Duolingo is one of the most popular and well-known language apps around, and it’s not hard to understand why: it’s free, easy to use, and will teach you over 30 languages.
Yet Duolingo isn’t everyone’s ideal app. Perhaps you’re looking for something that will teach you traveling phrases right off the bat, instead of Duolingo classics such as “the duck is swimming in money” and “the groom is a hedgehog.” Maybe you’re looking for more grammatical information or better audio. Or it could be that Duolingo doesn’t teach your language (or is pretty bad at it).
In fact, even if you like Duolingo, you might find your language studies will benefit from using it alongside another app. Let’s take a look at some of the other gamified phone apps that will help you learn a language in just five minutes a day.
Table of Contents
Each of these apps is fairly similar to Duolingo in terms of the format: you will learn the language through short, gamified, daily practice. However, they have their own strengths (and weaknesses!).
Best for grammar: LingoDeer
Best for vocabulary: Drops
Best for languages with few resources: Ling
Best for community feedback: Busuu
Best for preparing for a trip: uTalk
Best for advanced learners: Babbel
Best for community-made courses: Memrise
Best for scripts: Write It!
If we’re honest, we think LingoDeer is better than Duolingo. This cute, gamified app started off catering for East Asian languages before expanding to European ones and Arabic. Each unit begins with a clear grammar breakdown. Reading it is optional, and the games do a pretty effective job of demonstrating how the grammar works anyway, but it’s nice to be able to review these when needed.
Speaking of the games, we were impressed by the variety of activities. They’re particularly good for drilling sentence structure, yet there are also entertaining tasks for vocabulary and writing. The units end with speaking and native-audio listening activities, as well as comprehension quizzes.
LingoDeer also teaches different scripts fairly well, but we’re happy to report that you can skip these sections if you already know them.
Learn basic Korean phrases with LingoDeer.
Freemium app Drops won’t show you how to make sentences, choose the right noun class, or pretty much anything grammatical. What it will do, however, is teach you over 2,400 pieces of vocabulary.
The topics go from essentials and travel talk through to sea life, tools, makeup, politics, and the gym. If you’re fed up with confusing almonds and walnuts, or wish you knew how to talk about your bike gears and chain, this app will help you out. It also has some culturally specific topics. For example, the Japanese course has a section on Japanese etiquette, traditional culture and cooking, and popular culture.
Be warned that Drops isn’t ideal for Icelandic and other languages where you can’t tell the noun’s grammatical gender by looking at the article (the/a/an) or the word’s ending. Use it with caution for languages with logographic scripts, too: the “spell by syllables” game sometimes splits the syllables wrong, effectively cutting kanji in half.
Overall, we think Drops is a fun way to expand your vocabulary for the majority of the over 30 languages it teaches. However, since it won’t teach you grammar, it can only function as a supplementary resource.
Learn culturally specific language like manga and aikido when studying Japanese with Drops.
The pay-to-use app Ling is one of our favorite options for underserved languages. Although it isn’t the app on our list offering the most languages, we think it’s one of the more well-rounded ones with an above-average number of languages. It has courses for over 60 different languages (and is one of the few phone apps to teach you European rather than Brazilian Portuguese).
As well as vocabulary and sentence structure, Ling will explain grammar, give you listening and reading comprehension exercises, and grade you on your pronunciation. When you do the speaking tasks, you’ll get a percentage score and be told which phonemes let you down. Plus, there’s native-speaker audio.
Overall, Ling might not be the best choice for languages with plenty of resources. However, if you’re studying a less catered-for language, we think it’s a great option.
Get feedback on Portuguese pronunciation with Ling.
Wondering if you’re really saying that word right? Wishing someone would tell you if the sentences you’ve made with the new vocabulary are grammatically correct? That’s where Busuu’s Conversation feature comes in handy.
Busuu will teach you European and some Asian languages, as well as Arabic. It has a little less gamification than most apps on this list, but it’s still an engaging phone app that will help you learn a language. What’s more, we like how it helps you track your progress.
However, we think that what really makes this app stand out is the community feedback. You can upload recordings and written answers to prompts, and other learners will give you tips and corrections. We think it’s particularly helpful for pronunciation feedback.
That said, we can’t recommend Busuu for East Asian languages. Both the Chinese and Japanese courses left us frustrated and unimpressed. We haven’t yet been able to try it for Arabic, either.
Memrise is probably the most well-known Duolingo competitor, and in our opinion, it’s slightly better than its green-owl competitor for more serious learners. It uses an SRS flashcard system, which means the words and phrases you find more difficult will show up more frequently. There are also points, levels, and an entertaining design.
In addition to the 22 official courses, you can also study a range of community-made ones. Their quality can vary, but they are one of the best things about Memrise: where else would you find courses on birds in Hindi and “beautiful French words?” Companion courses for the most well-known Japanese textbooks? And over 50 different Cornish courses?
That said, we wouldn’t use Memrise on its own. It’s great for helping you memorize phrases, but it’s not as focused on building whole sentences. Either LingoDeer or Duolingo would help add some balance to your studies.
Choose from 34 different community-created Basque courses on Memrise.
Going on vacation in Mozambique? Got an overnight layover in Paris? Visiting Seoul for business? You might find uTalk a better option than Duolingo, LingoDeer, or most of the other apps in this article.
This pay-to-use app will teach you survival phrases and words specific to 69 different themes. You’ll learn about asking for directions, going to the doctor, watching the Olympics live, and staying safe in a war zone. In our experience, the phrases aren’t always perfectly natural or even grammatically correct, but they will be understood by native speakers.
uTalk isn’t the most engaging app on our list, and some phrases can be frustratingly difficult to learn. However, if you’re not interested in learning about farmyard animals, how to talk about schools and family members, or other non-essential phrases, this is one of the most extensive phrasebook apps we’ve tried. Plus, it has an astonishing range of languages, including Basque, Xhosa, and South Sámi.
Learning survival Swahili through Spanish with uTalk.
This pay-to-use app stands out from a lot of the other options on our list because of its advanced-level courses. Most gamified apps are only useful for beginners and lower-intermediates, but in some languages, Babbel goes up to B2/C1.
It isn’t quite as entertaining as some of the other apps, and we think it focuses a bit too heavily on speech recognition rather than word and phrase recall. However, it has a range of exercises, including writing, speaking, and fill-in-the-gap grammar drills. At higher levels, it uses stories to help you remember the words in context.
Unfortunately, Babbel teaches a limited range of mostly European languages. The only Asian languages are Indonesian and Turkish, and there are no Arabic or African options.
Learn Spanish slang with Babbel.
Studying Korean, Arabic, Russian, or even Klingon? Write It! will teach you the basics of the scripts for nine different languages.
You’ll first practice drawing the characters, and then you can test your memory through multiple-choice questions and writing exercises. Native-speaker audio will help you learn the correct pronunciation.
Write It! won’t explain how to join up the symbols, nor will it teach you vocabulary or grammar. However, it can be a good starting point if you’re studying a language with a non-Latin script.
While these apps aren’t our top picks, we still think they are decent language-learning apps that could be the right choice for some learners. And for certain languages, they may be the best option available.
DeerPlus is a companion app to LingoDeer, one of our top picks. Unlike LingoDeer, however, we think DeerPlus is best used as a supplementary app to help you review grammar, vocabulary, and phrases. It’s fun and entertaining, with lots of useful grammar-based games, but light on explanations.
Brush up on Japanese grammar with DeerPlus.
Vocly will teach you over 1,600 words through varied flashcard activities. It uses native-speaker audio, and for languages with non-Latin characters, you can toggle the romanization on and off. Although it has courses for over 50 languages, we think it’s best for ones with a shortage of resources.
Simply Learn is fairly similar to uTalk, but it will teach fewer phrases across fewer categories and in fewer languages. On the other hand, it uses an SRS system to show you the words you find difficult more often, so it could be more effective.
Review essential French sightseeing phrases with Simply Learn French.
There’s nothing bad about Mondly, but there’s nothing that really stands out about it either. It’s fairly inexpensive, you’ll be encouraged to practice every day, and it teaches useful words and phrases. However, we find it dull compared to apps like LingoDeer, Babbel, and Duolingo.
As you might guess from the name, this is another app for learning non-Latin scripts. It also also has a course for American Sign Language. But unlike most apps, it teaches you how each character sounds when used in a word as opposed to how it’s said alone – think “zz” instead of “zee” or “zed.” This sounds useful, but could trip you up if you ever need to spell something, such as your surname or zip code.
Write Me is another script-teaching app that is fairly similar to Scripts by Drop and Write It!. What sets this one apart is the higher number of scripts it teaches: 20.
The right app makes learning a language exciting.
If you’re frustrated by Duolingo, you might find you need to look for something further afield. Gamified apps aren’t the only way to learn a language, and in fact, they’re often best suited to being a supplementary tool rather than your main resource. While they’re fun and motivating, it’s hard to pack everything you need to learn into five minutes of practice a day.
Many of the resources we’re about to mention will get you practicing skills that gamified apps struggle with, such as prolonged speaking and listening practice.
Innovative Language has audio and video courses for a host of languages, mostly under its Pod101 and Class101 brands: SpanishPod101, ChineseClass101, JapanesePod101… There’s a huge range of material and the audio lessons are great for learning on the go. You can also use the promo code ALLLANGUAGERESOURCES to save 25% off a subscription.
italki is a language-learning marketplace with a huge number of teachers and languages to choose from. Taking an online class with a real teacher, rather than an app, will allow you to better practice speaking and listening, get personalized feedback and lesson plans, and even pick up local slang.
Language classes on your schedule with italki.
Pimsleur has audio courses for over 50 languages. Each lesson is around 30 minutes long and the lessons can feel a tad slow, but they are well-structured. The course progresses nicely, with lessons building on previous ones.
Language Transfer is in many ways the opposite of Pimsleur, while still being an audio course. The short-and-sweet lessons ignore survival phrases altogether and instead focus on explaining how to build sentences. It’s a great option for more analytical learners but should be used alongside additional resources.
Coffee Break Languages teaches European languages and Mandarin Chinese through relaxed podcast-esque lessons. You can listen to a lot of the lessons for free, but purchasing a course will also give you access to videos, lesson notes, and bonus materials.
One of the annoying things about learning a language is how hard it is to remember the words you overhear in conversation or see in books. Anki will help you with this. It’s an SRS flashcard app that not only adapts to how difficult you find cards but also lets you create your own decks (or use someone else’s). Bear in mind that although Anki is a great tool, it can be tedious and monotonous. Remember to pace yourself to stay motivated.
Looking for writing practice and feedback? With LangCorrect, you can upload your writing to receive feedback from the community. Remember to help the community grow by commenting on other people’s writing, too.
You’ll also find apps and courses specific to your language, such as HelloChinese or, for US English, ELSA Speak. Language-specific resources are sometimes the best options available, so take a look at the languages listed at the bottom of this article to find even more apps and courses.
Learning Swahili with SwahiliPod101 from Innovative Language.
Duolingo made language learning accessible and fun. Yet much has changed since its launch in 2012, and today there are numerous effective, high-quality gamified apps on the market.
So if you’re looking for something like Duolingo, but that’s not quite the same as Duolingo, try out of some of the apps in this article. Whether you’re hoping for more grammatical explanations, a way to study Yoruba, or more travel-oriented phrases, you’ll find a resource that’s right for you.