From The Straits Times    |

 Four amazing, free apps to up your language game (and meet some cuties)

Photo: 123rf

Running the rat-race is an never-ending battle, as we strive to stay ahead of the pack. In an increasingly interconnected world, learning a new language could be the edge you need to nab that dream job.

We tried and tested four apps (Android and Apple friendly), each with their own pros and cons, that will turn you into a polyglot in no time.


 Four amazing, free apps to up your language game (and meet some cuties)


Possibly our favourite, this app links you to native speakers with the idea that you’re both teaching each other your native language, while learning theirs. The chat interface is similar to Whatsapp, with added features such as translation, correction, and transliteration, on top of the usual camera, microphone, doodle, voice and video call.

The app doesn’t’ share your personal information with other users, apart from your username, profile picture (we used a dog), the country you are from, the fluency of your language and of the one you want to learn. You have the option of adding a self-introduction, age, hobbies and places you’ve travelled to, as well as ‘Moments’ which is just like WeChat’s. 

HelloTalk also suggests users that may be best suited for you to talk to – just click message and fire away. Surprisingly, very few girls talked to us, while there were plenty of men who messaged first, wanting to practise English (we joked it was the less sleazy version of Tinder). Now we have handsome friends all over Italy eager to show us around.


Pros: Learn from native speakers, who can correct your sentences or help with pronunciation, and have proper conversations with them as opposed to learning only vocabulary. Also, you get to make new friends. The app doesn’t allow you to enlarge/zoom in on someone’s profile picture, keeping the focus squarely on learning a new language.   

Cons: You only get to learn one language unless you sign up for VIP membership (S$3.00/month, S$29.99/year, S$109.99/unlimited) which allows you to learn three.

Conversations sometimes lull for days since many of the people on the app are also working.


2. Duolingo

Duolingo’s exercises are short and sweet, perfect for reading on the way to work

With over 100 million downloads, Duolingo is the most popular app on our list. With elements of gamification, it’s fun, free, and allows you to compete with friends to see how much you’ve learnt. English-speakers can choose from 29 different languages, such as French, German, Mandarin, Swahili, and Hebrew, to fictional languages like Klingon and High Valyrian.

There’s no limit to the number of languages you can choose (we have six on our list), and lessons are a mixture of flashcards, translation exercises, pronunciation, matching words and listening exercises.

You get XP for every lesson learnt, which adds towards your daily goal (which you can set). More XP can unlock Bonus Skills, such as ‘Flirting’ and ‘Idioms and Proverbs’.


Pros: Extremely easy to use, helps increase your vocabulary with the mixture of flashcards and translation exercises, lessons are fairly short and sweet. Duolingo also lets you know how proficient you are as you progress.

Cons: While it helps you learn words, some of the sentences you learn are a little basic or impractical. A French friend commented that it wasn’t very helpful with actual conversation. Doesn’t explain how to use different words depending on context, such as the various ways of saying ‘you’ in French – you just have to guess the right one. There are ads that encourage you to get the full, ad-free version (S$12.99/one month, S$8.99/12 months), but the free version is good enough. There are also ads for other apps.


3. Babbel

With an easy interface, Babbel’s design doesn’t distract you from learning

With a simple interface that links images to words, Babbel is a no-frills language app that uses a flashcard format to teach you vocabulary, before testing you on it through matching words, pictures and writing the translation.

If you get stuck, they do have a ‘show answer’ function. We liked their simulated conversations where you’re asked to fill in the missing words, as it helps give examples of real conversations and how to use what you’ve learnt. These conversations also have the English translation beneath every sentence, in addition to the app reading them out so you can hear how to pronounce them.


Pros: The app helps to explain grammar – something which most apps don’t do. The plain interface means less distractions, and there’s a review at the end of each lesson in addition to telling you how well you did.

Cons: Sadly it’s free for a limited amount of lessons, and you’ll have to subscribe to get access to all the courses and features (S$17/month, S$10/3 months, S$8.33/6 months, S$7.92/a year).


4. Memrise

We loved the memes in Memrise – both funny and educational 

With its space exploration themed concept, Memrise is a popular language app that sees you ‘plant’ seeds on new planets. Like Duolingo, it has the gamification element – but with the added bonus of memes.

While teaching you vocabulary, the app provides eye-catching memes that explain the proper usage of the word or phrase. You can also create and submit your own meme to help others learn.

As you progress, you earn points to level up your ‘alien.’ We liked how the each lesson has a review at the end letting you know how well you’ve done.


Pros: We loved the mix of memes and memorisation, as well as the nifty grammar bot. Like Duolingo, this is a great app for increasing your vocabulary.

Cons: Limited free content, and to access all the lessons you must pay. Also like Duolingo, frequent ads pop up asking you to unlock everything (S$29.50/year), which includes talking to native speakers via video, pronunciation, listening exercises, chat bots and being able to learn offline. In the free version, we found that the Grammar bot is limited by pre-set questions.