New York Times
If you’re looking to learn a second language like Spanish, forget the old-fashioned repetitious lessons you remember from school. There are plenty of smartphone apps that offer worthwhile language lessons in entertaining, bite-size chunks.
Learn Spanish by MindSnacks, a free app for iPhones and iPads, makes lessons fun. The app teaches you words, phrases and grammar by actually making you giggle.
MindSnacks’ app has different games meant to help you learn the language. In one game, for example, you click the word on the screen to match the Spanish word you’ve just heard. You play against the clock while water is draining out of an on-screen fish tank.
Think quickly: Is “ocho” eight or 18? That fish is going to die if you get it wrong! Badges and scores add to the experience, and the app changes the formula enough to keep your interest.
The app’s cartoonlike images may seem more appropriate for children than adults, but don’t let this put you off. I’ve found the app helps me learn new words better than other language programs. Learn Spanish is free for a handful of lessons, but full access to 50 lessons is $5. For $20, you get an all-language pass and can learn French or Portuguese, too.
If you prefer a more serious and immersive approach to learning languages, Duolingo, which is free on iOS and Android, is probably for you. Like MindSnacks’ app, Duolingo shuns the usual recitation of verbs and so on and instead uses a gamelike mechanism in which you learn by tapping the right words in the app’s bright, clear interface to earn points and other rewards.
Duolingo’s lessons throw seemingly complex words and phrases at you from the start, with the goal of getting specific parts of the lesson to stick in your mind. For example, you may be faced with sentences that contain some really tricky Spanish words while you’re learning basics like “he,” “she” and so on. Though it’s a little daunting at first, the upshot of this technique is that you quickly get familiar with much more than the basic language.
I’m fond of Duolingo’s style, and it’s definitely unusual, but it is a bit of an acquired taste. In addition, the spoken voice the app uses for teaching pronunciation is sometimes a little difficult to hear. But you’ll probably remember things well because the app forces you to consider phrases in different ways – like translating from Spanish to English, then English to Spanish, then clicking on a photo. My favorite part of this app is that it tests you by listening to you say Spanish words and then tells you how well you’re speaking.
There are also good apps that use more traditional methods for teaching languages. Learn Spanish With Busuu, for example, is free on iOS and Android. (On Android, Spanish is an option in the main Busuu app.) Busuu uses flashcards, listening and interpreting sessions and quizzes similar to those you might find in a real classroom.
There’s a social aspect to the app, too. For example, when you write Spanish phrases, they are sent to native speakers for feedback. The lessons are broken into themes like “what’s for dinner?” and “surfing the Web,” and the app takes you from beginner through elementary to intermediate skill levels in reading, listening, writing and speaking. Busuu uses clear graphics, and its interface is easy to use. The app also feels cheerful when you’re using it. While the core app is free, it costs $17 to unlock the full range of features.
A different traditional-style app for Android is Learn Spanish by Speaktribe. This is a free app with an emphasis on speaking and listening. It will listen to your speech and evaluate your progress. While highly structured and much less visually appealing and entertaining than some of its rivals, it promises swift results.