Learning a second or third language can help you better navigate the world and thrive personally and professionally. But not everyone has the money for private tutoring or language lessons. Free language learning apps can fill the gap between your budget and your desire to learn teach you the linguistic skills to communicate in as many languages as you’d like.
These apps vary in their focus, technique, strengths, and weaknesses. Some offer comprehensive, easy-to-use lessons, while others provide practical experience conversing with foreign language speakers. We’ve put together a list of the best free language learning apps with options that span different fluency levels, time constraints, and ages.
1. Best Overall: Duolingo
Duolingo, while free, is one of the best language learning programs you can get, thanks to the number of languages you can pick up, and the app’s well-designed, bite-sized lessons. Duolingo aims to entertain while teaching, using challenges and game-like features to motivate learners. For example, you can earn gems by completing lessons—but you lose a heart every time you make a mistake.
The app currently offers almost 40 languages, including a beta version that teaches Klingon—for you Trekkies out there. The short lessons typically last about five minutes and are designed for one lesson per day, though there’s no limit to how many you can do each day. However, the free version only lets you make five mistakes before the lesson pauses, and you’ll have to come back later. You can get around that by upgrading to the Super Duolingo subscription, which costs $7.99 a month (charged yearly).
Duolingo lets you learn as many languages at once as you like, whereas some other apps, like Busuu, limit you to one language at a time. The option to learn two languages at once lets you explore a variety of linguistic possibilities, too. To get started, you’ll need to set up an account with a password, but once you’ve done that, there are few restrictions if you don’t mind a 30-second ad every now and then.
The app’s organization and ease of use stand out among language learning apps. There’s a clear structure and order to the lessons. To keep you on track, you can’t move on to a new module until you’ve completed a certain number of lessons in the previous module. You’ll also have the option to review previous lessons, mistakes, and vocabulary as needed to refresh your memory and practice. Plus, you can listen to podcasts in your language of choice.
If you want more training, the Super subscription lets you use the app without restrictions and offers a few other perks like unlimited mastery quizzes and Test Outs, whereas free members only get so many. (Test Outs let you skip lessons if you’ve already mastered the skills.) You can also access extra speaking and listening practice with the Super membership, though repeating previous lessons can offer extra practice without the extra cost.
2. Best for multiple languages: Memrise
Memrise’s free tier might be all you need if you’re brushing up on your language skills or want to learn the basics of several languages at once. This app is more of a study aid than it is a comprehensive language learning app. But it tops other apps for multiple languages because it customizes suggested lessons based on your past performance and features an AI chatbot that can help you learn.
This app relies on a number of memory techniques, but it heavily uses videos in its courses. For example, when learning vocabulary, you’ll see short videos of native speakers saying a single word. Learners follow a “watch, learn, speak” method to learn vocabulary and pronunciation. Memrise offers 23 languages, and you can work on as many of those at a time as you want. Plus, your account syncs across devices, so you can access lessons from multiple places, including a desktop computer.
Memrise lets you customize your learning settings so you can adjust the number of words you work on in each learning or reviewing session. However, if you make these changes in the app and later use the desktop version, you’ll have to adjust the learning settings again, as that is the only part of the app that doesn’t sync.
Memrise offers a free and paid subscription, with the latter coming in at $14.99 per month, $89.99 a year, or $199.99 for a lifetime membership. The paid tier is ad-free and includes access to all lessons in every language, which you won’t get with the free tier.
3. Best for general vocabulary: Busuu
Busuu may not have the wide language selection of apps like Duolingo and Memrise, but the app makes up for it in the quality of its vocabulary content and course structure. At the start of each lesson, you can clearly see what your goals are and what you’ll do next. They’re also broken down into manageable, logical chunks.
The free version of Busuu only allows you to work on one language at a time, and depending on the language you’re learning, certain features may not be available. If you want more and are serious about learning languages, we recommend the Premium Busuu plan ($6.95 to $13.95 per month). The fact that you can learn vocabulary in multiple languages alone makes the price worth it. However, if you’re looking to brush up or are happy learning a single language, the free version will work well.
A fun and unique feature that Busuu offers is the option to submit audio or written answers to the Busuu community for feedback and/or correction on your language skills. Community members who speak the language you’re learning will be able to offer suggestions or provide cultural context. This app’s instruction is excellent whether you opt for the free or paid version. Just know that if you’re looking to learn one of the less popular languages, Busuu may not have it because it focuses on 14 languages, including Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic.
4. Best for kids: StudyCat
StudyCat offers free language learning for kids ages 3 to 8 years old. While kids won’t learn everything they need to know from this app (like grammar), it’s a fun way to support their language development. Harvard and MIT researchers have found that learning a new language before the age of 10 provides the greatest opportunity for proficiency.
The app uses fun characters and games that appeal to young kids. Many of the games are similar to matching or quest games they may have already played on a phone or tablet. More than games, the app encourages a critical thinking approach to language learning. Each activity builds on the previous one to increase vocabulary while encouraging curiosity. Learning comes through categories, such as numbers, actions, food, and body. Through these categories, kids are exposed to speaking comprehension drills and reading skills. You can jump to different categories, but you have to start at the first lesson before advancing to the next, which allows your child to gradually build upon each lesson.
StudyCat comes in five languages, and each language has its own app. That’s a little limited if you want to expose your kids to languages other than Spanish, French, English, Chinese, and German. However, it also keeps the app simple, which works well for young learners.
On the downside, the free version of the app doesn’t offer full access to all categories, words, and phrases. You’ll get access to two categories, and some won’t have all of the games. For that, you’ll have to pay for a monthly $14.99 subscription. I had to dig past the signup screen to get to the free version, but it’s there. The app is simple and fun for young kids, providing plenty of good practice without feeling like a drill.
5. Best for conversation: HelloTalk
If you’re ready to practice your language skills with a native speaker, HelloTalk is the app for you. It’s a language app with translation tools, so you can learn while you converse. You might think you need to be an intermediate or even an advanced speaker to carry on conversations, but that’s not true with HelloTalk.
To get started, you fill out a survey with the language you’d like to converse in and your fluency level. Then, the app creates a list of fluent speakers with whom you can chat. You can type what you’d like to say in English, and the app will translate it into the language you’re learning. There’s also a quick tap option to translate specific words. Plus, you can hear the answers read aloud or see a transliteration. HelloTalk also offers a grammar correction option to help you communicate more proficiently.
Group chat features let you talk with several people all over the world, and you can save conversations to go back and review words or phrases. You can chat in 18 languages, practicing your conversation and writing skills at the same time. This is a great app if you’re feeling more confident in your vocabulary and sentence structure. Language development increases when you use it in practical ways with native speakers.
The best part is the free version offers access to the same features as the paid version, but it includes ads. You can invest in the ad-free version for $6.99 per month or $45.99 per year. If you really love conversation as a learning tool, you can purchase a lifetime membership for $175.