French

Speekoo Mini-Review: Dip Your Toes in a Language and Culture

Speekoo – 2.5 

Learning with Speekoo is more of a cultural journey than an intensive language learning app. With every lesson, you will explore some tourist attractions, unusual aspects, and funny anecdotes about different cities that speak the language you are studying. With each correct answer, you “walk” a kilometre further on your journey and gradually unlock videos and articles. Unfortunately, all of these features are in English (or French if you are learning from French).

Speekoo’s free lessons build on one another, and you can easily apply new words to your everyday life. Unfortunately, although you will effectively learn what the app teaches you, the extent of the material will only give you the absolute basics of each language. You will not be able to have even simple conversations once you have finished all the levels. The app also doesn’t introduce new scripts, so you won’t learn how to read Japanese or Chinese; instead, you will write the sounds using the English alphabet.

Despite its simplicity, Speekoo is a fun, free option for the extremely casual learner who wants to dip their toes in a language. Hopefully, the developers will take the levels further.

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

WordReference Mini-Review: Thorough and Professionally Translated

Wordreference – 4.5 

WordReference is one of the best websites for single-word translations. It uses a combination of its own dictionaries and Collins’, depending on the language, and relies on professional translations rather than machine-translations. With each word you look up, you will receive multiple examples of how to use it, nuances of each meaning, and a list of how to incorporate it into multiple phrases. Whereas sites like Bab.la seem to have machine-translated examples that sound quite random at times, WordReference’s examples can be applied directly to your everyday conversation.

You can also find conjugation tables and the Collins COBUILD English Usage dictionary, which shows you how to use individual English words correctly — through its explanations, English learners will be able to differentiate between words that are easily confused (such as ‘current’ and ‘currant’). If the explanations don’t make sense, you can ask questions in the WordReference Language Forum — there you will find an active community of language learners discussing language learning topics.

Unfortunately, not all words have audio pronunciation, but those that do can be played back at different speeds and with different accents (depending on the language).

Although WordReference is a thorough resource, SpanishDict is probably a better option for Spanish learners, and Pleco is the only dictionary you will ever need for Chinese. Linguee is also similar to WordReference but specializes in formal language, and Forvo has millions of words pronounced by native speakers in hundreds of languages.

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

Bab.la Mini-Review: Use WordReference or Linguee Instead

bab.la – 3 

Bab.la is a bilingual dictionary for 28 different languages. Their site includes quizzes, games, grammar lessons, phrasebooks, and a forum for users to discuss language learning. You can also look up various verbs in the conjugation tables or find synonyms and examples of how to use words in context.

Their quizzes should be taken with a grain of salt — If your purpose is to familiarize yourself with vocabulary and grammar structures, then these are probably a fun way to explore your target language. However, if your purpose is to understand the target language’s culture, beware of any quiz that touches on romance, as the advice is similar to that of the magazines found in grocery store checkout lines.

Bab.la may be okay for general definitions, but other sites will probably help you dive further into different languages. Linguee provides examples of words in context sourced from articles and research papers in the target language, and Forvo has millions of words pronounced by native speakers in hundreds of languages. Also, check out WordReference (for a more relevant database of example sentences), Pleco (for Chinese learners), or SpanishDict (For Spanish learners or Spanish-speaking English learners).

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

FSI Courses Mini-Review: Free, Comprehensive, but Also Outdated

FSI Courses – 4.7 

The Foreign Services Institute developed their language courses to help diplomats quickly reach professional working proficiency in a language. They would attend 5 hours of language instruction per day, plus homework, for 24-88 weeks (depending on the language). The table at the bottom of this page indicates the average time it would take for a student to reach professional working proficiency.

The FSI program places a strong focus on listening comprehension, in addition to extensive exercises for grammar and vocabulary. If you follow along with the audio and respond to the prompts in each drill, you will also develop confidence in speaking the language.

With hundreds of pages of text, dozens of hours of audio, and several levels in many languages, the FSI courses are still probably the most comprehensive, free courses you can follow. Just remember that they are decades old, so the audio is not very clear and the vocabulary often includes both sexist and obsolete language. Also, some of the topics will not be relevant to your everyday life.

Several sites host these free, open-source courses, but the site linked below is organized and easy to navigate. Beware of any site selling courses “originally made for diplomats,” as these are probably free FSI courses with a price tag.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Forvo Mini-Review: Audio Pronunciation of Millions of Words

Forvo – 4.8 

Forvo’s mission is to improve spoken communication across cultures. Anyone can explore pronunciations of millions of words in over 390 languages with maps displaying where each speaker is from. The site also organizes popular categories and essential phrases for when you don’t have a specific word in mind.

As a registered user, you can contribute to the site by pronouncing words or phrases in your native language or by requesting pronunciations in a specific language. You are also encouraged to vote on audio files in your native language to help others identify the best pronunciation. For those of you who enjoy using Anki, Forvo allows you to download mp3 files to use in your learning endeavours.

Forvo also has an e-learning course for French, Spanish, and English; you will find three levels and a group of topics with sets of the most common words in your target language. Using an SRS flashcard system, you will be able to learn the pronunciation of these words and view an example of how to use them in a sentence.

If you are looking for a pronunciation reference guide, look no further than Forvo’s extensive database!

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Optilingo Mini-Review: Use if You Absolutely Love Slideshows

optilingo – 1.5 

Optilingo is essentially a phrase-bank in slideshow form. Each of the 20 languages available includes 100 lessons, none of which contain information about the topic or learning goals during the writing of this review. You can expect to listen to a series of phrases, and then review (what seems like) the last 45 phrases you have learned before moving onto the next lesson.

The phrases are not in flashcard form — instead, they are in a slideshow with both the English and the target language displayed together. Optilingo advertises learning and practicing with over 29 hours worth of phrases, and while you can surely practice with their phrase-bank, actually learning to speak any of the languages offered using their platform is questionable.

If you are keen on language learning, check out our bank of reviews for other resources.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Paul Noble Mini-Review: One of the Best for Beginners

Paul Noble – 4.5 

Paul Noble’s audiobook series is for beginners or upper-beginners who want to gain confidence in their target language. There are also crash courses for those who will soon be heading off on a business trip or holiday. The series focuses on cognates (words that are similar in both English and your target language) in order to build your vocabulary more efficiently. It also seems to have been inspired by Michel Thomas’ courses (with a few improvements).

Paul introduces vocabulary and gets you to make new sentences through problem solving. For example, he may introduce a sentence, then ask you to make a new sentence using your current knowledge and the new words you have just learned. Although the narrators move a bit slowly, the consistent interaction between you and the material ensures that you won’t get bored. Because Paul breaks down the rules of each language in such a simple and concise way, you can feel confident in building new sentences by yourself.

Of the many audio series available to learn languages, Paul Noble seems to be one of the best. Check out the Collins Dictionary website for more info!

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

French Together Mini-Review: Speak With Confidence

French Together – 4.2 

French Together was developed to help people speak French quickly and with confidence. It not only teaches you the basics, but also the nuances that will help you sound like a local.

A unique feature of the course is that it provides two types of dialogues: a dialogue at natural speeds, and the same dialogue at a slower speed so that learners can train their listening comprehension and gradually get accustomed to fast-speaking locals. They use a variety of narrators so that you don’t get stuck only understanding one person’s pronunciation.

The lessons are organized by level and its grammatical progression is inspired by the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). They use only the most common French vocabulary so that you can immediately apply everything you learn. There are accompanying transcripts and translations, including literal translations so that you can decode the structure of French. You will learn how to speak like a local and how to avoid any faux pas.

The course is a one-time purchase, with the option of a solid discount if you buy all the levels at once. If you don’t like it, you have 60 days to get a full refund, no questions asked.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Encore!!! Language Learning Mini-Review: Basically a Phrasebook

Encore!!! Language Learning – 1.5 

Encore!!! Language Learning allows you to listen to playlists of common phrases, vocabulary, conjugations, and dialogues. It varies in terms of whether it uses native speakers or automated text-to-voice.

The app is basically a phrasebook that allows you to practice translating sentences to and from your native language, or simply repeat after an audio in your target language. You can listen to a pre-made playlist, mute or unmute certain phrases within a playlist, adjust the number of repetitions of each phrase, or create your own playlist. You can also test your memory with the Test tool by reading prompts in your native language and translating into your target language.

The app seems to focus more on understanding grammar structures than other phrasebook sites like Optilingo or Lingohut. Technically you could learn something by repeating the phrases aloud, but there are many other free apps that provide a clearer learning path and have a more intuitive interface than Encore!!! Language Learning.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

Caption Pop Mini-Review: Use The Free Version

Caption Pop – 4 

With Caption Pop you can use YouTube videos to pursue your language learning endeavours using subtitles in both your target language and native language. Tap a single key to repeat the last caption, slow down the playback speed, and bookmark subtitles to study with SRS interactive flashcards. The flashcards will not just have you memorize words, but practice dictations with immediate feedback on your accuracy. Unfortunately there are currently some bugs in the programming, and you may only hear part of the caption you are being asked to transcribe.

You can search for Youtube videos in your target language within the Caption Pop platform, but only those videos with subtitles in both your target language and your native language are available. This means that you will rely on captions translated and transcribed by the video’s creators, which improves your language learning experience but restricts the amount of available Youtube content. Nevertheless, there is a good amount of content from popular channels in more common languages.

The free version of the platform combined with self-made Anki cards may be a better option than subscribing to the premium version, as the bugs in Caption Pop’s programming don’t seem worth the monthly payment.

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The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.