who have used it. The app has roughly 63,000 reviews, with an average rating of 4.7 of 5 stars.

Pros:

  • Interaction with native speakers
  • Goal-oriented approach
  • Well-structured courses

Cons:

  • Limited pronunciation, reading, and listening comprehension exercises
  • Sometimes monotonous exercises
  • Small language selection

Pimsleur

Best for learning on the go

Pimsleur
Apple App Store

Unlike other language learning apps that have on-screen interactive games, Pimsleur is specifically designed to help you learn by listening. Pimsleur uses an audio format, meaning it's easy to learn on the go. And because you listen to native speakers, you help learn vocabulary and listening comprehension quickly.

Pimsleur's premium plan is a bit more expensive than its competitors. After a free, seven-day free trial, you'll pay $19.95 per month to learn a language. The good news is that Pimsleur claims you can learn a new language in just 30 days.

The Pimsleur app doesn't have a huge user base yet, but those that use it give it excellent reviews. With about 4,400 reviews on the app store, the app has an average rating of 4.7 of 5 stars.

Pros:

  • Easy to learn while on the go
  • Learn from native speakers
  • 50 languages to choose from

Cons:

  • Expensive subscription
  • Limited visual learning
  • Doesn't help with reading or writing skills

Drops

Best for visual learners

Drops
Apple App Store

Drops has a unique approach to language learning that is perfect for visual learners. Drops is specifically designed to help you build vocabulary. It does that by pairing images and matching games with teaching methods. The app's audio helps you to learn pronunciation as you read the words. Drops has an interesting technique where it limits your learning to five minutes per day. According to the app, this prevents you from overwhelming yourself or trying to learn too much at once. And yes, this five-minute limit applies even with the paid plan.

Drops has simple subscription methods to choose from: you can pay $9.99 per month for a month-to-month plan. Alternatively, you can pay $69.99 for an annual plan -- this comes out to less than $6 per month.

Drops has an Editor's Choice Award on the app store and has excellent reviews from its users. With more than 50,000 reviews, the app has an average rating of 4.8 of 5 stars.

Pros:

  • Good for visual learners
  • Learn in a fun and engaging way
  • Many languages and topics to choose from

Cons:

  • Only focused on vocabulary
  • Limited to five minutes per day
  • Doesn't prepare you for real-world use

What is the best language learning app?

Babbel is the best language learning app, due to its combination of traditional learning with innovative and interactive lessons. However, any of these apps would be great to start learning a new language, it just depends on your preferences.

Language Learning App

Price

Average Rating

Features

Babbel

$13.95/month

4.7

Interactive dialogue, 10-15 minute lessons, evidence-based teaching methods

Duolingo

Free

4.7

35 different languages, game-like lessons, progressive learning

Rosetta Stone

Starting at $7.99/month

4.8

Build your own curriculum plan, practice with audio recognition, read along with native speakers

Memrise

$8.99/month

4.8

Learn real-world phrases, watch videos 

Busuu

Free, or €9,99/ month

4.7

Goal-oriented learning, master grammar and vocab

Pimsleur

$19.95/month

4.7

Learn by listening, on-the-go learning from native speakers, 50 languages

Drops

$9.99/month

4.8

Pairs images and games with teaching methods, learn for only 5 minutes per day

Which language learning app is right app for you?

With all of the language learning apps available on the market today, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you. After all, the last thing you want is to pay for a subscription to a dozen different apps on your search for the right one.

First, decide ahead of time what language you want to learn. Each app has a limited number of languages available. Some languages, such as Spanish, French, and German, are likely to be available on any app. But other less common languages might be harder to find. Knowing what language you want to learn will help you to narrow down the app.

It's also important to consider how you learn best. Some language learning apps take a more traditional approach to teaching, while others use more unique methods for alternative learners. Do you learn best by reading words on a screen? Hearing a teacher explain a concept? Or perhaps just hearing real-world use of a language and picking it up as you go? Each app is best suited to certain learning styles.

Finally, consider your ultimate goal with your language studies. If you enjoy learning languages and don't anticipate using them in the real world, then you may have a greater variety of apps to choose from. But if you're planning to use what you learn in real-world situations such as travel or interacting with native speakers, then focus on an app that caters to that purpose.

Choose this language app...

If you want...

Babbel

The best overall option

Duolingo

A free language learning app

Rosetta Stone

An immersive learning experience from a renowned company

Memrise

To focus on learning real-world phrases

Busuu

Goal-oriented language learning

Pimsleur

To learn from native speakers on the go

Drop

A language learning app that uses visual learning 

How did we choose these apps?

When seeking out the best language learning apps of 2022, we looked for those that combine unique features with proven teaching methods. There's an endless number of apps available to help you master a new language. 

And to stand out, an app must have something new to offer. Well, all of those on our list do, whether it's their teaching approach, interactive features, or a one-of-a-kind approach.

Factors we considered when choosing the best apps to include:

  • Unique approach
  • Teaching methods
  • Features
  • Price
  • App ratings
  • Number of languages offered

Do language learning apps really work?

The short answer is: Yes. 

One study found that 59% of language app users improved their oral proficiency in another language by at least one sublevel on the proficiency scale of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

What is the best free language learning app?

Duolingo is our favorite free language learning app because it's easy to use, offers a wide variety of languages, and has excellent customer reviews.

Can you become fluent with language learning apps?

You can learn everything you need to know from a language app to become fluent, but it's most successful when paired with consistent and real-world use of the language.

What is the best language app to learn Spanish?

If you're looking to learn Spanish, Duolingo is a great app for it. The app makes it easy to learn Spanish since it asks you to translate a sentence from Spanish into English, speak a sentence in Spanish, or transcribe a sentence in Spanish, making it easy to learn through speaking.

Are there alternative language learning apps worth considering?

The language learning apps we discussed in this comparison are some of the most popular on the market. Each one has a unique approach to language learning and excellent feedback from users. But these certainly aren't the only options on the market, and several other apps are worth considering. Other popular language learning apps include:

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