7 Awful Language Learning Apps You Should Probably Just Burn

*Note* This list is a couple of years old. In that time, some of these apps have changed considerably, some of them for the better – some maybe not so much. I can’t say that my feelings for any of them are particularly strong and many still have the same issues they did when this was written, but a few – such as Babbel – have definitely improved. Just something to keep in mind. Furthermore – this list really only pertains to mobile versions. Some of these products come with a “full” version that is browser or PC based. While some of these products and their apps are *both* bad, this article is not about them.
I’m crazy about language learning apps. While I wouldn’t forsake more traditional methods, software or audio courses, I’d be lost without mobile applications to supplement and support my learning strategy

However, rave reviews of language products from huge sites like Techcrunch, Forbes and Huffpost baffle me time and time again. I often read them and can’t help wondering if they’re really talking about the same products I am. Are they actually language learners or educators? Do they know anything about what makes a quality learning program?

My opinion is that many of them are inaccurate and misleading.

So in order to combat the forces of darkness I’ve compiled this snarky little list of some of the worst language learning apps out there, simply for your enjoyment, and so you can think twice about your options this year.

Some of you who have followed some of the higher-profile-than-me reviews will note that many of the apps that make this list are actually some of the same apps that make the “bests” lists.

Funny how that works.


I don’t like Busuu, I’m not even going to pretend neutrality. It took me about 5 minutes with their app to decide it wasn’t worth the time of day.


Voted one of the top apps by a number of sites this disaster of a system seems to be Rosetta Stone’s pale shadow. Matching pictures with words – much like a bazillion other terrible programs – is one of the least effective learning methods out there.

Busuu isn’t the most expensive thing you can find, but it’s expensive enough as to not be worth your time.

Admittedly the reason I’ve never written a full review of Busuu is because the demo is garbage and was enough to guarantee that I’d never be subscribing.

So maybe I’m wrong, but I’m also a narrow minded jerk who won’t be going back to find out.

Rosetta Stone

What would an LATG bad app summary be without commentary on the king of terrible, massively overpriced language learning software?

Rosetta, no doubt the world’s favorite due to its bursting coffers and capability to produce TV advertisements, boasts a host of functionality that would be great if it actually worked.

You can read all about my professional experience with Rosetta Stone as an ESL administrator here, but since this is an app review I’ll focus briefly on that.

Briefly because there isn’t much to tell. Without a subscription you’re pretty much limited to the demo, which is free, and terrible. You would have to be more easily entertained than a kitten with a plastic bag to be engaged enough to actually base a $400 purchase on Rosetta’s demo.

And even if you are as wealthy as the Sultan of Brunei, you’re not going to learn much.

All I have to say is: run!


If you thought I was short with Busuu you’d be amazed at how quickly this app disappeared from my iPhone. It isn’t expensive, but $4.99 is more than I’d usually spend on an app. The demo, as pretty much always, blew my mind with its derptasticness.

MindSnacks apps come in a variety of flavors ranging from French to Portuguese to all the other ones you’ve come to expect. They’re designed for younger children and that’s great.

I don’t really know if this app is especially effective. It crashes almost every time I start it up.

From what I’ve seen of the game play it consists of matching words. There’s no speaking, writing or listening components. There’s no system of spaced repetition nor any form of mnemonic learning. If I wanted flashcards I’d use a free app with more than a handful of words to offer….

…Words that don’t really seem relevant to anything, include no essential vocabulary for beginning learners and never seem to be used in context with one another.

I’ve only used the French app – so maybe other languages are better, but I kind of doubt it and I kind of doubt I’ll bother finding out.


This is another real winner. More critical acclaim, more rave reviews, more shout-outs from The New York Times and BBC and everyone else etc etc.

And once again I wonder how much these critics are being paid by these companies because the alternative involves drugs.

If you’re looking for – yup you guessed it – another opportunity to match the picture to the word look no further. Babbel’s revolutionary picture-word matching system will absolutely not “put you into an immersion environment”. You will not “learn like a child” – because you can’t.

Babbel at least offers a listening component, which sets it apart from some of its competitors. It also starts you off at a level of your choosing, which wins it a few more points.


But my point remains that once you’re done with the 5 minute demo you’re stuck buying a subscription. Sure, the app is free, but the app does nothing without a sub, so be prepared to shell out money. It’s not excruciatingly expensive – around $13 per month, with some better deals if you buy your time in bulk, but as always there are better methods that cost nothing.

So why bother?

Learn Like Kids products

Learn Like Kids is a company that produces more smartphone apps than you can shake a stick at, all of which are clones of every other crappy app that matches words with pictures.

The names of the company “Learn Like Kids” and the apps themselves “[X Language] in a Month” should immediately cause your ships to hoist the red flag.

These apps pretty much fit the same bill as every other app on this list. You match words with pictures, you win points, and you can go through 3 “levels” before you’re expected to shell out the cash.

But back to the names. You can’t learn a language in a month. Benny Lewis can’t learn a language in a month. Military translators can’t learn a language in a month. Unless you’re C3P0 don’t try, it’s not worth it.

And Learn Like Kids? You can’t do that either. It’s all marketing, plain and simple. Comparing adult learning to that of children is stupid. You can’t do it. Your brain isn’t built for it anymore. That’s not to say children learn better – they don’t, it’s a very different way of learning – but regardless of who learns better or worse, you can’t learn the same.

Check out this great review from Erik Zidowecki from Parleremo for more specifics on this collection of apps.

Google Translate

Are you serious?! You can’t learn a language with a translator! 

The undisputed champion of bad translation software now has it’s own shiny little app that you can easily use with your mobile device if you’re looking to create hilarious translation memes, because that’s just about all it’s good for..

You might as well buy a damn dictionary and read it cover to cover. You’ll probably learn more.

google translate app is bad

This is joke of a system and I  cannot believe that anyone would include it in a list of top anythings; except of course my list, because this is a list of bad things.

Google Translate does work for one thing: transcribing words you already know the translations to into other writing systems. Don’t do this if you don’t already know the correct translation though because you never know when you’ll type in fish and get the Japanese word for tape worm.

While GT isn’t quite as terrible as it once was, if you’re looking for a translation app or website I’d recommend using specific dictionary translators such as Word Reference or Pons. Choose a dictionary/translator that specifically focuses on your language. It’s most likely to be higher quality.


Living Language

Another titanic name in the world of language learning software Living Language is an absurdly overpriced downloadable program that at $40/month or $150/year for a subscription turns out to be one of the most expensive options available to language learners dying to be a little bit poorer this year.

Living Language’s “free” app is useless, as always, if you don’t pay for the “premium” upgrade. If you do have it it’s little more than a big deck of premade flashcards, which you could find anywhere, usually for free.

The demo consists of about 30 flashcards – all of which are so elementary you’ll have them memorized before you even see them. The more advanced content that you have to pay for doesn’t get any harder either.

I paid $9.99 for the full version and I genuinely think I have become less intelligent as a result.

Should have paid attention to the Apple Store’s reviews. 2.5 stars is pretty awful. When your 1 star ratings outnumber your 5 star ratings it’s time to give up and go home.


Again I ask: are other critics using the same things I’m using? Are they seeing the same results or lack thereof that I’m seeing? It certainly seems as though we’re on completely different wavelengths when it comes to what does and does not constitute a worthwhile language app.

Don’t get me wrong; just because a product costs money does not automatically make it bad. A lot of people put their blood, sweat and tears into creating these products and they deserve to be paid for their efforts.

The problem that I have is with the marketing tactics that have language learners like you convinced that these systems – which are all more or less the same – will somehow miraculously teach you a language faster, more efficiently, with better results or in the same way as a child.

If you’ve already purchased and use any of these apps, that’s fine. You should at least try to get your money’s worth. If it works out and helps you that’s fantastic. These apps clearly must do something or all the reviews would be negative and they clearly aren’t.


But when it comes to being a language learner there are so many better ways to do things that won’t kill your wallet and that will actually make a difference. And as a language company there are better ways to do things that don’t make you seem like a heartless money sink and a waste of time.

So, which other apps do you love or hate? Leave a comment!


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Brian is the creator, owner and Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe. When he’s not hanging around with linguistics nerds and learning languages, Brian works full time at Kolibri Online, a Hamburg based international content marketing and translation agency as a copywriter, human dictionary and general doer of great things.

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Brian Powers

Brian is the creator, owner and Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe. When he's not hanging around with linguistics nerds and learning languages, Brian works full time at Kolibri Online, a Hamburg based international content marketing and translation agency as a copywriter, human dictionary and general doer of great things.

  • Andre Hein

    Dear Sir,

    Personally, I like the Busuu app because it works for me: After only two weeks of Spanish learning through this app, I signed up to “Tandem”, an app which enables direct contact with native speakers of your preferred language around the world. I listed Spanish as my language of study, and suddenly received messages in that language which I actually managed to reply to in a limited but intelligible Spanish – something I had never imagined would be possible after only a couple of weeks with Busuu.

    So yes, Busuu works for me, but we all have the right to an opinion, including you of course. I only take issue with your criticising a multitude of apps without proposing any alternatives. It’s easy to say something is bad, but compared to what then? At least offer your suggestions.

    Thank you.

  • Profe Ali Abdullah

    Now I am a Spanish instructor and I have recommended Busuu to a few students who wanted to do extra. There are two that use it on a regular basis, and I have to tell you that I notice a remarkable difference between their speaking and that of the other students. Busuu requires more than just a few minutes to see results. I requires desire and constancy.

  • Rebecca

    I didn’t know about Living Languages’ failed app. I use the book series which is gold. I got two whole year ahead of my class in Spanish. Although I have to say, their Korean series goes EXTREMELY fast. i have had it for about a year and never gone past the first lesson because it was so daunting.

  • Lillian

    Personally I use a combination of duolingo with other sites. Duolingo is good to learn the words and I use everything from youtube comment sections to anonymous chats to learn to actually speak the language. I also say what I want to type out loud befote writing it to get used to the way the language sounds.

  • MsByte

    Hmm well, I’ve just completed my Busuu beginners course in Spanish. I am also using Memrize (free) and take a weekly Spanish Beginners class. I have also tried DuoLingo and Rosetta stone.

    Duolingo is fun, though the phrases you learn can be pretty useless though and only Latin American Spanish is on offer. Rosetta Stone is BORING!!! So uninspiring and pointless. My Spanish class is very slow and due to the different levels of students it often ends up focused on the weaker students.

    For me Busuu is the clear winner. It’s interactive, uses pictures as well as dialogue and with a subscription teaches grammar and conjugation. You also have the benefit of having your exercises reviewed and corrected and you can do them as often as you like.

    I will say though that you can not rely on a single program to teach you everything. For me Busuu and Memrize complement each other perfectly. Memrize consolidating what I’ve learn in Busuu.

  • Trevor Lewan (All Free Spanish

    I’d recommend this website: http://www.allfreespanish.com because it actually teaches you Spanish from a beginner’s point of view using useful grammar and vocabulary lessons.

  • W8post

    Why is it that Rosetta Stone mails always end up in my spam folder? Someone inside my MacBook must be very clever to distinguish and separate the chaff from the corn.

  • The Babbel also has in the trial, choosing the correct verb for a sentence, and giving explanation as to verb usage, also you get to fill in sentences with appropriately spelled words, and adding in learned words to a fictitious conversation, also using the microphone option to learn correct pronunciation.

    Sounds to me like the big companies aren’t the only one’s not actually using the app… I still don’t understand why rosetta stone doesn’t lay out proper verb usage and give explanations. Babbel is far superior to rosetta stone.

  • Food_Stuff

    I find G Translate useful to get the meaning AND PRONUNCIATION of words that are new to me.

    I don’t know if you’re familiar with Reverso Context (app) but it’s fantastic and free. It’s not a “learning app” but a reference app but very useful for all that.

  • TennesseeRedDog

    The most recent comments on PC Mag’s review of Duolingo. Others gave it a thumbs up. I am totally confused as to what to look for now. Of course I am dyslexic and of average intelligence so maybe I am out of my depth.

    2 days ago
    Duolingos volunteers who create their language programs are just random people who speak a language not people who teach or translate who might actually understand the finer points of a language.

    It is very inconsistent. If you are serious about learning a language you might use this app as an extra to whatever professional learning materials you choose. But if you rely on this you may look like an ass in when you visit a country where that language is spoken.

    Also, don’t waste your lingots on any bonus skills labeled “Flirting”. Not unless you goal is to get slapped by a lot of people.

    Kell Brigan
    8 days ago
    Warning: DuoLingo can include insulting, sexist, bigoted materials. The stuff’s frequently written by volunteers and that means their personal hatreds and hang-ups (sexist stuff, fat bashing, etc.) show up. NOT RECOMMENDED.

    Kell Brigan
    2 days ago
    Their spanish program is particularly foul. Duolingo seems to show zero concern for how they are representing different cultures.

    • In the past I have written quite favorable reviews of Duolingo and in general I still think it has its merits, especially for a free system.

      A bunch of my most trusted polyglot and linguist friends are users of Duolingo and swear by it, but it does certainly have its drawbacks.

      As you note, the bonus skills, such as flirting, are terrible. There’s no other use for lingots though, besides a silly outfit or two for Duo the owl, so whatever, just don’t take it too seriously.

      Duo works as an introduction to a new language, and two years ago I found that it suited my Spanish needs fairly well. However, now that I’m studying German I’m finding it less valuable. It’s possible that this has something to do with my experience with the language, but it seems that the retention rate is lower.

      Furthermore, with no spoken component, it doesn’t really get the job done as a “primary” resource.

      Still, I still think it’s good enough to be worth at least some experimentation. I wouldn’t include it on this list.

      • TennesseeRedDog

        Thanks. I’ve been dabbling with Radio Lingua out of Scotland and their Coffee Break series… They have a tickler introduction and give you the opportunity to buy their full package at a reasonable price. I have yet to get serious about my learning but I like to play. LOL

  • Kelsey

    Most of these apps are, by themselves, fairly mundane, useless and overpriced. But it’s also important to consider that apps are merely supplements and should never be used as a primary resource for language learning. Rosetta Stone has upped it’s game a bit, by slightly bringing down the price and packages with dictionaries and verb books, but overall it’s important for the learner to understand that apps are for basic review/introduction to a topic.

    Personally, I tend to prefer Memrise, and typically on the computer, in conjunction with my own readings/listening practice. I both create my own courses with vocabulary I find in other activities for review, and I take other courses that I can pull vocab from. The most important thing I do after is write essays/practice speaking the words out-loud. The only way to really solidify what you learn in apps is to use what you learn.

    The biggest hurdle is finding what resources to use for this supplement, so I think you did a pretty good job of raising possible issues other users might have. ^^

  • Lee

    I deleted Busuu and Babbel after reading your post. Not because you wrote negative reviews. I just don’t want to keep apps that I rarely use on my phone to waste storage space. I guess the two apps have their fans. I just can’t get myself engaged in learning by using either of them. If I need an app for vocabulary, I can use Vocabulary Trainer, which is free with many lessons. Also some other free apps can do the job. For language learners, there are numerous apps available. Try some out and see if they suit your individual needs. It doesn’t matter how many awards and how many good reviews the apps have. If you (the user) don’t learn languages effectively by using the apps, those apps aren’t for you. Delete them then go find another one.

  • kozen

    Are you trying to be controversial? If you really don’t like these apps, maybe you just can’t learn languages. Of course, they’re not standalones but if you need a teacher, get the teacher. If you need a coursebook then get the coursebook. All you need to start when learning a new language is a set of grammar rules and vocabulary. And I believe this is exactly what these apps are providing. It just doesn’t mean that’s it and you can stop thinking/learning/being flexible enough. It’s up to you what you do with your grammar rules and vocabulary later.

    OK, new Busuu is somewhat worse when it comes to level. In the past it used to provide harder exercises but still it can be used effectively. Rosetta Stone is boring but then when it comes to learning your lesson by heart, RS is doing perfectly well. You just need that lesson to be acquired somewhere else first or you’ll fall asleep.

  • I love the Duolingo app when it comes to Spanish. What do you think of it? I haven’t tried other languages it has yet so I don’t know how it fares in general.

    • I like the Duolingo app. I’ve used it for a couple of languages now and I think in general it’s a strong addition to anyone’s mobile language toolkit.

      The only real downside to Duolingo is that it certainly seems to be aimed at beginning learners – which is fine really, but more advanced learners may find it somewhat tedious. I like that Duo lets you test out of content you’re already comfortable with

  • StellaBarbone

    Rosetta Stone hosts a good chat forum which is free. I haven’t used it for a while, but if you don’t mind typing, there are always people in your (or at least “my”) target languages hanging around and you can strike up a conversation.

  • Well typically you can rely on professional translators. It’s pretty rare that they are scams.

    As for machine translation – I think one day it will reach a very solid, “fluent” state. I don’t actually want this to happen but considering how technology works I imagine one day we’ll figure it out.

    But for now – they’re all bad. I suppose Google has the advantage of its additional features, such as the already cited word recognition stuff. Which is cool.

    But again, if you don’t know the word already you shouldn’t trust it.

    I usually only use translators so I can copy the correct spellings in Cyrillic for words I already know.

  • Karen

    It’s called Accelerated Spanish and I admit I have only listened to the podcasts. There is also a website with pictures and videos. I am going to check it out because just listening to the podcasts can be maddening. You’re learning spanish along with Joel, the lizzard. I won’t say any more. It is not without interest. The material is a bit more complex and I found that interesting. However, it takes a long to time explain the mnemonic devices in words It would be interesting to hear your review. Thanks..

  • W8post

    So we going out and try …

  • W8post

    there is a HUGE problem with translators, either in person or electronic. How do you know it’s translated correctly if you don’t know the language? (and PLEASE, don’t rely on the person and/or app!!)—remember the ‘hands translator’ for Obama in South Africa??

  • W8post

    This is what Bing does with ‘translations’…(find out for yourself what it SHOULD be,,,)

  • I actually haven’t checked out Masters of Memory before. I will have to make a note to do so.

    In today’s article I actually finally finished my review of Rocket Languages and while I had very mixed overall feelings towards it one of the biggest cons I found was that the audio portion – which was perfectly high quality – was incredibly boring.

    They spend a lot of time attempting to build a fun, casual, buddy-buddy relationship between the learner and the two hosts giving the lesson. They banter back and forth about completely unrelated things, make jokes and just generally accomplish nothing.

  • Karen

    I don’t remember what I found so annoying about Babbel (and also something annoying about Busuu). Sometimes is just the way they set up their system. I am so impressed with the langauge learning tools available online, but you do have to test them out. they’re not all good for you, even if they come recommended. Have you or anyone tried “Masters of Memory” language tools? I am not recommending it. I sometimes use it, but it is also annoying. It’s a site that teaches mnemonic tools and it has a language section. But there is so much describing of the “scene” in order for you to get the mnemonic device to remember something like “y” in spanish, that my eyes just glaze over. Maybe there’s something there, but I just can’t bear it.

    Just like Duolingo. they made a change recently that made it much better for me. I am 70. I don’t need to compete with friends, I don’t need the whining “uh oh!” sound when I make a mistake, and I do not need to go back to the beginning and start over. I made several complaints, but I don’t know if my complaints had anything to do with the new format. Now, when you make a mistake you just do not move forward as fast, AND they give you that exercise over several more times to cement it into your memory. Much better. Kudos to Duolingo.

    It’s probably worthwhile to pay for some services, but you have to evaluate everything. Good Luck.

  • Glad to see I’m not the only one. Babbel has never impressed me. I really could have given it a more thorough attempt, and maybe one day I will just so I can write a full review instead of this abbreviated one.

    I’ve had my mind changed in the past about a program – Pimsleur in particular – so you never know.

    But I doubt it.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • W8post

    I was recommended to try Babbel (added that when you continue with Babbel it would cost you about €10 a month). So I tried Swedish; I speak Swedish, but didn’t practice it for a while. And just wanted it to give it try. Couldn’t finish the demo. After a few tries I got so angry that Babbel corrected my correct answers, I threw it out. (Next day, however, I got a mail from Babbel asking why I didn’t continue with their Swedish course for a ‘special’ price. I did NOT react)

  • W8post

    And when Bing can’t translate, which often happens, they just keep the word in it’s original state; i.e. without translating. Common languages are [mostly] fine; French, German, English, but with Spanish it already begins to stutter, not talking about Russian/Ukrainian…I especially love it when Bing translates the Spanish word ‘un’ (for ‘one’ in English) as United Nations…

  • Karen

    Yes Brian, I am enjoying Duo. I am learning with Duo, Memrise and Coffee Break Spanish (and occasionally with so many other resources). There are TONS of resources nowadays. Much better than when I first learned Italian. I know what you need to learn a language and I’m at the stage where I have to start writing and translating more frequently. I live in NYC so have tiptoed into speaking with any Spanish speaker I can find..On SpanDict I made my own set of flash cards called “special words” that anyone can use. Glad to join the community

  • Agree that the accuracy still is lacking. I find it’s almost like a test of how well you know a language -I mean, if you check something and then think “hang on, that’s wrong!”. It feels good to beat the computer sometimes! 😉

  • Hi Goran,

    I’ve used Livemocha two or three times and had generally lukewarm feelings about it. I do appreciate what it attempts to do though. By connecting people via a sort of teach/learn exchange it does seem to have something unique to offer.

    I’ve been meaning to do a full review of Livemocha for a while now. I’ll honestly need to revisit it more thoroughly before I can judge it fairly.

    I’ll have to get on this soon!

    Thanks for your comment.

  • I’m glad to hear that you’ve come to enjoy Duo. It’s a decent system and one of my preferences. It won’t teach you a language on its own though.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Thanks Alex! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    So what about Busuu’s site do you like?

  • Hi Israel, I’m glad you found it helpful! Thanks for commenting

  • Alex

    Haha I loved this incredibly scathing review of all these apps. I’ve had a reasonably good experience with Busuu’s online website which you don’t pay anything for (I think maybe they’re cutting the free functionality now, which is a shame). But I agree with Rosetta Stone and all those match-the-picture flashcard things are not really worth more than a 5 minute twiddle on the train home.

  • Israel Lai

    Great list! I was going to try some of these out, now I’ll just save my time.

  • Goran Krivokapic

    What do you think about Livemocha?

  • Great post! I love the brutal honesty. I’ve never been a fan of Rosetta Stone, and other than the actual Busuu language music video they did, I never got much from the apps or the site. And even though I haven’t heard about some of these, I now have even less interest in them now! Thanks for the review!

  • tesolacademic

    CALL and MALL aps are obsolete, especially bad ones, see Jarvis and Krashen (2014) Is CALL Obsolete? Language Acquisition and Language Learning Revisited in a Digital Age http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume17/ej68/ej68a1

  • I considered briefly including paid podcasts, but as I’m not willing to shell out the money (sometimes $30/month) for a subscription it would have been ridiculous of my to review them.

    It would also have to be a topic for a different post, and while its easy to attack and criticize apps and companies, its not really my style to attack individuals which is kind of what I’d be doing if I wrote a negative review of a podcast.

    A lot of children’s materials are pretty bad!

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Well there are several reasons, but other than the poor cost-effectiveness of the two paid products Duolingo places a lot less emphasis on matching pictures with words which is one of my biggest language software pet peeves.

    It makes us complacent, it’s easy to just memorize the pictures. It creates the illusion that we’re making progress because we can beat the game, so to speak, but at the end of the day it’s amazing just how little of that content one remembers.

    I wrote an article a while back listing 10 reasons to use Duolingo. While it doesn’t offer reasons not to use Busuu or Babbel it might shed some light on what it is that I like about Duo.


  • It’s hard to say. Electronic translation has come a long way – even in the case of Google.

    If I have to use a translator I prefer Bing. It supports far fewer languages than Google, but I find that generally the translations are a little bit more accurate.

    Bing doesn’t have as much functionality though.

    There are dozens of little translator apps out there from small companies. I used one for a while last year that wasn’t terrible, but I lost it when I swapped out my phone and can’t for the life of me find the same app.

  • The reason I included it is primarily that – while it has improved and now offers some interesting new features – it still isn’t especially accurate.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do use it for spelling and transcription, but it’s usually with words I already know.

  • Karen

    I agree about Busuu and Babbel. Haven’t used the others and have heard negative reports of Rosetta Stone. Recent Duolingo changed their format to one that is much better for “adults”. Less emphasis on competition with friends, more on repeating points were you are weak. I was ready to drop it, but now it’s OK.

  • I have to agree that the new Google Translate app is a really useful tool. The WordLens integration and ability to write with your finger is a great addition for travel. That said, of course, it’s not exactly something to *learn* a language with.

  • Smarter German

    Hi Brian, I wonder in what way you consider Duolingo to be better than Busuu or Babbel? Not that I think those are in any way the answer to all questions but they seem far more elaborate, yet not as nice looking. Just curious.

  • Evelyn Camuti Sears

    Thanks for this review. I agree that Google Translate is not a good learning tool, and it’s iffy as a translation tool, except when one is looking for just isolate words or short phrases. Can you recommend a good translation app? I use WordReference for words, short phrases and verb tenses (fantastic verb tables!), but wonder if there is a decent alternative to Google for translation needs.


  • Erik Zidowecki

    I think the article is great! There has to be a review from someone who is actually involved in the process of learning languages, not just a random critic for a publication.

    There is a direct correlation between the good reviews for products and their design. Language is a long, front-heavy process. It takes a lot of time and work to get to a level you feel comfortable using. Most big software products used to recognize that. The first language software I tried was Living Languages, back in the early 90s. It was reading and translation based, so you were almost instantly presented with a large text for you to read. That isn’t the case any more.

    Companies know that they need good reviews to sell their products, and they know that most reviewers aren’t actually going to spend more than a few hours, if that long, testing their product. None are going to use it long enough to see if they can actually learn a language. With that in mind, they need to create software that seems to be teaching you quickly. That is why the word-picture matching method is so popular. It is rigged to make you feel like you are learning. Over the long run, however, it is very time consuming and limited. The companies that push this don’t care. They want good reviews and people buying it.

    Companies that make better products have to then adjust themselves to this same mindset in order to compete.

    Thanks for the shout out to my own blog on similar software.

  • Karen

    I used to feel the same about podcasts. I wondered if the reviewers had actually listened to them. Oh, and don’t get me started about DVDs for children. I had our local library pull one from the shelf because it was absolutely awful! Poor pronunciation and riddled with errors.

  • Chris Broholm

    Haha I love this post Brian, I was actually considering to write a version of this myself.

    One disagreement I have is google translate. Whilst no good at actually learning a language, I find it incredibly fast to spot typos and other minor errors when I try to write to another person early in my new language. I’d write the message as I think is correct, and then throw into into google translate, if the output makes sense I’d send it on to my conversation buddy. If google translate complained or failed to translate some parts, I would check it over again and look up case endings if I had to.

    Actually when I put it like this, perhaps I think it’s ok for learning as well.