So You Want to Learn a New Language

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Maybe you’ve been wanting to find out more about the language your ancestors spoke. Or you’re planning a vacation to a new country. Maybe you’ve spent the last 10 years concocting the perfect plan to disappear into the Italian countryside without a trace, only you’ve just realized you don’t even know enough to order a pizza. Don’t worry, though. I looked it up for you, and the Italian word for pizza is pizza. Whatever the reasons, you want to learn a new language but have no idea where to start.

Learning a new language feels like a crazy, overwhelming undertaking that you couldn’t possibly have time for. Except you totally do. I’m not promising that you’ll be fluent or able to read a Dutch language novel from start to finish, but you can start learning the basics and working on a foundation that will help you no matter where you decide to go on your language learning journey. Best of all, you can do a lot of it for free, cheap, and on your smartphone.


This little baby is free, sits on your smartphone, and is crazy easy to use. There are 32 different languages available for English speakers, so there’s a good chance that if you want to learn it, it’s on there. Want to prove that your high school French teacher’s opinion of your language skills was wrong? Planning a trip to Greece this summer? Need to brush up on your Klingon skills before your next convention? Duolingo has you covered.

The app makes it easy to learn a new language. You get structured lessons that progress through the language as you improve. Do one a day, do a couple a day, do whatever you can. You can earn badges and even earn enough lingots (in-game currency) to dress your owl up in cute clothes. Which I am absolutely all about.


I absolutely adore flashcards. Lined, plain, fluorescent neon colors, whatever. Just give me all the flashcards and I will be the happiest person in the world. Except I hate toting around thick stacks of flashcards wrapped in rubber bands that are threatening to break.

Tinycards lets you create your own flashcard decks and use ones that other people have created. Having trouble remembering the days of the week in Mandarin? Someone has a deck for that, I promise. (Psssst, it’s also free.)


If you’re studying a language on your own or just for fun and don’t know anyone who is a native speaker, you’re going to hit some roadblocks. Even if you’re studying formally and know several native speakers, you’re going to hit some roadblocks. Every language has nuances that aren’t easily explained by a quick grammar check

With HiNative, you can post questions about the language you’re studying, and native speakers will help you out. You can even record yourself speaking so that native speakers can help correct your pronunciation. And, again, it’s free.

If you want to learn a new language solely through phone apps might not get you to fluency, but it’s a good start. Using these apps (and I also suggest finding a good dictionary app for your target language) can help you build a foundation and work towards whatever your language goals might be.

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