33 Language Learning Apps, Utilities and Tricks

There are a huge number of ways to learn languages out there, from $500 software to classes to free translators. You can find software for any language you want, from Spanish to Urdu. It’s really a matter of personal preference how you choose to learn, but chances are that no matter what your learning style is, there’s something out there for you.

Today we’ve got a roundup of a variety of apps (from $5 – $500) as well as some utilities and little tips and tricks. I’ve tried to include software that is available in a variety of languages, so be sure to investigate further if a particular app seems like a good fit.

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone

We’ll start right off with a heavy hitter. Rosetta Stone is one of the best known apps in the language learning business. It’s also one of the most expensive. They offer a huge number of languages, although not complete software for all languages. Rosetta Stone warrants a huge range of reviews. The software teaches you vocabulary in a way that is very similar to the way that a child learns a language. You are presented with images, and learn to associate the vocabulary word with the appropriate picture.

Some folks swear by Rosetta Stone, but I am not a huge fan of it, personally. I think it’s a lovely way to learn some vocabulary, but it’s not great for much else. You dedicate all of the time spent with the app to learning vocabulary. You learn complete sentences, but rather than understanding grammatically how the sentence works, you only learn the exact translation. For example, you might learn to say “The boy is on the airplane.” Rather than explaining the grammar behind the sentence, the app focuses only on the vocab. I personally prefer software with more of a focus on how a conversation works.

Price: Varies – $499 for all 5 levels, $179 per individual level purchased
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4.11 or higher
Developer: Rosetta Stone, Ltd.

Fluenz

Fluenz

Fluenz is another heavy-hitter, although much newer to the world of language learning than Rosetta Stone is. They offer several different major languages, although not nearly as many as Rosetta Stone. This software teaches in a much different way than Rosetta Stone. They offer a polished interface complete with video tutors and teachers. Rather than focusing solely on vocabulary, the app explains why things work the way they do. They incorporate cultural and grammatical lessons into the vocabulary. The software focuses on the ability to build your own sentences and conversations, rather than routine memorization of the presented words/sentences.

The software is just about as pricey as Rosetta Stone, but the biggest complaints for this software are just that it doesn’t have the greatest voice recognition software. In the grand scheme of things, this software is extremely popular and well-liked. If you have the money, I’d recommend this software.

Price: $498 for 5 levels, $187 per individual level
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or higher
Developer: Fluenz

Rocket Languages

Rocket Language

If you’re a fan of audio or story based language learning, Rocket Language is for you! If you’re not into listening, just move on. However, this audio based software is much more affordable and if it’s your style it has a pretty good success rate. You can order the CD-Roms directly from the website in order to have off-line access to the audio/transcripts/exercises. Unfortunately, all interactive content is solely online so if that’s what you’re looking for you won’t get an offline experience.

The software can be very engaging. They do a better job than most of sprinkling in cultural know-how from the very beginning. Beware, however, the website where you can purchase access to the software. Unfortunately, while their software is well-designed and extremely usable, the website is heinous. It’s nearly impossible to check-out, but if you persevere you can try a free 6-day trial and then purchase the software from there.

Price: $99.95 for online access, $299 for cd-roms
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later
Developer: Libros Media Ltd

Jetset Spanish

Jetset Spanish

Jetset Spanish is software that’s created by the same company that brought us Rocket Languages. The difference, however, is that Jetset Spanish is primarily video based. The software includes 14 units that take you into different situations – e.g. “Getting into Town” or “Meeting the Family.” The software promises to be engaging and interactive, and it does seem to be.

One of the really nice parts of the software is that you are introduced to a few consistent “characters” during the lessons. You get to interact with the characters through video, quizzes and even mock conversations. While it’s not as great as having a real life conversation, it’s a step in the right direction. The software is a bit pricey considering the contents, in my opinion.

There are free/very cheap web based programs available (such as the BBC language programs). However, if you’re looking for something a bit more immersive or completely online the software does a great job of interactive, video-based learning.

Price: $147
Requires: Mac OS X 10.3 or later
Developer: Libros Media Ltd.

Mango Passport

Mango Passport

If you’re travelling to another country soon and want to be able to get around, Mango Passport has some modestly priced software with a modest amount of features. Rather than being full immersion and aiming to provide a base to eventually become fluent in the language, Mango Passport caters to those who want to get around a country without constantly holding a phrase book.

The software offers a simple interactive course along with supplemental vocab, phrase books and a few other features. It does what it aims to do quite well. It’s got a great interface and is fairly engaging. It’s lacking in games, most interactive content and voice recognition, however that’s not necessary for this app and what it does. If you’re a traveller, check it out but don’t expect all the content of other big name software!

Price: $79
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4.11 or higher
Developer: Mango Languages

Instant Immersion

Instant Immersion Software

If you’re looking for Rosetta Stone style learning but for a much cheaper price, this software just might be for you. It’s another piece of software that focuses on learning vocabulary without truly understanding why the language works the way it does.

The software is a bundled package that provides many different types of vocabulary learning, from image association to games. It has the potential to be an outstanding vocabulary supplement to a conversational/grammar based software. I particularly enjoy the games, as learning vocabulary can get quite dull very quickly.

Price: $49.95 for complete set
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later
Developer: Topics Entertainment

Linguata

Linguata

Linguata is a software that focuses a good amount of time on vocabulary and phrases, but also dedicates some time to grammar, word order and sentence structure. You can test yourself on and practice comprehension, reading, writing, word and sentence order. The tests and games are simple, varied and effective with each designed to test one or more aspects of language learning. The software is quite fairly priced, fairly well designed and generally quite useful. As with most of these apps, it won’t provide a complete language learning system, but it will get you started and act as a good supplement.

Price: $29.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.3 or later
Developer: Veneficium Ltd

Ciao Italian

Ciao Italian

This software offers some interactivity to learn vocabulary, basic pronunciation and some grammar. It is also available in Spanish, with very similar characteristics. The app offers 5 basic lessons, with a fun animated character. You pick up vocabulary that’s useful for travelling and getting around, with lessons like “At the Cafe” and “Checking into a Hotel.”

The software is fun and easy to use, with a good variety of lesson types. The big downfall is that it’s generally not worth the cost. The developer is adding 5 additional lessons at some point in the future, but at this point you’re able to move through the lessons much too quickly to warrant a $10 price tag.

Price: $9.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Avataris Media

Noun Star

NounStar

This software is essentially a smaller, less featured version of Rosetta Stone. You are learning primarily through image association, rather than learning grammar and why the language works. Again, this is a potentially good app to use at the same time as something that teaches grammar. It is a nicely designed app and quite simple to use. It tracks your progress, which is a nice feature that not all programs offer.

Price: Varies – $2.99 – $4.99 depending on language
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: James Goruk

It helps to change the languages on everything you use daily to whatever your target language is. This includes your computer, mobile device and internet browser. It’s not a huge change, but it definitely helps make a difference!

Language Tutor

Language Tutor

More Vocabulary offers a way to learn approximately 10,000 words in a dual-language database system. You can learn English, Spanish or French with their system. They offer lesson based categorical learning, as well as a repetition based system to truly master that rote vocabulary. It’s another app that does vocabulary well and can be a great supplement to other apps out there. The interface is simple and efficient, offering 2 levels of learning and the option to track the progress of up to 3 different users. It’s simple, but more than sufficient.

Price: $9.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4
Developer: More Vocabulary

Innovative Language Learning - Basic

Innovative Language Learning – Basic Software

Innovative Language Learning specializes in Mac apps at a variety of levels and with many different learning styles. They offer several beginner/absolute beginner programs for many different languages. These $10 apps offer 25 lessons with 2 teachers, 25 interactive story-based lessons and vocab/sentence lists with translation.

If you’re looking for a good base in a language to be able to get around in another country, this app does a pretty good job. The user interface is simple and nice to look at and use. It’s not the most interactive software out there, based more upon reading/listening than interacting. However, it offers a culture section for every single lesson which is great for those using this software, since chances are good you’ll be in that country soon actually using the language.

Price: $9.99 for basic/beginner programs
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Innovative Language Learning

Interactive Language Learning - Complete

Interactive Language Learning – Complete Set

Innovative Language Learning also has a “complete” set available for purchase. This app offers 198 lessons for the languages available, of which there are several. It functions in the same way as the basic software, with primarily the same features and learning styles present. One addition is a reference section which is great for grammar brush-ups and such. If you’re looking for a cheaper software that teaches both vocabulary and grammar in one, this software does just that.

Price: $49.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Innovative Language Learning

Quickstart ASL

Quickstart ASL

Quickstart American Sign Language offers an app to learn a language we often forget about in our pursuit of foreign languages. ASL apps are far fewer than traditional “language learning apps” but there are definitely some out there. Quickstart ASL has 9 languages covering a variety of categories.

In each lesson you watch a video that teaches the signs while reading along with the given text. At the end of each lesson you can practice your new vocabulary and then take a quiz. It’s not the most in-depth app out there, but in a world with very few ASL apps, this one is worth checking out.

Price: $6.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later
Developer: MPS Multimedia, Inc.

BSL Step 1

BSL Step 1

If you’d rather learn British Sign Language than American Sign Language, this app is offered as step 1 in a series of 3 apps designed to teach you BSL. The app offers video to learn the vocabulary. Once the vocabulary has been mastered, you are able to take a quiz in order to check what you learned that lesson. They offer a good amount of vocabulary in different categories for each app.

Steps 1, 2 and 3 do have to be purchased individually, but that can actually be quite nice in case you decide you don’t like it after the first app is through. I wish they offered a full set, just to have all of the lessons in one place, but it’s not a big deal. It’s easy to use software that allows you to learn a new language that doesn’t have many apps out there.

Price: $2.99 per step
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Mandy Brennan

ASL Alphabet Game

ASL Alphabet Game

This app does one thing well, and that is to help you to master finger spelling in ASL as quickly as possible. If you’ve ever tried to follow the finger-spelling of a native or experienced signer, you know exactly how quickly they can finger spell. It can be hard to even try to follow at all. This app is a game to help you master finger-spelling so that you can do it yourself and hope to have a chance at interpreting what someone else is finger spelling. This game is a matching game with 10 levels that work to get you faster and more knowledgable about finger spelling as you progress. That’s all the app does, but it’s a handy little tool to have.

Price: $1.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: Fundi 3D

Jumpstart

Jumpstart

Kids should learn languages too, so I’m including a few language learning apps for the younger folks (elementary school ages). Jumpstart Language software offers fun ways for young kids to learn languages. The software is picture based, so reading isn’t necessary. It includes lots of fun games, puppet shows, videos and more.

If you want your child to learn some vocab in French, English, Spanish or Japanese, this software is worth investigating further. It has fairly mixed reviews, some kids love it, some adults think it’s much too hard to use/understand. I think it’s easy enough to understand, but it might be worth looking for a free demo before buying to make sure it’s right for you and your child.

Price: $12.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later
Developer: Knowledge Adventures, Inc.

World Speak

World Speak

This is another language app that is made for children. This app is designed specifically for those aged 1-5. The app teaches vocabulary through interacting with pictures in a cute and fun application. It doesn’t offer the games and videos that Jump Start does, but there are more languages offered with the ability to master just as much vocabulary. The price is also significantly lower, at $2 per app rather than $13 for the software. If you would like to try something out, just to see if your child is into the idea of learning new languages, this app is reasonably priced and easy to use.

Price: $1.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: World Speak

No matter what you do, don’t forget to just have a conversation in your target language! Speaking conversationally is the best way to really pick up a language.

BYKI Software

BYKI Software

BYKI, or “Before You Know It” software offers many different languages to learn. 74, as a matter of fact! You can start out with BYKI “express” which is a limited use software that offers about 10 different vocabulary lists. This software is flashcard based and offers a great way to supplement another language software with additional vocabulary.

If you find that this software works for you, then upgrade to the deluxe version. With deluxe you can create/modify lists, choose from 100′s more lists or interact with the online community to chat and obtain user created lists. You’re certainly not going to completely master a language from this software (it’s only vocabulary) but it’s easy to use, and works really well for picking up additional words.

Price: Free express version, $69.95 for deluxe
Requires:
Developer: Transparent Language

Innovative Language Learning - Vocab

Innovative Language Learning Vocab

Innovative Language Learning offers a number of apps dedicated specifically to learning vocabulary. I think the fact that they set out to create an app just for learning vocabulary really allowed them to put together a solid app with a great feature set. You start in the app by listening to and pronouncing the word over and over. Words are chose from different category lists, so you can learn about whatever area you’re in the mood for or need to learn.

Once you’ve mastered the word, it goes onto the learned list. Once you’ve learned several words you are able to go in and use flash cards to make sure that you’ve mastered the vocabulary. You can also record your voice to match it to the voice speaking the word you’re learning to check on your pronunciation, and you can create custom word banks to study. All in all, it’s a well-designed feature heavy vocab app that I would choose above most other vocabulary apps.

Price: $9.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Innovative Language Learning

Flashcards

Flashcards

Declan Software offers a large variety of languages that you can learn using their flashcard apps. The way the app works is that there are around 2,400 words/phrases to be learned. The words are divided up categorically into word bases. You select a word base to study, and go through completing spelling, listening, meaning and word exercises for all of the words.

You learn in sets of 10, allowing you to master words in small amounts, building up to a bigger set of words. Once you’ve completed the exercises, you go on to the flashcard section where their “smart-learning” software replaces words as you master them, allowing you to slowly but steadily tackle the entire set. They offer free “basic” versions as well as full paid versions for each language. It’s a fantastic flashcard based vocab app with a great learning system in place.

Price: Basic version is free, $14.99 for full app
Requires: 10.6.6
Developer: Declan Software

ProVoc

ProVoc

ProVoc is a free vocabulary learning system. This software has the typical features – flashcards, audio incorporation, downloadable and customizable lists, etc. It also offers several different learning methods – multiple choice, variable difficulty and more. It allows you to create your own flashcards, or download one of hundreds of user submitted vocabulary lists. If you’re looking for software that comes pre-loaded with tons of vocab, this isn’t for you. However, if you’re a student in a language class or just ok with making do with the user submitted lists, this is a great freeware option.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later
Developer: Arizona Software

Driller Vocab

Driller Vocab

If you’re a busy person (as I’m guessing most of us are), then you might want to check out Driller Vocab. This is your typical flashcard type app, that runs on Adobe Air. However, rather than sitting and learning many words at once, this app pops up at user-determined intervals. You just take a 30 second break from whatever you’re working on the acknowledge the presented word and take the time to memorize it.

If you’ve got some extra time and are feeling so inclined, you can use the “next now” button to learn another word at that time. This app is simple and to the point. It’s great for work-a-holics, or procrastinators. You get a little bit at a time over time, so it helps tackle any feeling of being overwhelmed by vocabulary.

Price: $7.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later
Developer: Driller Vocabulary

iSpeak Translator

iSpeak Translator

As you’re learning vocabulary and grammar, it’s nice to try some reading comprehension. If you come across a word you haven’t learned yet, it’s extremely helpful to have a good translator and/or dictionary around. iSpeak Translator is a great app to have around. It currently only offers support for English, French, Spanish, German and Italian, but it’s a great app nonetheless.

You simply type in the word you want to translate, (or copy/paste or drag and drop from another document) and it will translate the word/phrase/paragraph both in writing and by speaking in a wonderful and very clear voice. It’s great to not only learn the definition of a word, but to also learn exactly what the word means. It might be a bit pricey for a translator app, but unlike most translator apps that “speak” the translation, it actually sounds natural which I find to be very important.

Price: $4.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: Future Apps

iTranslate Words

iTranslate Words

iTranslate Words does exactly what the name says .. it translates words. It doesn’t do anything spectacular or flashy. You just type in a word/phrase, choose from over 50 languages and it translates it for you. It doesn’t speak or anything like that. It’s a cheap, simple translation app that doesn’t need the internet to function which can be very beneficial, especially when travelling. It’s a great deal and functions exactly like it’s meant to.

Price: $1.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 or later
Developer: VML Web

Red Leaf Dictionaries

Red Leaf Dictionaries

If you want a simple dictionary that functions back and forth from your target language to English, you should check out Red Leaf Dictionaries. They only have 3 apps available at this time (Spanish, French and Korean) but what they do have is fantastic. It’s simple and cheap, has a huge collection of words and functions great as a basic digital dictionary. Often these dictionaries offer tons of features and cost a lot (we’ll take a look at a few of those next) but if all you need is a basic dictionary this company makes great ones. They don’t crash and are simple to understand, exactly what an app like this needs.

Price: $1.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.7 or later
Developer: Hong Diep Nguyen

iDictionary

iDictionary

iDictionary is kind of like the next level up in the world of digital foreign language dictionaries. It offers the same, basic functionality as the language specific Red Leaf Dictionaries. It has simple back and forth look-up and translations with a nice and simple user interface. This app, however, offers several languages in one dictionary. This app offers English, French, German, Spanish and Russian languages. If you’re travelling around Europe, this dictionary might be a good investment, as chances are good that someone will speak at least one of these major European languages present in the app.

Price: $8.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: Microton S.R.O.

Find something you enjoy to help with learning a new language – it might be foreign language music, television or just a simple podcast. Whatever it is, use it to immerse yourself in the language!

Ultra Lingua French Dictionary

Ultra Lingua French Dictionary

Ultra Lingua produces a sort of “premium” language dictionary/translator. Rather than just offering typical word look-up, this dictionary has a multitude of other features. The major features included are a special verb section, flashcard mode and usage/examples. The verb section allows you to conjugate any verb in your target language. This is a GREAT feature to have, and something some apps are created specifically to do. You can create flashcards of any word in the dictionary in flashcard mode, and then study at different levels/speeds. Lastly, a major feature is the usage/examples that are included with many of the definitions and translated words.

This is great because you’re able to see another way to use the new word in a sentence rather than just whatever the context of the word was that prompted you to look it up. You can definitely find several different apps to duplicate the features of this app, possibly for significantly cheaper. However, for the serious language student this completely offline resource will most likely prove a very worthy investment. Note that you’ll find many different “premium” dictionaries available in the app store and elsewhere for your purchase in a number of different languages.

Price: $34.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.7 or later
Developer: Ultra Lingua, Inc.

One World Dictionary

One World Dictionary

If you’d like to try out a “premium” dictionary but aren’t sure about making the investment, One World Dictionary offers some advanced features and is a great example of freemium software. The free download includes 100,000 words in several different languages. Full dictionaries are available to purchase in-app for $9.99 per language.

The app offers some advanced features such as verb conjugation, probably the most useful advanced dictionary feature. Lion users can download free text-to speech add-ons for French, Italian and Spanish. This is a pretty decent dictionary that definitely serves as a great way to test out the advanced features to see if you need them before making any hefty purchases.

Price: Free for basic version, $9.99 per language add-on
Requires: Mac OS X 10.7 or later
Developer: Ascendo, Inc.

German Grammar

German Grammar

Reference tools like this German Grammar app are hard to find but great to have around. Unfortunately, most of this knowledge is only online or in books, not in app form. I was able to find a very nice German Grammar app. This app provides all of the information that you would find in the back of a language textbook – noun information, conjugation, regular/irregular verbs, pronunciation guides and so on.

The app has a pretty hefty price tag for not being interactive, but again it’s more of a convenience thing. It’s great to have all of this information neatly compiled offline for you usage. If you’re a student who already has a textbook with this type of information it’s not at all worth-while, but if you’re self-teaching a language it could be a really great app to have around.

Price: $18.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: MacMedia, Inc.

Skype

Skype

We all know what Skype is, I’m guessing. I chose to include the app because I believe (and most experts agree) that the best way to learn a language is simply to speak it. You can find plenty of communities and opportunities out there that allow you to find a conversation partner. Often, you can find a native speaker of your target language who wants to learn your native language. Skype is a great way to talk and learn and immerse with a native speaker.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X v10.5.8
Developer: Skype

Which App Is Your Favorite?

So there you have it, 33 apps, utilities and tips for learning a new language on a Mac. I’m curious to hear about what you think of this software, and if you have a great app to share I’d love that even more!


  • SCJack

    Great article! Thank you. I have been trying many different sources to learn to speak Spanish for years and I am anxious to look into some of these further. I’m also one who tries to “crash learn” languages of places I visit in order to help get by while you are there. It seems that there are good apps here for that as well. Ultimately I would like to master Spanish and then move on too French.

  • Regis Zaleman

    Thanks for all those great resources. I have a question: a few years ago, I found an ‘accent reduction’ software for Mac. I forgot its name. It seemed very smart, showing you a live graph representation of your voice as you spoke and teaching you how to sound (more) native (American English). I have not been able to find this or any other comparable software like it since… Any ideas?

  • Dan

    LiveMocha.com

    Price: Free
    Requires: Effort and Commitment

    • Heather Weaver

      Yeah, there are a ton of great websites out there. I’m a big fan of livemocha.com. The community is great! Maybe I’ll write a web round-up at some point as well. I hated having to neglect all of the great web-based apps.

  • http://www.polyglotproject.com Jessica

    Hope I’m not breaking any sort of comment rules here, but I worked on creating a free app for helping people learn languages online by reading literature in different languages and getting help translating words you don’t know. If you’re interested, it’s at http://www.polyglotproject.com

    If that’s the sort of thing you’re interested in trying I hope you’ll give it a look =)

  • http://www.LingQ.com Mark Kaufmann

    LingQ.com

    Check out LingQ which has thousands of hours of lessons with matching audio and text and vocabulary learning tools like flashcards, cloze tests.

  • http://bit.ly/frenchNumbersTutorial Sean Rasmussen

    Numbers are often neglected in any language; I’ve made an iOS app to help in this regard:

    http://bit.ly/frenchNumbersFull

    You can see a tutorial here: http://bit.ly/frenchNumbersTutorial.

    Cheers,
    Sean

  • Pingback: Digital interpreter « Stiod – Stupid Ideas of the day

  • http://www.springtiger.co.uk William Boles

    Hi,

    I built an iPhone/iPad app to help people learn French, German, Italian and/or Spanish on the go.

    http://goo.gl/6EYju

  • Len S.

    Thanks for the great and comprehensive review of so many products. I couldn’t help notice that Pimsleur was not reviewed. I’ve been on the fence about which product to take the plunge with (for Spanish). I have signed up with Innovative to get daily “word of the day” emails, which are stimulating. You get to try to guess what the word is before you click on it, then you hear and read it in 2, 3, or 4 sentences in different tenses. Not bad for free.
    Based on that and these reviews, I believe I am inclined to go with the Innovative product. Driller also looks good for the lazy side of me.

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