Learn a new language from your smartphone (for free!)

Reviews | Thoughts By 4 years ago

Learning a second language doesn’t have to be an expensive dedication of effort, patience and time. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost you anything at all!

There are now a number of exceptional free apps that can teach you the language of your choice through a series of games and exercises, gradually progressing in difficulty.

These games not only cover vocabulary and grammar, they also teach your phrasing and sentence structure, areas that are often the hardest part of any second language.

While there are a few on the market I will only be focusing on my two favourite, each one offering a different learning style that differs in terms of their emphasis.

The first app is Memrise, an extension of the brilliant memrise.com. For some background on this general learning/memory website and how it works, you are strongly recommended to read this article by the ever fascinating writer Joshua Foer. If you have read Moonwalking with Einstien, you will appreciate that whatever he says when it comes to memory is worth paying attention to.


Memorise, as explained in the article, relies on the notion of visual memory, where we memories words with images and ideas thereby making them easier to recall. The richer and more complex the visual association, the easier and quicker it is to remember the memory.

Because of this style of learning there is an emphasis on vocabulary, specifically building a functioning vocabulary that can get you through a decent conversation.

Memrise focuses on quality over quantity, which is why all the courses are structured around quick sessions as opposed to long extended lessons. With daily concentrated practice you can expect some impressive results from Memrise.

 The other favourite language learning tool is Duolingo, a wonderfully gamified website and application that has a larger emphasis on understanding sentences and learning the words in the process.

The sessions take longer and you have 4 hearts to lose from each time you make a mistake. If you make 4 mistakes then you start the session again.

Memrise on the doesn’t stop you halfway through the session but it will tell you how well you did at the end of it.

Duolingo is great for learning sentence structures, phrasing and how best to conduct a conversation.

In terms of which app is better it is quite hard to say. Both are changing and improving all the time and their differences are what makes them so great as they each offer different learning styles for different students.

Your best bet is to download them and try them out. See what works best and once you find it, go for it!