As soon as we learned that we were going to be moving to Germany, Ellie and I both started to invest time into learning basic German. Thankfully, learning a new language is easier than ever thanks to a diverse ecosystem of modern language learning apps.
Why Learn a New Language?
Perhaps the best way to develop empathy for different people in different cultures is to travel outside of your comfort zone (your home country) to meet different people and experience different cultures. One of the best ways to enhance that experience is to learn at least the basics of the local language to better connect with people and their culture.
As we were researching our move to Germany we saw similar sentiment often repeated in other peoples’ experiences living overseas: locals generally react more warmly when you at least attempt to start a conversation in their native language. Having lived in Germany for over a year now, I can definitely say that’s accurate.
What I believe this comes down to is a basic level of respect. Whether you’re a tourist or an ex-pat, you’re a guest in someone else’s homeland. Learning and using the basics of the native language shows a willingness to meet locals on their own level instead of exuding an arrogant expectation that everyone should speak English.
Language Learning Apps
It’s easier than ever to learn a new language thanks to a new generation of language learning apps that are leveraging modern technology like artificial intelligence to constantly improve the language learning experience. Here are our favorite apps and a little bit about why we like each one.
Ellie and I both started learning German with Duolingo, and if you’re just starting out too, this is where I’d recommend you start. Duolingo has apps available for web, Android, and iOS. The great thing about Duolingo is that the free version still gives you access to all of the standard lessons, so you’re not missing any core learning content as a free user. Duolingo is also gamified, which helps keep you motivated to continue with the lessons. After you make some progress with Duolingo, you can make an informed decision about whether you want to go a little deeper on your language-learning journey with paid options.
The one downside I’ll mention about Duolingo is that it can get a little monotonous after a while, as all of the lessons are in the same format. I’ll also say that after about a year of using Duolingo exclusively, I found myself hitting a wall where I didn’t feel like I was learning as much anymore. I turned to the apps below to help mix things up a bit and give my learning a kick-start.
Busuu was the first app I turned to after hitting a mental wall with Duolingo. Like Duolingo, Busuu has apps available for web, Android, and iOS, so you can take it with you everywhere. The thing I like most about Busuu is the variety of its lesson formats; it helps to keep things interesting. Whereas Duolingo focuses almost totally on a language’s grammar, Busuu seems to take a more conversational approach to language learning. Whether that works better or worse for you probably comes down to personal preference. Another really great feature of Busuu is its “conversation” exercises, where you provide a free-form answer in writing or recorded speech to a themed question. Busuu then allows native speakers to correct your response.
One downside of Busuu is that you need to be a paid user to access many of its lessons and features. However, I’ve been using the paid version for over a month now and can say that it’s well worth the money if you’re serious about wanting to learn a new language.
Last but certainly not least is Lingvist. Unlike Duolingo and Busuu, Lingvist is primarily focused on vocabulary building. It uses a flashcard approach to help you learn and memorize vocabulary in the language you’re trying to learn. This is a great compliment to both Duoling and Busuu, which tend to focus mostly on grammar and whose core lessons don’t always give you an opportunity to practice broader vocabulary. The most interesting thing about Lingvist is that by using it, you’re helping it learn about your vocabulary strengths and weaknesses. Given enough time, Lingvist will start tailoring its exercises to your skill level and progress.
Lingvist is now only available for paid users, but again, after having spent some time with it I can say that it’s worth the investment to help round out a serious language-learning curriculum.