Japanese

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.

Linguee Mini-Review: Best Dictionary for Formal Language

Linguee – 4.5 

Linguee was developed by over 400 lexicographers. It is unique in that it does not use machine-translation to provide examples of words in context — instead, it sources words from articles and research papers in the original language. As a result, it is an excellent dictionary app to find translations for specialized terminology.

You will learn the subtleties of various translations by reading paired paragraphs of text that have each been professionally translated, not translated by a machine. In some languages, you can listen to pronunciations by native speakers and read multiple translations of your chosen word or phrase.

Although translations are highlighted in each paragraph so you can compare how to use them in each language, they can be difficult to navigate quickly. If you are looking for a website with simple and professional translations, you can check out WordReference for several different languages. SpanishDict is also an excellent option for Spanish, and Pleco is the only dictionary you will ever need for Chinese.

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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.

Write It! Mini-Review: Simple and Straight-Forward

Write it – 3.5 

Write it! will teach you the basic scripts of several different languages, using audio by native speakers to familiarize you with proper pronunciation. You can first practice learning to write a small set of characters, then you can test yourself through answering multiple-choice questions and more writing exercises.

Although the interface is less flashy than Write Me, Write It! may be a better option for Korean learners because you will learn how to write Hangul from the start. Similar to Write Me and Scripts by Drops, Write It! doesn’t seem to give much background about each script. However, the creators of Write It! also developed Infinite, which you can use for free to learn and practice beginner words that use your chosen alphabet.

You can test out Write it! (free), Write Me (paid lifetime access), and Scripts by Drops (monthly or lifetime access) to see which app best suits the language you are learning. For more comprehensive apps, check out Eggbun for Korean or Skritter for Chinese and Japanese.

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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.

Scripts Mini-Review: Flashy and Fast-Paced

Scripts by Drops – 3 

Although it has a flashier interface, Scripts by Drops offers similar content to Write it! and Write Me. However, unlike these other apps, which sound out the name of each character, Scripts by Drops seems to focus on how the letter would sound if it were in a sentence. For example, instead of pronouncing the Hebrew character ב (vet or bet) you will hear /v/ or /b/.

You can practice writing different characters with your fingers, and there are a variety of fast-paced activities to help you remember the different alphabets. Under the same membership as Scripts by Drops, you can also use the Drops app to learn and practice words that use your chosen alphabet.

Similar to Write Me and Write It!, Scripts by Drops doesn’t seem to give much background about script. Also, some people may find the animation is too flashy and time-consuming; you can test Write it! (free), Write Me (paid lifetime access), and Scripts by Drops (monthly or lifetime access) to see which app best suits the language you are learning. For more comprehensive apps, check out Eggbun for Korean or Skritter for Chinese and Japanese.

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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.

Write Me Mini-Review: Learn Basic Scripts

Write Me – 3.2 

Write Me seems to be a decent app to learn different scripts, especially for lesser studied languages like Bulgarian and Khmer. Each character in a given script is accompanied by a sample word that contains those characters. You will watch an animation of the proper stroke order before having the opportunity to write by yourself. Later you will be quizzed in various formats to help you retain what you have learned.

Write Me seems to support the act of writing and recognizing individual characters — however, similar to Write It! and Scripts by Drops, it doesn’t seem to give much background about each script. You won’t learn that Korean Hangul consists of morphosyllabic blocks, or that its consonants are pronounced differently at the beginning of a word than in the middle. You also won’t learn that Khmer stacks consonant clusters, or that you are writing Hebrew cursive script but receiving a print script prompt (which gets confusing without a little research).

You can test out Write it! (free), Write Me (paid lifetime access), and Scripts by Drops (monthly or lifetime access) to see which app best suits the language you are learning. For more comprehensive apps, check out Eggbun for Korean or Skritter for Chinese and Japanese.

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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.

Write Alphabet Mini-Review: Try Our Other Recommendations Instead

Write Alphabet – 1.5 

Write Alphabet seems to be a less developed version of Write It! Its purpose is to help users learn to write in different languages, guiding you through the alphabet of several scripts and allowing you to practice by drawing the characters with your finger.

Like Write It!, Write Alphabet is free, but it has a lot of advertisements without an option to buy them off. Additionally, the app does not recognize your attempt to replicate each language’s script unless you start and finish within the lines of the template.

Instead of this app, you can test Write it! (free), Write Me (paid lifetime access), and Scripts by Drops (monthly or lifetime access) to see which one best suits the language you are learning. For more comprehensive apps, check out Eggbun for Korean or Skritter for Chinese and Japanese.

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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.