8 Best Language Learning Software in 2019: Honest Reviews

Published May 18, 2019

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I’ve been learning Mandarin Chinese for about a year now, and I certainly wouldn’t have made as much progress as I have without the help of software and apps. I’m a language learning nerd, so I spend almost as much time researching the best language learning software as actually learning the language.

In fact, I have personally used all of the language learning software mentioned in this article. Several of them are even part of my regular routine.


How Should You Use Language Learning Software?

Before we even get into the details, I’ll say that you should not just use one method or app to learn a language. Instead, you should build your own customized language learning toolkit to suit your own needs. Be sure to read until the end, where I include some example toolkits.

Why do I say this? Well, there are several vital components of learning a language:

  • Listening comprehension
  • Reading comprehension
  • Speaking and conversation
  • Writing
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar

You will not find a single app or program that covers all of these well enough. From my experience, even language learning courses I took online and in-person aren’t sufficient. There’s a reason many of the apps and software I talk about in this article were made: they tend to do one or two things really well.

Italki: Best for Finding a Teacher

Check it out here

My rating:

Price: Depends on teacher

Languages Supported: 100+ (too many to list)

What I liked:
  • Huge selection of professional and community tutors
  • Active community of learners
  • Free language exchange
  • A lot of teachers have cheap trial lessons
What I didn’t like:
  • You have to buy credits and use them to pay for classes
  • Use of third-party programs like Skype for lessons

TL;DR: Language learners of all levels need Italki in their language learning toolkit. It is hands down the best language learning software for finding one-on-one teachers. Also, it has an active community of over 3 million users, and many free resources such as language partners.

As you can see, there’s a lot I like about Italki. The main thing for me is the huge amount of professional teachers and community tutors available. If you use trial lessons, you should be able to quickly and cheaply find the best teachers for your needs. Whether it’s test prep, conversation practice, formal teaching, or something else, you’ll be able to find several teachers to help you out.

Another thing I like about Italki is the active community. Italki has over 3 million users, which makes it really easy to contribute to active discussions and find language partners. The Italki community includes:

  • Articles written by professional teachers
  • Notebooks where you can add your own entries, and comment on and correct other’s
  • The ability to search for free language partners, similar to searching for teachers
  • An active discussion forum
  • A Q&A section to ask and answer questions about grammar, slang, idioms, etc

On the other hand, there are some things I’d change about Italki. The main thing is that they make you purchase credits, which you use to pay for lessons. As a result, I find myself always having a few dollars of credits in my wallet, which isn’t enough to pay for a lesson and feels like a waste.

Italki also doesn’t have its own lesson interface. Most teachers use Skype from my experience. This isn’t a big deal for me personally, but I think that having their own lesson interface (like Verbling) would make the experience more immersive.

Despite the few things I dislike, Italki is still the best language learning software for finding tutors and professional teachers. It’s hard to beat the value you get and the gigantic community.

HelloTalk: Best for Language Exchange

Check it out here

My rating:

Price: Free

Languages supported: 100+ (too many to list)

What I liked:

  • Chats have built-in correction, translation, speech to text, and transliteration tools
  • Has features every good chat app has such as camera, voice call, emojis, and doodles
  • Easy to find language partners to talk to
  • Free for the most important features
  • Great user interface and user experience

What I didn’t like:

  • Drains battery life
  • Chats slow to update on 3G/4G

TL;DR: I think this is a great addition to your language learning toolkit. HelloTalk is the best language learning software for chat and practicing conversational skills. It’s great to have several active conversations at once, and to reply with text or voice messages whenever you have time throughout the day. Other users will happily correct you and help you learn.

HelloTalk is a chat app specifically made for language learning, and it shows. Free users have access to everything important: search for language partners, and full chat functionality.

You can upgrade to their VIP plan to learn multiple languages and get unlimited translations and transliterations. If you’re VIP you can also search for language partners in more than one country, and start 25 new chats a day (compared to 10 a day in the free version).

I personally feel the free plan is more than enough for me, and provides a lot of value. Even if you run out of translations or transliterations, you can always just copy and paste the text into Google Translate or another tool.

The two features that I find most valuable are:

  • Built-in support for corrections
  • Speech to text

Corrections is a core feature of HelloTalk, and one of the main ways I improve using this app. As you can see above, you can edit the other person’s text, and it will show you the old and new version alongside each other.

Additionally, speech to text allows you to record your voice in any language, and translate it to text in any other language. This is super helpful if you’re just starting out in a language with a completely different writing system, like Chinese or Arabic. As long as you know how to say your message, you can get it across to the other person.

My main complaints about HelloTalk are that it drains my battery life a lot for a chat app (using Android), and that chats take awhile to sync when not on WiFi. However, these are minor issues for me personally.

Overall, HelloTalk is a great way to practice your written conversation skills whenever you have some spare time. It has a seamless user interface, tons of users, and useful features that support language learning. Not to mention, the core features are free.

Anki: Best for Flashcards and Vocabulary

Check it out here

My rating:

Price: Free

Languages Supported: All

What I liked:

  • Highly customizable
  • Free (except iPhone app) and open source
  • Detailed learning statistics
  • Uses spaced repetition

What I didn’t like:

  • Slightly complex interface
  • Learning curve to use flashcards most effectively

TL;DR: If you aren’t using flashcards with language learning, you’re doing something very, very wrong. Although not built specifically for language learning, Anki is the best language learning software for vocabulary and flashcards. There is tons of language learning software with built-in flashcards, and many standalone flashcard apps. However, Anki is indisputably the king.

Anki is built around the concept of the spaced repetition memory technique. Basically, the idea is that Anki will decide when you should review a card based on how difficult it was for you to remember it last time you encountered it. Anki, and other SRS software make use of the spacing effect to make your vocabulary learning as efficient as possible

I love the fact that you can customize pretty much anything in Anki. You can add audio, images, and even custom HTML and CSS to your flashcards. Also, Anki has tons of useful add-ons. To truly appreciate how powerful Anki is, check out its beast of a manual.

Another thing to like about Anki is the detailed statistics it provides you with. At a glance, I can see things like:

  • How many reviews I have coming up
  • How long I spent on reviews today
  • A graph of how many cards I learned, re-learned, and reviewed in the last month
  • A graph showing the distribution of card types (mature, learned, unseen, etc)

However, with all this customization and power comes complexity. For one, the user interface can be unintuitive at time, and will take some time to fully get used to. Also, there is definitely a learning curve if you’re just getting started with Anki.

Once you learn how to use Anki effectively though, it is the only flashcard software you will ever need. It’s crucial for learning languages, and, pretty much anything else that involves memorization.

LingQ: Best for Reading Comprehension

Check it out here

My rating:

Price: $12.99/month

Languages Supported: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian

What I liked:

  • Keeps track of the vocabulary you know to find comprehensible input
  • Huge library of lessons with accompanying audio
  • Support for user uploaded content
  • Lessons are interactive

What I didn’t like:

  • Tries to do too many things at once
  • Dictation and multiple choice review isn’t that useful

TL;DR: LingQ is the best language learning software for reading comprehension by far. It has an insane amount of lessons, organized by difficulty and topic. Many lessons also have accompanying audio, and some even have accompanying video. You will easily be able to find something interesting that is at your current level.

Lessons, organized into courses, are the core of LingQ. These are short texts where words you don’t know are color-coded. This is one of their best features in my opinion, since I firmly believe in Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition through comprehensible input. You can also hover over any word or phrase to get a list of translations (provided by users or dictionaries).

Another thing that’s great about LingQ is the sheer amount of lessons they have available. LingQ allows users to upload their own custom lessons, with accompanying audio, video, translations, lesson notes, and attachments, which you can make private or public.

The software itself provides a good amount lessons, but the bulk of lessons come from user uploaded lessons. To give you some idea, there are over 1000 user uploaded Chinese lessons.

Of course, what’s the point of taking these lessons if you don’t have a good way to learn new words? LingQ provides a pretty good flashcard based review system, with regular flashcards, reverse flashcards (produce translation from your native language), cloze deletion, multiple choice, and dictation (type word from audio).

However, this review system isn’t perfect. I’ve found that using multiple choice to produce a translation just isn’t that effective, especially if most of the choices are so obviously wrong. Also, some words were even missing audio for the dictation review feature.

In fact, I suggest you either only use LingQ’s flashcards, reverse flashcards, and cloze deletion to review, or just export your vocabulary to Anki. Thank me later.

Another small negative for me is that LingQ tries to do too many things at once. The main thing for me is that the gamification (coins, points, challenges, etc) actually clutters the interface a bit, and can be distracting. For an example of gamification done right, keep reading to see how Duolingo does it.


That being said, I still think LingQ is very useful overall for reading comprehension. If you don’t have access to good quality graded readers, LingQ should be an essential part of your language learning toolkit.

Speechling: Best for Mastering Speaking

Check it out here

My rating:

Price: Free but $19.99/month for unlimited speech coaching and access to offline resources

Languages Supported: Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Russian

What I liked:

  • Unique approach to practicing speaking
  • All audio content is free
  • Offline content such as pre-made Anki decks
  • Audio playback customizations

What I didn’t like:

  • Practice system missing transliterations
  • No real course structure, just thousands of sentences

TL;DR: If you want to practice pronunciation and your speaking rhythm to sound more fluent, there is no better way to do it than with Speechling. It is the best language learning software for speaking practice. Along the way, you’ll also get good listening comprehension practice with the amount of dialogue it throws at you.

The main thing I like about Speechling is that you get real feedback from real native speakers. I tried it out with Chinese, a language I’ve been learning for about a year, and Spanish, a language I’m a beginner in. Both of my coaches gave me useful feedback on my pronunciation. Additionally, you can even give them personalized requests and feedback based on how, and what you want to learn.

Another thing I like about Speechling is the gigantic amount of sentences they have (about 10000). These aren’t auto-generated either, they’re relevant sentences, all with both male and female recordings. If you’re a premium member, you can even download all of their sentences as audio, text, and pre-made Anki decks.

All of these sentences, combined with their helpful playback customizations make listening comprehension much more efficient:

  • Half speed
  • Autoplay next sentence after custom delay
  • Pause before playing translation
  • Random, male, or female recordings

The way I use Speechling to practice this is to just autoplay with a delay of about 1 second, let them blast a bunch of sentences to me at my target level, and try my best to understand what’s being said. If I don’t understand, the translation is right there and I can replay the sentence all I want.

Also, you can record yourself speaking each sentence, save it, and send it to your coach for feedback (10 per month for free, unlimited on paid plan). While getting feedback on speaking pre-made sentences is useful, what’s even more useful is Speechling’s additional tools for speaking practice:

  • Record yourself answering a question
  • Record yourself describing an image
  • Record yourself saying anything

These are great for more intermediate learners, and can really step up your pronunciation game.

On the other hand, Speechling isn’t perfect. One thing that bothered me was that for languages with a different writing system, like Chinese and Arabic, the practice system was missing transliterations. Note that just their practice system is missing this feature. Their core curriculum has transliterations.

Another thing about Speechling is that it’s literally just thousands of sentences. Although they organize the sentences into foundations (numbers, nouns, verbs, etc), their core curriculum (beginner, intermediate, advanced), and their phrasebook (basic expressions, weather, money, etc), it still doesn’t teach you how an actual course would teach you. This doesn’t bother me too much though, since Speechling is meant to be a tool solely to practice speaking and listening.

Overall, Speechling provides a valuable way for language learners to practice speaking, and improve listening comprehension too. This is especially vital for beginners to improve at a rapid pace. I would say it’s worth the money, at least for a month, just to download all of their audio, sentences, and pre-made Anki decks.

Duolingo: Best Way to Learn the Basics

Check it out here

My rating:

Price: Free

Languages supported: 31

What I liked:

  • Completely free
  • Gamification is done really well
  • Polished user interface and user experience
  • Effective for beginners

What I didn’t like:

  • Some sentences are unnatural
  • Only useful for beginners
  • Forced to learn vocabulary in order
  • Useless for languages with different writing systems (e.g. Chinese)

TL;DR: Duolingo is by no means a great language learning tool, but it’s completely free, unlike most other language learning software. For that reason, I would say that it’s the best free language learning software for beginners only. If you’re intermediate or above, Duolingo is a waste of time.

The main thing to like about Duolingo is that it feels fun and rewarding. It uses things like achievements, streaks, and skill levels to gamify language learning. This itself isn’t a new concept. But the difference is that Duolingo is one of the few language learning software to do this well in a way that doesn’t complicate the user interface too much.

Like I said, Duolingo has a beautiful user interface, and a very nice user experience. They also use custom illustrations with lessons, and pretty much anywhere. I genuinely enjoyed using Duolingo, even if I didn’t find it that useful.

As I mentioned before, I can only recommend Duolingo for beginners. The exercises are very basic such as fill in the blank and multiple choice, and don’t really teach you much of the language. That being said, each lesson also provides some grammar, culture, or pronunciation material. Once again, this is all at a basic level still.

You’re also forced to learn the content in order (unless you want to test out of it pay to skip it). For example, you could have to learn a bunch of food names before even figuring out how to ask what time it is.

Additionally, some sentences just feel unnatural, and aren’t really useful. A hilarious example I came across is “The elephant drinks milk.”

The thing that bugs me the most about Duolingo though is that it’s pretty much useless for learning words in languages with a different writing system (e.g. Chinese). For instance, they only ask you what sound 啊 makes, not what it means. You’ll spend your time much, much more efficiently just using Anki for this (even if you have to make them yourself).

Overall, if you’re just starting to learn a language, Duolingo is great at keeping you motivated and making sure you enjoy the language learning experience. However, once you learn the basics of a language, your time will be spent better using any other software in this list.

Yabla: Best for Listening Comprehension

Check it out here

My rating:

Price: $12.95/month

Languages supported: Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish

What I liked:

  • Large library of interesting videos
  • Video learning exercises
  • Useful video playback features
  • Videos have transcripts and pre-made vocabulary review

What I didn’t like:

  • Can’t export vocabulary
  • Vocabulary review is basic
  • Only supports 6 languages

TL;DR: Once you’re intermediate or above, watching videos is a great way practice listening comprehension. Because of their large video library and video learning features, I think Yabla is the best language learning software for listening practice.

The thing that makes Yabla really stand out from its competitors like FluentU is its amount of interesting video content. Here are the number of videos for each language on Yabla:

  • Chinese: 1572
  • Spanish: 1849
  • French: 1312
  • German: 1875
  • Italian: 1750
  • English: 1851

While it’s true that FluentU has more videos than Yabla, I didn’t find most of the videos on FluentU very interesting. FluentU has too many commercials, advertisements, and short videos not even a few minutes long.

Although Yabla has tons of interesting videos, the interface to learn from them is outdated. The important thing is that it still has all the functionality it needs. You can move back and forth between dialogues, slow down, and loop the video. Additionally, all of the subtitles are interactive.

In terms of vocabulary review, Yabla does some things well and some things…well, not so well. One thing I think Yabla does well is the review “games” to go along with videos. Although these aren’t really games. For each question, you get the sentence in the video context, and you can either fill in the blank, or select multiple choice.

One thing I think Yabla doesn’t do very well is the vocabulary review. First of all, you can’t even export your vocabulary, which is important for me because I do most, if not all of my review using Anki. Also, the review only has multiple choice and fill in the blank, and doesn’t even have the word used in context like the review “games” do.

All in all, Yabla only supports six languages, but it supports them extremely well. Despite the issues I just mentioned, I still enjoyed using Yabla and think it’s a great way to practice listening comprehension if you have the time. If the language you’re learning isn’t supported by Yabla, then I would suggest finding podcasts or using Speechling for listening comprehension.

Rocket Languages: Best for Casual Learners

Check it out here

My rating:

Pricing:

  • $99.95 for level 1
  • $249.90 for levels 1 + 2
  • $259.90 for all 3 levels (using a coupon they almost always offer since this software seems to be on a perma-sale)

Languages Supported: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Sign Language, Spanish

What I liked:

  • High quality audio content
  • Good review system
  • Can learn all aspects of a language
  • Can download all audio and lessons

What I didn’t like:

  • Writing system could be improved
  • Lots of English used in lessons
  • Can’t export flashcards or vocabulary

TL;DR: If you’re not looking to become fluent in your language, and want an effective all-in-one solution to learn a language, you should use Rocket Languages. I think it’s the best language learning software for casual learners.

The shining star of Rocket Languages is definitely their high quality audio content. I found the audio lessons to be comprehensive with natural spoken dialogue. They cover a lot of different topics, and every lesson has accompanying audio with native speakers of the language.

One downside to the audio though is that there is a lot of English used in the lessons, so you don’t get that high level of immersion. At least the lessons provide thorough explanations of what you’re learning.

Along with audio lessons, Rocket Languages also provides writing, language & culture, and survival kit lessons. You can even download all audio and lessons to use offline. However, like some of the other software on this list, you can’t export your vocabulary and flashcards, which is inconvenient for people like me who use Anki exclusively to study vocabulary and flashcards.

You can also review every audio, language & culture, and survival kit lesson. My favorite review tool is “practice this conversation,” where you interactively play the role of a speaker in the audio lesson conversation. The other ways you can review a lesson are:

  • Speaking practice (record yourself repeating a spoken phrase)
  • Writing practice (type a word after hearing it)
  • Vocabulary (translate a phrase from English)
  • Flashcards (regular and reverse flashcards)
  • Quiz (based on grammar, lesson understanding, and vocabulary)

Compared to many other software that just has basic fill in the blank or multiple choice, the review system Rocket Languages provides is actually useful in my opinion.

However, one thing I don’t really find that useful is the writing lessons (for languages like Chinese). Although they do a good job teaching the basics, the fact is that you don’t really learn to write that many words by the end. After all three levels of writing lessons, you’ll be able to write only a few hundred words, which is pretty much still at the beginner levelmy

All in all, Rocket Languages is pretty solid, comprehensive language learning software. It definitely won’t bring you above an intermediate level alone, but it’s perfect for people who learn a language for business, for travelling, or as a casual hobby. The one-time pricing makes it convenient to study off and on whenever you need to.

Popular Language Learning Software Not Listed

I’m sure you’ve heard of Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur before given they’re so popular. After trying out both of them, I cannot recommend them to language learners. In my opinion, they’re simply overpriced and are better at marketing than actually teaching people to use a language.

I could probably write another two articles reviewing Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, but I’ll hold off on that for now. Benny Lewis’ reviews of Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur reflect how I feel pretty well.

Bonus: Recommended Language Learning Toolkits

So I’ve given you my list of the 8 best language learning software, but how do you use them effectively? Next, I’m going to outline a few scenarios and try to help you build your own personal language learning toolkit.

My Language Learning Toolkit (Intermediate)

First, here’s my toolkit that I use when learning Mandarin (as an intermediate learner). As you can see, a lot of the time there are better resources for your specific language than the software I listed in this article. For example, I prefer using graded readers over LingQ for reading comprehension. I encourage you to do your own research for your specific language.

ResourceHow Often I Use itWhat I Use it for
ItalkiA few times a weekConversation practice
AnkiDailyVocabulary
SpeechlingDailySpeaking practice and
listening comprehension
Graded ReadersDailyReading comprehension

Language Learning Toolkit for Beginners

From my experience, the most important thing for a beginner is to get the basics of a language down and practice actually using the language. This toolkit will help you do exactly that.

ResourceHow Often to Use itWhat to Use it for
ItalkiA few times a weekConversation practice
AnkiDailyVocabulary
DuolingoDailyLearning the basics
SpeechlingA few times a weekSpeaking practice

Language Learning Toolkit for People With No Time

I’m a firm believer that you can always find time to learn a language no matter how busy you are. However, if you aren’t willing to dedicate that much time to it that’s completely okay too. This toolkit focuses on low effort or one-time payment software.

ResourceHow Often to Use itWhat to Use it for
ItalkiWhenever you canConversation practice
AnkiDailyVocabulary
Rocket LanguagesA few times a weekGeneral learning
HelloTalkWhenever you canWriting and reading
practice

Language Learning Toolkit for Dedicated Learners

This toolkit is for learners that are able and willing to dedicate as much time as necessary to learn a language. Although you never need to break the bank to learn a language, spending money for the right tools also isn’t a big issue for this type of learner.

ResourceHow Often to Use itWhat to Use it for
ItalkiA few times a weekConversation practice
AnkiDailyVocabulary
SpeechlingDailySpeaking practice and
listening comprehension
YablaA few times a weekListening comprehension
HelloTalkDailyWriting and reading practice
LingQDailyReading practice

As you can see, there are many different ways to use language learning software to achieve your goals when learning a language. What language(s) are you learning? What do you think is the best language learning software? Let me know in the comments!

About the Author

Tyler Sanderson

I'm a Canadian who is currently working at Google's NYC office as a software developer. I love board games, cooking, and learning about all things tech related.

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this tutorial. Actually, had installed Italki, and facing some issues in beginning what to do. This are really helpful for me and also many people who have no idea about these things. Thank for article.

    1. Author

      Glad you found it useful Nick! Italki is great once you figure out how to use it properly.

  2. An Interesting blog helped to clarify many things, definitely, this will be a useful article. Good work, expecting more software like Anki.

    1. Author

      I hope to see more software like Anki since I think the user experience can be improved in places. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hey Tyler, I personally found Hello Talk to work well for me. It has a very smooth interface and it’s free. Thanks for sharing this list

    1. Author

      Those are the two main reasons I like it myself Jenna. Thanks for the comment!

  4. A really appreciated software for the learners. It seems like a native language teacher. Thanks for the sharing

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