When my friends convinced me to book a Spring vacation to the beautiful beaches of Cabo, I jumped at the opportunity. It wasn't until a few days later that I realized I don't actually speak a word of Spanish! I had heard a lot about language learning apps you can download on your phone, and wondered if any of them would work for me. I started doing online research and was totally overwhelmed by options: there seemed to be hundreds of apps, and I didn't know which was best. So I decided to put the top few to the test. I picked four of the most popular apps and tried each for a week to see how they compared. Here's how they stacked up! (TLDR: Rosetta Stone came out on top.)
1. Duolingo ⭐ ⭐
Duolingo was the first language learning app I downloaded, and it appealed to me because 1) it was free and 2) it claimed to require the shortest amount of time possible -- 5 minutes a day. But ultimately, what I found was that they "gamify" every single "lesson," turning everything into a little phone game. It was fun enough (I'm not exactly going to delete Candy Crush because of it), but ultimately I just didn't learn anything. After a week of playing short games for 5 minutes a day, I still knew approximately zero Spanish. The one phrase I really remembered had stuck in my mind because of how useless it would actually be while traveling: "I am a duck that speaks English." What? I'm not a duck. Two stars.
2. Rosetta Stone ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Rosetta Stone is a really well-known name in language learning, and when I found out that they have an app, along with a free trial, I was all in. The lessons took a little bit longer, around 10 minutes, but they were still short enough that I could reasonably do them during my morning coffee break. More importantly, they really worked. The app focused on conversational learning, and the phrases and vocabulary really stuck with me because they were things I would actually say on a daily basis. On top of the just generally engaging lessons, Rosetta Stone had next-level features that set it apart from every other app I tried. My favorite is the feature that listens to you speak out loud and helps you perfect your accent. That made a huge difference in boosting my confidence when speaking. Best of all, you can structure your lessons to learn the topics that interest you the most first. After a few weeks, I obviously wasn't fluent, but I had the skills to really speak and understand basic Spanish. Five stars!
3. Memrise ⭐
Memrise is an app that uses digital flashcards to teach you a second language. You can download it for free, but it offers a lot of in-app purchases that in my experience you really need to pay for. I enjoyed the flashcards well enough, but I didn't like constantly feeling like I needed to pay a couple more dollars to really learn. Plus, I had a lot of issues with the app itself, freezing randomly or needing to restart. I did some research and found out that I wasn't the only one -- a ton of reviews said the app was hard to use. One star.
4. Busuu ⭐⭐⭐
Busuu stands out from other run-of-the-mill language learning apps by connecting you to native speakers to give you feedback on your accent, correct your writing assignments, etc. The only issue is that the app offers much less flexibility in how you want to learn. The lessons are structured in a way that doesn't allow for you to pick and choose topics that are actually meaningful to users (unlike some of the other apps on this list). For people who want to focus on efficiently learning the topics important to them (business, travel, etc.), there's definitely a better approach than this. Three stars.
Ultimately, Rosetta Stone was by far the best language learning app I tried. I ended up using it for the two months prior to leaving for Mexico and absolutely could not believe how confident I was when speaking to locals or asking directions while I was there. Plus, I discovered more features on my trip that came in handy, like Phrasebook, which lets you know what to say with easy-to-understand greetings, phrases, expressions, and more. I rated Rosetta Stone five stars for a reason: it really works!
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