If language learning is your thing, then you probably know and use a few apps. Apps are a largely accessible and democratic tool, often the first many learners use when they tackle a new language. Moreover, a number of apps come for free – or at least with many features available free of charge.
Apps are a good place to start picking up vocabulary and grammar structures. You won’t become fluent studying only on apps, but they can be beneficial within a balanced language learning routine. They’re like the fruit juice in your language diet.
In this article, I will focus on apps to learn Italian giving you access to most features for free. I also picked applications that are available on desktop, as well as on mobile versions both for Android and Apple.
Why are apps good for introverts?
For an introvert, the thought of starting to talk to a native speaker of your target language might be stressful. If so, you can start speaking by repeating out loud the words and sentences you learn through your favourite app. Or even record yourself practising new sentences where you use words and grammar points you studied with the app.
This can’t replace actual interaction with a native speaker, but it can be your “safe zone” for a while. Creating a language foundation with the most common words and grammar can give you the confidence you need to start talking with people later.
Plus, they are perfect to unwind and recharge at the end of the day. You can take 10 minutes only for yourself, open your favourite app and focus on it. No more crowded streets, loud people or painful small talks. This is me-time at its best.
Incidentally, apps are also great because you can wear your earplugs, bury your nose in your phone and avoid people trying to start a conversation on the bus. Raise your hand if you have done it too.
No list of language learning apps can be complete without the cute green owl.
Duolingo introduces the language to you bit by bit, through units that you can unlock once you complete the previous one. The order of the units is a good guide for you to follow through your studies, integrating it with other resources. (Check this and other tutor-approved tips to maximize language learning through Duolingo from Kerstin)
It also provides basic grammar explanations, now both on the desktop and mobile version.
The exercises consist of translations from and to the target language, writing down what you hear, matching words and their meaning, repeating a sentence, picking the correct translation.
Sometimes the sentences you find on Duolingo are a bit unnatural, sometimes they’re plain weird. I lost count of the screenshots I sent to my friends while practising to share a laugh with them. However, if a sentence makes you laugh you are more likely to remember it – and with it the vocabulary or grammar it includes.
Of the apps I tried, I found Duolingo to be the best at keeping you motivated. Its system of achievements to unlock and lingots to win through small challenges or by maintaining your streak is quite addictive.
Teacher’s tip: You have finished your tree from English to Italian and you think you’re done with Duolingo? Think again! Go back to it and challenge yourself to practice on the reverse tree – from Italian to English instead.
Memrise is a flashcard-based app that uses images, audio and mnemonics to help you learn the language. Some of the content is created by Memrise’s team, while some of it is created by users. This means, on one hand, that you might encounter a few mistakes from time to time. On the other hand, this allows for a diversified offer in term of teaching and memorizing methods. There is a wide offer of Italian courses, from the official Memrise Italian course to a deck with words from Inspector Montalbano.
The app is based on the spaced repetition, which optimises your ability to retain information. It tests you on the same information with different kinds of exercises and at increasingly long intervals, to help you remember what you studied. First, you practise in learn mode for an introduction to the vocabulary. Then you can use the classic review to memorize it, and the speed review to test your memory with fast quizzes.
Out of these apps, Memrise is the only one you can use offline in its free version. You can download single decks and study whenever you have no access to the internet.
Teacher’s tip: One of my favourite features about Memrise is the possibility to create personalised decks. This way you can use it to review lessons, create your own mnemonics and tailor your study sessions. Regularly add new vocabulary and expressions to your Memrise deck and practise every day. Five or ten minutes a day are enough to see some progress.
Clozemaster is a lovely little app that looks and sounds like an 8-bit game and teaches you the language in context through mass exposure.
It’s based on a very simple, yet effective, exercise where you fill in some sentences with one missing word. It teaches you natural language that you can actually use in daily life. When I study with Clozemaster I always keep a notebook at hand, because it has so many useful everyday expressions!
It divides vocabulary into sections for the most common words. You can either decide to start with the first 100 most common words or let the app automatically show you sentences.
Clozemaster strengthens your understanding of sentence construction and of the language in general, as well as teaching you set phrases and some slang.
You can learn Italian starting from several other languages. At the moment of writing you can learn Italian from English, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Hungarian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Russian. Not bad!
Teacher’s tip: Are you studying another of the languages offered in combination with Italian? If you have at least an intermediate level at either, use the language you’re stronger at as your “learn from” language. This way you’ll get double practice at one time!
What is your favourite app for language learning? Do you have another app you would recommend?