Tanya

Yes, You Can Study Languages With Comics. Here’s How

Comics, manga, graphic novels: whatever you call them, they’re fun, interesting and can be a great tool for learning a language.

If you raised an eyebrow at that last phrase, I understand why. Comic books might not come with homework or, in most cases, grammar lessons. They don’t feel like serious learning. In fact, you might even consider them a distraction from proper studies.

But don’t write them off too soon. Comics and graphic novels have a surprising number of benefits, and some platforms have even started publishing comics with in-built language-learning tools, from pop-up translations to grammar breakdowns.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of studying a language through comics, as well as the study practices that will help you get the most out of them. We’ll wrap up with a look at the different apps and platforms available to you.

Woman reads a graphic novel; text overlay says learn a language with comics and manga

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The Language Exchange Showdown: Our Top Apps & Websites

Chatting with someone in your non-native language is one of the scariest yet most rewarding parts of learning a language. You’re stepping out of the airplane, solo sky-diving – but fortunately, with less gory results should you mess up.

Talking to people is, for most of us, the reason why we’ve spent hours studying courses, poring over grammar charts and doing pronunciation drills until our throats hurt.

And ironically, when we finally start talking to people, those courses and grammar charts tend to get much easier.

So, although it’s scary, language exchanges are worth doing. Remember, nobody really cares if you make a mistake. We’re all language-learners here. We’ve all muddled our sentence structure and failed to understand questions.

And when an exchange goes well, it is amazing. You’ll share experiences, make friends and feel your confidence in the language grow.

Thanks to the internet, there’s no shortage of places to find a language partner, join in with an existing language group or even get feedback from other language-learners. Let’s look at how to make the most of a language exchange site or app, the options available to you and what sets them apart.

Three women talk at a language exchange; on the left, text says Best Language Exchange Apps and Websites

Quick Tips for Using a Language Exchange Platform

To make sure your language exchange is fun and effective rather than frustrating, follow these tips:

    1. Look for partner(s) who want the same thing as you. Ask yourself: is your idea of an ideal language exchange text-based messaging, a 30-minute call or an in-person meet-up? Do you want lots of corrections or to just focus on communication? Once you know, it’ll be easier to find like-minded partners.
    2. Make sure you speak as much as possible in your target language. Take responsibility for your own language-learning by suggesting a language switch when you feel it’s fair. But also…
    3. Don’t be selfish! Give other people a chance to practise their target languages, and remember to help others out. That’s how the community will keep growing.
    4. Try to adjust your speaking level to your partner. They might have different strengths and weaknesses to you, so adapt as needed.
    5. Don’t worry if you make a mistake or don’t understand everything. This is normal in language exchanges – and in fact, if it goes too smoothly, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough. The important thing is that you manage to communicate, so laugh off your language errors and keep the conversation going.
    6. Don’t be afraid to shut down conversations that make you uncomfortable. Unwanted flirting and sexual harassment are frustratingly common complaints about language exchange sites, so don’t feel like you need to be polite in the face of inappropriate comments. And if someone crosses a line, report them to the platform.
    7. In-person language exchanges can help you improve even quicker, and they sometimes attract more serious learners. But, as always when meeting people from the internet, be sensibly cautious. Meet in a public space, don’t feel like you need to give out your contact details, and if you start to feel like something’s not right, leave.

Best Websites & Apps for Language Partners & Exchanges

There are scores of language exchange apps and websites available, so let’s begin with our top picks. We’ll take a look at the others that didn’t quite make it into this section later.

Tandem

Tandem is one of the most well-known language exchange apps, and in our experience, the community is more interested in practising languages than on some other platforms. It has a slew of additional features to help you get the most out of the app, such as translations and ways to correct people’s messages while you’re chatting to them.

Unlike some platforms on our list, it doesn’t facilitate in-platform calls or public corrections of written texts. Instead, the focus is on private messages.

Read our review or visit Tandem.

Lingbe

Looking to practise speaking and listening? Put off by the process of filling out an interesting profile? Worried about flirtatious messages from people who just don’t get the hint (or don’t want to)? Lingbe might be the app for you.

Lingbe is based on a simple but innovative idea. Learners are randomly connected with native speakers for short phone calls. Once you’ve talked with someone the first time, you can add them as a friend and call them anytime you wish. But until that point, nobody can message or call you specifically. So if you do get unwanted flirtatious comments, you can just hang up.

Since speaking and listening can be harder to work on than reading and writing, Lingbe can be a great way to get your conversational skills up to scratch. There are also group chat rooms for something a little less intimidating – but potentially more challenging.

Read our mini review or visit Lingbe.

Bilingua

Bilingua’s claim to fame is that it matches partners with the same interests and personality traits. It does this by getting you to take two quizzes, à la Match.com. It also gives you significant control over who can contact you and has a variety of search filters.

The only annoying thing about Bilingua? Its slow download and initial opening time. Forget making a cup of tea while you wait; we tested and wrote an entire other entry on this list.

However, when we were finally able to sign up, we found the app worked smoothly and intuitively.

Visit Bilingua.

MeetUp

MeetUp’s one of the best ways to find groups of people for real-life language exchanges. In urban locations, you’ll typically have plenty of events to choose from: standard language exchanges, language-specific exchanges, LGBTQ+ language exchanges, daytime exchanges, walk-and-talk events and more. And then there are the groups dedicated to public speaking practice, writing and other activities that advanced learners might benefit from.

Visit MeetUp.

Friends laugh and smile at an event they found on a language exchange websiteGet to know your city while practising your language skills with in-person language exchange groups.

My Language Exchange

At first glance, freemium web app My Language Exchange might seem a relic from by-gone years – but don’t write it off too soon. Although the homepage takes you back to the early 2010s, the community is large and active. Even for languages that tend to be underrepresented, such as Basque, Maori and Yoruba, there are plenty of native speakers among recent signups and logins.

You can find a penpal, join a group chat or work your way through a lesson plan with a partner. For some languages, you can also do word games and quizzes.

Read our mini review or visit My Language Exchange.

Leeve (Play Store, App Store)

If you’ve ever used Tinder, you’ll find Leeve intuitive. This app’s designed to help you meet local people for language exchanges, although VIP users can also view people in specific locations via the Passport tab – handy if you’re planning a trip and want to organise some meet-ups beforehand.

You can get very specific about the language varieties and dialects you speak on Leeve. You don’t just have to choose English or even between British vs US American English. You can select English from Ireland, Australia, India, South Africa, Cameroon, Trinidad and Tobago and much more. Not only does it feel right that people can choose their correct language variety, but it’s also very helpful if you’re interested in learning a specific dialect.

Users with free accounts can contact up to 10 people a day.

Download Leeve from the Play Store (Android) or the App Store (Apple).

HelloTalk

HelloTalk is part language exchange site, part social media platform. You can post updates about your day, including photos, and follow users. Once you’ve found a language exchange partner, you can either comment on their posts or private message them.

Speech, translation, transliteration and correction tools will help you and your partner have a productive language exchange – but in our experience, not everyone is looking to study. To increase your chances of finding a good partner, we recommend looking for people asking for feedback in the Moments section, which is like a platform-wide news feed.

HelloTalk also has audio lessons for a limited number of languages.

Read our HelloTalk review and our HelloTalk vs Tandem comparison, or visit HelloTalk here.

Idyoma

Idyoma tells you right from the get-go: it wants to create a “safe learning environment” where you won’t get messaged by “creeps”. The company stresses that they don’t just want to protect women and girls but also to make Idyoma a safe space for people “of any nationality, ethnicity, or mother tongue”.

They’ve introduced some policies to help with this, although they’re not ground-breaking: they include one-click blocking, disabled photo messages, paid-for profile verification and only being able to chat to five new people a month. The latter is to cut down on spam and ensure people put effort into each conversation.

When we used it for a week, Idyoma’s claims held true. It was a pleasant surprise to receive messages asking about language differences rather than ones like “Do you find me sexy?”

Bear in mind that Idyoma doesn’t seem as well developed as some other apps. We were shown a lot of profiles that didn’t match with our preferred languages. Getting a photo to upload in the right orientation was also a pain.

Visit Idyoma.

Man smiles while using a language exchange appMessaging a new friend via a language exchange app.

Social Media

Facebook groups, Instagram hashtags, Reddit’s r/language_exchange, Discourse, even Tinder or Bumble – there are plenty of places you can find a language exchange partner without having to create a new profile. From personal experience, you may even find you get fewer inappropriate messages on platforms like Tinder than via some language exchange apps.

However, you should still use these sites with caution, especially if you’re going to meet in person or share personal information.

Other Websites & Apps for Language Partners & Exchanges

These next sites aren’t among our top picks, but they’re still decent options. For some learners, they may be the best choice available.

Amikumu

If you want to study a less well-known language, Amikumu may be worth trying out. It’s extremely popular for Esperanto and lists over 650 languages in total – although some of these are fairly inactive.

In fact, when we tried it for one of the local languages, Basque, there were only three posts visible to us from the last two years. All of them were by the same person.

What’s more, unless you sign up for a premium membership, you can only view posts from people within 100 km of you. If you live somewhere rural, or want to study a language from a different country than the one in which you live, you might struggle to find many partners.

However, learners in urban areas might have better luck. And most users are polyglots, which bodes well for a more serious approach to language learning.

Read our mini review or visit Amikumu.

Conversation Exchange

Conversation Exchange is another platform with a dated website but a significant number of active users, including for typically less catered-for languages. The advanced search settings make it easy to find potential language exchange partners. And although it doesn’t have an app, you can message users via the website.

There are several ways to practise your target language on Conversation Exchange. You can send online messages to a specific user, take part in the chat with online members or search by location for someone who’s looking for a face-to-face exchange.

Visit Conversation Exchange.

Woman waves during a Skype language exchangeVideo calls let you do language exchanges with people all around the world.

Speaky

Speaky is one of the most well-known language-exchange sites around, along with Tandem and HelloTalk. It has some nice touches, such as the ability to search for users by their interests. And this is a rare case of an interests list that isn’t too short – if anything, it’s comically extensive. Want to chat to someone who’s interested in milk? Now you can.

Unfortunately, many of Speaky’s users seem more interested in flirting than in practising a language. While this is a common issue with language exchange sites, we felt that Speaky was worse than some alternatives.

Read our review or visit Speaky.

italki

italki is famous for facilitating online language classes with teachers and tutors, but there’s more to the platform than you might realise. Up until recently, you could find a language exchange partner on italki via the dedicated website section. And although they removed this function in 2020, it’s still pretty easy to find a partner via the Community section.

“Language partner” remains the second most popular search term in the Community section, and we found several posts from people looking to connect for an exchange. You can also head to the exercise and question sections to find someone to practise with. italki has an in-app messaging system, or you can exchange contact details if you’re comfortable doing so.

Plus, you can post your writing and audio files for community feedback.

Read our review or visit italki.

Mixxer

Mixxer is designed to help you find a Skype language exchange partner, and if you ask us, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it app.

The overall tone is serious; in fact, it asks you to state which mornings and afternoons you’re available for calls in your profile. This could be a plus for serious learners who don’t want to waste time on chats that quickly fizzle out. However, it could also intimidate learners who prefer to get to know someone before sharing contact details – even if it’s just a Skype handle.

The app is also clunky, although fairly simple to use. Then again, what can you expect from a platform that promotes Skype rather than Zoom?

Visit Mixxer.

LingoGlobe

This online language-exchange website may have fewer users than sites like My Language Exchange, but it’s great for privacy. You can’t see any other users until you’ve signed up, you can only view users for the languages you speak or study and people can’t contact you until you’ve agreed to their request.

We found sufficient numbers of potential language exchange partners for widely studied languages, like Spanish, and underrepresented languages, like Basque, alike. However, the website doesn’t indicate whether users are currently active.

There is also a fairly active forum, although most posts are a variation on “Let’s Practise English”.

Visit LingoGlobe.

Women smiles while using a language exchange app at homeDoing a language exchange from home – or at work, or on the bus, or anywhere.

Bonus Section: Community Answers and Corrections

Getting community feedback isn’t the same thing as a language exchange, but it’s still a way to learn with the help of native speakers and other students. Here are some of our top picks:

HiNative

If you’ve ever Googled a question about the language you’re learning, you’ve probably come across a HiNative page. This app (mobile and web) allows you to ask native speakers and other learners questions. Whether you don’t understand a Japanese idiom or want to check you’ve declined your German cases correctly, you’ll likely find an answer here.

Read our review or visit HiNative.

Journaly

Want feedback on your writing? There are several sites and apps for this, but Journaly’s one of our favourites because reviewers can add comments to specific words and phrases. This makes giving feedback intuitive, and when you check the comments on your writing, you can read them all together.

Visit Journaly.

LingoHackers

Do you find yourself thinking that you should join a community feedback platform, if you could only think of something to write? LingoHackers gives you daily prompts in the forms of photos, word lists and a question. The community is fairly active at giving feedback, too.

Visit LingoHackers.

LangCorrect

LangCorrect is another option for getting feedback on your writing. It has an impressive range of languages – although some are more active than others – so depending on what you’re learning, you might find it’s a good alternative to the above platforms.

Read our review or visit LangCorrect.

Man uses laptop to read community feedback on his writing via an online language app.Learn from community feedback on your writing.

Language Exchange Apps & Websites That Probably Aren’t Worth Your Time

Easy Language Exchange

Easy Language Exchange is another website with an online database of people looking for language exchanges. Unlike My Language Exchange, Conversation Exchange and some of the others on this list, the setup is relatively modern. It seems to be modelled on pre-2011 Facebook profiles (hey, we did say “relatively modern”). You have public friends, and your Wall shows when you last changed your profile picture.

For many languages, you’ll have plenty of options for finding a language partner here – although, frustratingly, inactive users aren’t removed from the search results list. However, while Easy Language Exchange seems to be better than most apps for less catered-for languages, it doesn’t seem as good as other online databases.

There are also some not-very-active forums, although unfortunately you’ll have to sift through the spam links to porn sites to find the useful threads. We would be tempted to skip this website section and head straight to WordReference Forums or even Reddit. It also raises doubts about how active the moderators are.

All that said, we haven’t found anything terrible about Easy Language Exchange – there are just far better options out there, no matter what you’re looking for.

Visit Easy Language Exchange.

Barden

Barden used to be a language-exchange behemoth. The key phrase in that sentence was “used to be”. It started life in 2014 as a website for finding local language exchanges, before growing to include Facebook groups and mobile apps. However, sometime in 2019 or 2020, the platform died. At the time of this article’s publication, they are planning a 2021 relaunch – so who knows, maybe Barden will regain its former popularity?

We regularly update our articles, but we can’t keep track of everything. So if you’re looking for a place to find local, one-to-one language exchanges, it may be worth checking Barden out to see if they’re up and running again. But until they are, take another look at Leeve and MeetUp.

Visit Barden.

Modole.io

Modole.io is a community-feedback site that has potential but is practically inactive. When we signed up, the last French post was four months old, the last Spanish one was three months old, and although English ones were posted every few days, none of them received any feedback.

Visit Modole.io.

InterPals

In internet terms, InterPals is ancient – it started in 1998, just a few years after people started using the internet at home. And even today, the site has a huge number of active users. When we clicked to see who was online, there were over 7,000 people.

And yet, InterPals sadly isn’t something we can recommend. There are online complaints spanning recent years about the frequency of unsolicited explicit photos, with one person stating that they get requests for them more often than pen pal requests. There are also online complaints and news stories about child pornography on the site.

The internet has changed a lot since the late ‘90s. Fortunately, there are now plenty of other options out there.

And there you have it: heaps of language exchange apps and websites worth trying, and some that aren’t.

We don’t all learn in the same way, so it’s no surprise that there’s such a variety in language exchange platforms. But no matter what you’re looking for, we’re sure you’ll find it on this list. Whether it’s Azerbaijani or Zulu, phone calls or text messages, there’s a suitable platform (or several) out there.

So, what are you waiting for? Pick a platform, download or sign up to it and get ready to practise speaking and writing in your target language. It won’t be long until you notice your fluency and vocabulary have improved – and your confidence, too.

Related Posts

Irakaslea

3.4 
Price: Free

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Looking for listening comprehension activities in Spanish and Basque? Irakaslea, which means teacher in Basque, has two podcasts dedicated to this: Comprensión oral – Castellano and Ahozko ulermena – Euskera.

Each channel features short, slowly spoken narratives in the target language: stories, mock news broadcasts, and more. The tone is humorous but at times cynical. Unfortunately, there aren’t any transcripts, but the text is slow enough that it’s fairly easy to identify what is being said and look it up in a dictionary.

Many of the episodes are targeted at children in primary school aged roughly 5–11, and the audio quality can vary, so Spanish learners might find that they prefer other channels. For Basque learners, however, this podcast could be a useful addition to their study routine.

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Learn Greek Vocabulary/Tobo Greek

Price: Free

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This flashcard-based app is designed to teach you thousands of Greek words. It’s got some interesting features, such as a game to help you learn Greek articles, but overall, we weren’t impressed.

The main feature of the app is a set of flashcards. There’s nothing particularly innovative here: you view the flashcard, tap to see the definition, and then decide whether to mark them as remembered or needing further review.

The games are more interesting – and fun! – but let down by the amount of ads. Every time you get an answer wrong, you have to watch at least one video ad. Want to continue the game? Either start from the beginning or watch another ad to keep your progress. While it incentivises getting the answers right, in the style of Pavlov and his dogs, it also seriously slows down your use of the game and can be dispiriting.

This isn’t a bad app, but for flashcard-based Greek learning, we would use Learn Greek Vocabulary Free or Drops instead. They’re both more customisable and more engaging.

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Learn Greek Vocabulary Free

3.8 
Price: Free

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This Greek vocabulary app caters for beginners through to advanced learners, but what impressed us the most was the customizability.

You can study 5,000+ pieces of vocabulary organised by level (A1–C1) or theme, plus there’s the option to add your own vocabulary. First, you’ll be introduced to a series of words and phrases. As well as the text and translation, there’s a picture and an audio file. Spaced-repetition reviews will also help you remember vocabulary, and you can adjust how big the gap between reviews is, too.

Next stop: games. You’ll practise translating audio recordings, spelling the words, answering multiple choice quizzes, unravelling anagrams and more. These should better help you remember the vocabulary, compared to just doing flashcard-style tasks.

Something not to your liking? Go to the settings. The types of games, the frequency of reviews, the amount of vocabulary you learn, the difficulty: it’s all customisable.

That said, you’ll only ever learn vocabulary out of context, which means you’ll want to use the app alongside a course, textbook or lessons.

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Learn Dutch Vocabulary Free

3.8 
Price: Free

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This Dutch vocabulary app has a wide range of words and phrases for all levels, and pairs a fairly extensive range of teaching methods with impressive customizability.

The vocabulary is organised by level (A1–C1) or by theme (dating, slang, restaurants, opinions and feelings…). In total, there are 5,000+ words and phrases for you to learn. You can also add your own vocabulary to create personalised or specialised courses.

Once you’ve selected your course or topic, it’s time to start learning. The app will introduce you to 14 pieces of vocabulary, with nouns accompanied by the definite article (de/het). You’ll see a picture, the text and the translation, while audio recordings from different speakers will help you familiarise yourself with the pronunciation.

Then, you’ll do a series of games to reinforce your memory. These include matching the translation to the audio recording, spelling the word(s), multiple choice quizzes, anagrams and more. If you get a question wrong, you get extra attempts.

Spaced-repetition reviews will help you remember words over the long term, and you can adjust how big the gap between reviews is, too.

The most impressive thing about this app is the customisability. Want to work on your spelling? Go to the settings, and change it so that the only game is a spelling one. Want something a little easier? Switch it to only give you multiple choice questions, and reduce the amount of vocabulary you learn prior to doing reviews.

Since this app only teaches you vocabulary out of context, it’s best to use it as a supplementary resource. However, it can be a decent, if dry, addition to your language-learning arsenal.

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Dutch Listening & Speaking

2.3 
Price: Free, or £1.09/month ad-free

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Dutch Listening & Speaking/Learn Dutch is an app-based course with tons of lessons for you to work through. Unfortunately, it left us disappointed. It’s focused on memorising specific phrases and dialogues instead of building your own sentences.

Each lesson begins with a dialogue. Next, you’ll listen to the phrases individually and get a chance to record yourself saying them. Now it’s time for the exercises. You’ll match the writing to the audio, put words in the right order, fill in the gaps and pick the right translations for audio clips. In most of these exercises, you’ll hear an audio recording with the answer before you do them.

Finally, it’s time to recreate the dialogue – but don’t get too excited. Either you’ll listen to the correct phrase before selecting it from a choice of three, or you’ll see the correct phrase and then practise speaking it. With the latter, speech-recognition software means you’ll get some feedback on how good your pronunciation is.

The most frustrating think about this course is the fact that you’re only taught set phrases from one specific dialogue, with no opportunity to customise them. For example, in the lesson “Where are you from?”, the only answer you learn is “I am from California.” You’re also unlikely to pick up a good understanding of Dutch grammar from these exercises.

This app has an immense amount of content, with over 200 lessons at the elementary level alone, as well as listening tasks with short stories and news stories. But it comes across as quantity over quality. We would opt for Babbel (review) or DutchPod101 (review) over this course.

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Learn Dutch Vocabulary/Tobo Dutch

Price: Freemium; £3.29/month or £19.49/year

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This flashcard-based app will in theory teach you 3,500 Dutch nouns, adjectives and verbs. It’s slickly designed, but we found it slightly dull and demotivating.

The vocabulary is broken into 50-word sections, some of which are only available via collecting points or paying for premium access. In each 50-word section, you’ll see a series of flashcards and choose whether to mark them as remembered/learned or needing further review.

There are also a small number of games to support your learning: Hive, De Het, and Fallee. These are a fun addition and, if you ask us, the best part of the app. Frustratingly, though, you have to watch two video ads every time you get an answer wrong – or you can give up and start over again, in which case you just have to watch one video.

This isn’t a badly designed app, but we would be inclined to just use it for the games. For flashcard-based learning, we would opt for Learn Dutch Vocabulary Free or Drops instead. The first is more customisable; the second is more engaging.

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Oxford Dictionaries

4.2 
Price: From free to €16.99, depending on the language

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Oxford Dictionary has published numerous bilingual dictionaries over the years, many of which are not designed to be comprehensive. While some are “complete” dictionaries, others are called “mini”, “concise”, “essential” or even “shorter”.

Even the smaller ones are pretty thorough, however. The Oxford Mini Greek dictionary contains 40,000 words and phrases, many of which also contain multiple translations. It’s a lot shorter than the Oxford Hindi dictionary, at 100,000 entries, or the New Oxford American English Dictionary at 350,000 – but it’s still got a wider vocabulary than the average English speaker.

You can purchase the books themselves, but most learners will prefer the convenience of the apps with their regular updates and learner-friendly features. Search Autocomplete, Fuzzy Filter, Wild Card and Voice Search help you find words you don’t know how to spell. Favourites help you save useful words and phrases, while Word of the Day will introduce you to new words. Some dictionaries also contain audio recordings and thesauruses. And the freemium Oxford Dictionary with Translator will translate words and paragraphs to and from 14 languages.

For some languages, learners already have plenty of free, thorough dictionaries available to them. Spanish learners, for example, will probably prefer to combine the free apps SpanishDict and Diccionario RAE (Google Play, App Store). Mandarin Chinese learners will likely find Pleco more useful. But for some languages, these dictionaries may well be the most thorough and reliable ones available.

The rating is our best guess, but we haven’t yet had the opportunity to fully test and review this resource.

 

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Bagoaz

2.4 
Price: Free

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Bagoaz’s Basque course makes a great first impression. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t live up to expectations.

It contains lessons, exercises and a Spanish–Basque dictionary. The lessons are the most useful part: they contain a Spanish-language explanation of key Basque grammar and vocabulary with some example sentences. Some lessons introduce a lot of material at once, and the presentation isn’t ideal, either: it’s dense and the text is very small on mobile. However, the information is clearly explained.

The exercises make up the bulk of the app, but they’re the most disappointing part. They’re entirely based on translating Basque sentences to and from Spanish, and the questions often include vocabulary that wasn’t in the lesson.

The dictionary features snippets from the free dictionary Elhuyar, but you would be better off going directly there: Bagoaz often only includes the first definition listed in Elhuyar. Words like rico only translate to the Basque word for wealthy, not delicious.

Bagoaz isn’t without value, but it works better as a reference guide to beginner-level Basque than as a course.

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