AAA Magazines

Apps and other tools that make studying a new language easy and fun

translation, business, and technology concept - male translator or businessman with laptop computer thinking at office over greeting words in different foreign languages Photo illustration by lev dolgachov/

More than a decade ago, I got hooked on the movies of South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo—so much so that, after a few months of scanning subtitles, I decided to learn Korean.

But when I first looked for a class to take, I couldn’t find one. Not long after I began studying the language using any dated textbook or patchy website I could find, I discovered a podcast called Talk to Me in Korean, which provided just the lessons and encouragement I needed. Since then, all kinds of digital media, including smartphone and desktop apps, have made it downright easy to study even obscure languages anytime, anywhere.

While the pandemic has affected our ability to travel to countless countries, there’s never been a better time to learn a language so that when you can travel, you can hit the ground … chatting. Check out these apps and other tools that make studying a new language easy and fun.

Face-time conversation

There’s no substitute for learning to speak with a native speaker, and it’s easy to do online.

Italki connects learners with online native-speaking conversation partners or professional teachers in more than 130 languages. Teachers set their own schedules and rates, generally charging about $20 or less per hour, and instruction is mostly conducted over video chat.

Livelingua makes arranging tutoring over online video effortless: Simply provide information about your experience with the language you want to learn (of the 11 mostly European and Asian ones currently supported), and you’ll be matched with a teacher. After the first free lesson, hourly prices vary from $16 to $29, depending on the language.

You may also like: My SoCal Life: 11 words that changed a life

YouTube and podcasts

Many language instructors have created lessons—indeed, entire courses—that are available for free as videos and podcasts. To find them, search for the name of the language you want to learn with terms such as “lessons” or “course” on streaming-video sites such as YouTube or podcast apps like Stitcher or Apple Podcasts. Duolingo, for one, produces podcasts in French and Spanish that mix a variety of stories with context provided in English to aid your comprehension.

You may also like: To get the most out of your travels, embrace your vulnerability

Smartphone apps

Duolingo offers courses in 36 languages, as of this writing, from Spanish and French to Indonesian and Swahili, with addictive challenges that improve your skills through a range of questions. Free with ads, or $12.99 per month for a fuller-featured, ad-free service.

The app from venerable language-course publisher Pimsleur has interactive lessons based on practical phrases, vocabulary, and grammar used in everyday conversations in 51 languages. Subscriptions are $19.95 per month, though sample lessons are free to try.

Babbel offers free introductory lessons, with advanced lessons available with a subscription ($13.95/month). Though it does incorporate speech-recognition features to test your pronunciation, Babbel leans heavily on grammar and writing exercises that feel less game-like than those on Duolingo.

Memrise, which uses flash card–based learning to help build vocabulary, comes in a free version as well as a paid one ($9/month) that incorporates pronunciation tests and video of native speakers.

You may also like: Ask the Traveler: How can I ease anxiety when I travel?

From streaming to speaking

Countless people around the world have learned English by watching American TV shows. Try the same in reverse. Language Learning With Netflix, a free plug-in for Google’s Chrome web browser, augments Netflix’s increasingly international selection of movies and TV shows with features like simultaneous subtitles in multiple languages and a pop-up dictionary.

Based in Seoul, South Korea, Colin Marshall writes about cities and culture while continuing to improve his Korean by watching Hong Sang-soo films—and movies from other Korean auteurs—sans subtitles.

Follow us on Instagram

Follow @AAAAutoClubEnterprises for the latest on what to see and do.

Read more articles

You'll find more of the articles you love to read at AAA Insider.

Travel offers and deals

" "

Hot travel deals

Get the latest offers from AAA Travel’s preferred partners.

" "

Travel with AAA

See how we can help you plan, book, and save on your next vacation.

" "

Entertainment savings

Save big with AAA discounts on tickets to your next adventure.

" "

Travel with confidence

Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.

back to top icon