3 Tutor-Approved Ideas For Learning a Language With Duolingo

Language learning was so boring before a little owl in a tracksuit came along. 

Armed with addictive streak and modern technology, today's smartphone language learning feels more like a computer game than a language lesson. And in many ways, that's a great thing.

Read on to find out my top 3 tips for getting the most out of your Duolingo time.

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The Best Language Learning Tools of Autumn/Winter 2016

This episode of the Creative Language Learning Podcast is as fun as ever, covering the ultimate Good, Bad and Struggling and our Top 5 Language Learning Tools of 2016/17.

So The Podcast is Taking a Break..

Yes, the rumours are true. The Creative Language Learning Podcast is taking a break for a while, going on hiatus and there will not be regular episodes after number 52.


That does not mean you're going to miss us too much. Lindsay and I have gone through the archives together, selecting our own favourite episodes for you to try - check them out at the end of this article.

And remember to stay subscribed to your podcast feed in iTunes because we will be producing some one-off episodes for you.

Our Favourite Language Learning Tools for Autumn/Winter 2016

Listen to the show to get the detailed recommendations, and here is a quick index.

lyrics fluent

1) Lyricstraining.com

This website is awesome!! It pulls in music videos from YouTube and VEVO, adds the lyrics and converts the whole thing into a game. Teachers might call it a "cloze exercise", I call it "fill in the gap", and anyone would call this one a whole lot of fun.

2) Gus on The Go

A language learning collection created by parents for children. It's fun, it's beautiful, it's available as an app for your smartphone and tablet. In a sea of language learning apps, Gus on the Go stands out for its design and layout. There are apps available in 28 languages. Highly recommended for getting any young person started in a new language!

3) TuneIn Radio

tunein radio.png

A language learner's classic for natural input. This app and website lets you listen to radio stations from all around the world. It's perfect if you're at that stage where you're looking for a way to "level up" in your language. There are also podcasts, or you could search by favourite music style. The diverse voices of radio DJs and exciting foreign language music will give you a great new challenge.

4) Tiny Cards

This is a new app from the team behind Duolingo. It's all about adorable flashcards helping you review and check your knowledge on anything, from language vocab to colour theory. This promises to take the Duolingo design excellence to a new level. Great if you're looking for a new flashcard app.

5) Eggbun

Yes, it's another super cute app! This innovative little app works like a text chat, where you're chatting with your new friend "Eggbun", who is teaching you the Korean alphabet and language. If you're addicted to texting on your phone, here's an AI teacher who will reply anytime.

  • The app is out for Korean (iOS/Android), Japanese (iOS coming soon, but already out on Android), and soon coming out soon in Chinese. Get your preferred version from the lovely Eggbun website.

Honorary Mention

The All 4 App now has a wonderful "Walter Presents" range, bringing in comedies, dramas and crime shows in a really wide range of languages. If you're in the UK, you go and have a look.

Learn more about how to use TV to learn a language in podcast episode 31.

The Best Creative Language Learning Podcast Episodes

Here are our essential Creative Language Learning Podcast episodes you should not miss. It'll be a while before you're bored!

  • Futurelearn - free online courses provided by UK universities and organisations. They offer some language courses, including Dutch, Danish, Spanish, and Catalan Sign Language (!)
  • News in Slow French

A Good Handle on the Hangul (Podcast Episode 47)

In this episode, we let you guys take us where you wanted us to go with your awesome listener messages.

Some of What We Talked About

  • Where to go when you travel to Lithuania (home of our first listener)
  • Great tips for studying Korean, like how to study the grammar and where to go next after learning Hangul script
  • Is there ever a perfect language course that is not too slow and not too fast?
  • How to set yourself little language goals
  • Great apps on your smartphone that help you learn languages (we mentioned DOZENS and you've never heard of half of these - guaranteed!)
  • How to beat procrastination when you’re supposed to be studying your languages

The Language Learner's iPhone Gallery


We want to thank you guys so much for sending us so much feedback (especially Paulina, Stephen and Andy) in this episode. Keep it coming, we always read your reviews and feedback and definitely want more voice messages.

Links and Resources From This Episode




There are so many more that we mention on the show, so don’t forget to check out our home screen gallery for inspiration.

Beating Procrastination

You Can Be On The Show

Don't forget that you can submit your message to us anytime. Simply do one of the following:

  • go on Skype and leave a voice message for fluentlanguage OR
  • email us at kerstin@fluentlanguage.co.uk - include a voice memo from your phone if you can, so we can feature your voice on the show
  • leave a comment on this blog post

Make sure you mention your name and which languages you’re learning. We also value your reviews in the iTunes store of your choice - simply click here, subscribe, click review and go for it (thanks to our latest US-based reviewer for the cool review en español!).

12 Ideas For Making the Perfect Language Learning App

As a language writer, it's part of my job to look out for new trends and developments in language learning. There are so many new apps released every day, and the language learning market is huge.

What makes a good language learning app?

Lanuage learning with an app only is a tall order for anyone, learner or teacher, and different users will look for different results. The following list is based on what I believe makes a good language learning experience, regardless of what the marketing of the app tells you about how it is going to make you fluent instantly.

The best apps:

  1. focus on doing one thing and doing it well, instead of claiming that they can teach you how to be awesome at listening, reading, speaking and writing AND grammar
  2. deliver on their promises
  3. keep your attention
  4. run well and focus on allowing you to learn instead of piling on features that only slow your phone or tablet's performance
  5. understands that you're often looking at the app on a small phone screen and you work with an on-screen keyboard
  6. are interesting, relevant and fun when it comes to their content
  7. encourage that addictive quality to keep you coming back and building good habits

Of course it's impossible for me to tell you all about the million language learning apps on the internet, but before I launch into a big dream list let's check out what is popular.

Language Learning Apps: What's Out There?

Here are the current multi-language bestsellers in the Google Play and Apple iOS stores (does anyone use Windows Mobile?):

Course-Style Apps

  • Duolingo

Duolingo is unbeatable, and I've already covered why it's not perfect. Interestingly, Google lists this as a "brain training app", not a "language learning app".

  • Mango Languages

Mango requires that you access it through an account that's linked with your school or public library. A fantastic language selection, cute interface and standard sentences to teach you the language basics.

  • Babbel

Similar to most of the above, Babbel adds speech recognition to the useful sentences of Mango and the gamification of Mango. Claims to have "reinvented language learning" in the introduction. The result of reinvention? Learning through vocab-based recall learning with flashcards and games. I would recommend this over Duolingo just because its dialogues felt more useful and real.

Vocabulary and Memorisation Apps

  • Memrise: The Ultimate Memorisation App

Memrise focuses on teaching through flashcards and spaced repetition, with user-sourced audio to accompany the words you're learning. Excellent for vocabulary training, but less effective for learning or practising sentences.

  • Vocab Express

Mixing flashcards and old-school vocabulary lists, the strengths of Vocab Express lie in focusing on keeping things simple. There's a leaderboard for those who compete with classmates. User reviews do bring up some room for improvement when it comes to the keyboard layout and saving your progress.

  • Flashcards+

This one has an Apple Watch integration and allows deck sharing.

  • Lingualy

The Lingualy app aims to combine flashcards with what you read on your smartphone to help you look up words in news articles and save them for revision.

The Language App Wish List

If you're out there and you're making a language learning app, here's what I think it should be like. I don't expect the perfect language learning app to be released any time soon, but perhaps one or two of these features rings a bell and you can build it into yours?

Or even better: Do these apps exist already? Do you know about them? If yes, then please leave a comment and tell me all about them.

1) Polyglot Smartphone Keyboards

I really don't like having to change on-screen keyboards between all the languages I'm learning. I text in German and English, I want to practise French, and ultimately my aim right now is to use the Welsh I learn. So that's four languages, plus the emoji keyboard. On my iPhone, this means I spend a lifetime pressing that little world button and getting annoyed at autocorrect.

I'd love the app of my dreams to do more than switch off autocorrect and the keyboard, and instead give me a better keyboard changing experience.

2) Trivago For Dictionaries

Trivago is a hotel room search engine, similar to Kayak for flights or Indeed for jobs. I would be so happy if there was an app combining the great things about several dictionaries together. The accuracy of LEO with the authority of Oxford or Duden, combined with the real-life examples of Linguee or the versatility of Wordreference. Then throw in Forvo so we can pronounce it. Simply enter a word and choose where you would like to look it up to get the right information, a reliable translation, a pronunciation demo. How awesome would that be?!

3) Placement Tests at the Beginning

It's not easy to design a good placement test, which is why most apps don't do much more than asking you "What's your level?". Duolingo obviously approaches this as "test out of a skill", which is as close as I have seen to a really great placement test at the start. There is nothing, however, that compares to the thorough experience you get at the start of something like Rosetta Stone. But I think apps could do better, especially when working together with language test designers to create a placement test

4) Enhanced Reading

The Lingualy app I mentioned above has a really intesting idea in my opinion. Support when reading in a foreign language needs an arsenal of level-appropriate texts and a flashcard system that talks to the best flashcard apps out there. I dream of a Kindle dictionary that can look up the pronunciation of my word on Forvo and then add it to Memrise for me.

Reading in a foreign language is not about inventing more and more apps, but about connecting the best ones together.

5) Language Exchange + Flashcards

I think HelloTalk is an excellent take on language exchange, but on several occasions while using it I wanted to put what I learnt into Flashcards or into my notebook. The dream app would be able to help me out there and offer an integration with one of the great flashcard apps. This could be as simple as exporting a file.

6) Calendar Integration

One of the biggest challenges of language learning is committing to doing something every single day, and my dream app would help a learner out with the habit-forming challenge. There are some great apps out there that help with this, for example coach.me, but I've not seen a language-focused one.

I’d like to see a daily checklist, a scheduler or daily timed activities. No matter if this is for flashcards or spending 10 minutes chatting to people via language exchange, there's nothing like ticking a box to say "I did this!".

What's Your Perfect Language Learning App?

Now it's your turn! If you're a developer feeling inspired by one of these ideas, feel free to take them and turn them into...not cash, but a really fantastic language learning app.

If you're a language learner, what do you think about these ideas? Do you have a favourite app? Do you have dream features you'd love to see from it?

Leave your message in the comments below - I can't wait to hear what you recommend!

New Podcast Episode: Mobile Language Learning and Big News with Lindsay Does Languages

Big news for the ladies of the Creative Language Learning Podcast in episode 20: Lindsay is engaged and Kerstin is married! 

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • What makes a German wedding and an English engagement special
  • Lindsay's and Kerstin's recent language learning updates - we've been learning Semaphore and Welsh!
  • How do you use Memrise for language learning?
  • Lindsay's exact process for learning a new way of communicating with online resources
  • Should you speak early? Is there any reason to hold back?

Article of the Week

Can you really learn a language using mobile apps? on Languages around the Globe

Tips of the Week

Summer is my favourite season, so you won't have to guess hard to work out which tip I chose as the big tip of the week!

1) Get outside and away from all your screens for a summer's learning session

2) Make Language Study your first task of the day with Early Morning Study Sessions

3) Watch your foreign movie...but watch the commentary!

Tips and Links from this Podcast

Question of the Week

Are you in an international relationship? Maybe a bilingual one? Tell us your story of living across borders in the comments or over on Facebook!

Building a Language Foundation with Apps: Babbel and Duolingo

If you're a Fluent regular, you'll be familiar with my regular guest author Angel Armstead, who is ambitious and varies her studies by learning German, Russian, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese. Angel has been focusing on German recently and is on hand today with her own experience report of two leading apps, Duolingo and Babbel.

In this article, she shares the frustrations and benefits of using apps to get a first language foundation.

babbel duolingo

My Language App Choices

I decided late last year to look up German language apps and courses. I came across both Babbel, Duolingo and many others. A lot of apps were just teaching vocabulary which I also need but some didn’t have any sentences so they didn’t keep my attention for long. I eventually decided to go for a Duolingo/Babbel combo and see how that would work.

I heard of Duolingo back when it was still new, and started off with some doubts. I just didn’t believe that it was really 100% free. I assumed that I would do a few lessons and like everything else it would eventually ask for my credit card number. The small amount of languages turned me off. They’re getting Russian soon and hopefully Japanese & Mandarin. Its game-like features also had me wondering if I would learn anything.

In December last year I decided to try it out after getting Pimsleur German from the library. I could understand what was being said in Pimsleur but I was sure that I couldn’t spell any of the words. That’s when I decided to try out Duolingo because I knew they had German. On closer examination, another objection was answered too: I did find out from other users that there were no hidden fees. Duolingo being free was my main reason for trying it out.

First Impressions of Duolingo

When I first signed up, I had decided that I would only be around for a few days then I would move on to something else. Duolingo has an RPG feel, which I liked a lot since those are my favorite games. You get to earn points, level up and buy things with the currency (lingots) that you earn. But I still didn’t expect to do more than just a week because I didn’t expect to learn anything. Within the first few days I learnt a few new words and sentences here and there. I confirmed that I totally couldn’t spell those words. I do like being able to take timed tests to see how fast I can answer a question.  And now, I’m still going with Duolingo. It has become extremely addictive to have RPG aspects plus learning on the same site. It’s the same aspect that keeps me addicted to sites such as HabitRPG.

Duolingo has Skills that you learn and some skills have up to 10 or more lessons. Skills are things such as “Basics” “Food” “Phrases” and a lot more. Duolingo German currently has over 70 skills. I have a long ways to go due to my study for a few days then review for a few days habit. I won’t be finishing my “Skill” tree for quite some time. The lessons seems so short and they are but it’s amazing how many mistakes I can make in such a short lesson. Duolingo has optional skills such as Flirting, Idioms & Christmas that you can buy with the lingots that you earn. I’ve decided to do all the optional skills last.

First Impressions of Babbel

I didn’t have the same negative assumptions toward Babbel as I did with Duolingo. The few people I talked to that used it said they learned a lot of vocabulary and were more confident in the language they were learning. But I wanted more than just the vocab part, so I ordered the three month course last month while they were offering 6 months for the price of 3. I found Babbel just by putting in German language in my Kindle Fire app store. I got Babbel after I started Duolingo and originally was getting it to have something to reinforce what I was learning from Duolingo. I also wanted to learn through different teaching methods.

One thing I noticed straight away is that Babbel is not as game oriented as Duolingo. There are many courses once you pay the fee. I’ve started with the Beginners course and there are 6 beginners courses in all with various lessons in each course. I’ve gone over how to greet someone, ask simple questions and practice dialogues. I’ve even printed out all my dialogues so far.

I love that you have a review lesson to go over those things. When you complete a course, Babbel lets you know what you should know and where it falls in CEFR. Duolingo is fun but I needed more explanation. I needed to know why some things were wrong. I couldn’t understand the German case system at first and wondered why der forms sometimes would change to den. With Babbel, I had to practice going over when to use der or den. I had the same problem with the different ways I saw sie being used. I got it wrong so much in the beginning but now I rarely do. One thing I like about Babbel are the certificates for each course you complete. Maybe I’m a bit of a showoff? This is something I would print out and frame so I can feel a little accomplished even if it’s simply the beginner’s course.

What I like Best about Duolingo & Babbel

I love the RPG aspect of Duolingo such as the leveling up, gaining lingots and “buying” timed tests. I retain a lot more than I expected that I would.  I like Babbel because I feel like it explains things more in depth and is a bit more serious. There are parts of Babbel where I had a whole page of practicing forms.

Once you’ve been put through such a long exercise of practicing all the forms for You, Me and I, you’ll find that they are way harder to forget.

Frustrations with Both

No site is perfect. The thing that bothers me the most is sometimes I feel that other translations could be used. An impersonal teacher such as a program cannot have every viable answer in it. It has the best ones but sometimes the “best” translation is not the one I write down.

Babbel is very strict on spelling. I’ve gotten a lot wrong due to that. I happen to spell too many words based on English spelling and not German. When it first happened it was disappointing because it seemed like I misspelled every word. In Duolingo you would get kicked out the lesson if you did really badly. Duolingo gives you three hearts per session, and if you lose them all you’re kicked out and have to start over. Babbel is not as quite frustrating but I’m kind of a perfectionist and I just kept getting the same words wrong every time. I ended up making flash cards of those words since they seemed to be ones I was having the biggest problems with. Funnily enough, I must be getting things right. Now my problem is the reverse! When I’m supposed to translate, I end up spelling the words in German. I’ve been spelling good as gut and man as Mann. But that doesn’t frustrate me as much when I make that mistake because it shows that at least I do remember the German word now.  

Where do I see my Language Skills 3 Months from now?

I don’t expect to be finished either Duolingo or Babbel because of how I study. I study for 5 days straight and then take a few days to review. I’m fine with taking my time to work on these programs. I wouldn’t mind in three months understanding more of some of my favorite German songs or even understanding more in a video game. I have future plans of a class, a private tutor or both, and I like the idea of having a foundation in the language before doing either.

Duolingo and Babbel are just two of the apps that I have decided to test out to see how well they really do. Busuu will be next and whatever else I can find. Apps are easily accessible to everyone and when I find some that I think can help I can easily recommend to other language learners. There are a lot of people that I talk to that would love to learn another language but either lack of time or money feel they can’t. Apps make it a bit more affordable in the case of Duolingo or are just simply convenient (Babble). And maybe the excuses for learning a language will grow a little smaller due to apps like these (and future apps).

Have you tried out Duolingo and Babbel? How long did you stick with it? How much did it help? As always, we'd love to hear more from you in the comments

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