For long term travel in South America, I can stress enough how helpful it will be to know at least a little bit of the language before you go. On the whole, the locals speak little or no English – even in big cities and popular tourist destinations – and communicating through sign language alone is difficult and gets tiring, fast! Learning the language can greatly improve your travel experience, not only making life easier but also helping you speak to locals wherever you go for the best tips and for a more authentic and interesting travel experience.
With nine countries on the continent being Spanish speaking, that’s the language most people will need to concentrate on. So, following on from last week’s post about the best websites for learning Spanish – here’s my run down of some of the best apps to make learning the lingo a little bit easier. ¡Buena suerte!
Habla Español – by E-ducation.it
Only on IOS – $13.99 for all lessons – Good for: language immersion, grammar, learners with some background.
This is one of my favourites, and one I used regularly before my trip, but it probably better suits learners who already have some background of Spanish. The app is made up of a series of short episodes following the exploits of Paul, a Dutch student who has moved to Barcelona to learn Spanish (even though he already speaks fluent and utterly perfect Spanish) who moves in to a flatshare with some Spanish artists. The episodes are about 2-5 minutes long and are completely en español for total language immersion, and are followed up by a short lesson (also completely in Spanish) in grammar and vocab from Paul’s lovely Spanish teacher. There’s a lot of flirting between certain characters of the show, and an interesting love triangle which makes for entertaining watching – plus the lessons are thorough and easy to follow. Perfect for those who already understand a little Spanish, but want to improve their grammar and fluency.
The app is free to download, and the first few lessons are free, after which you can download them in batches at $4.99 each, or pay $13.99 for all 26 lessons. Each lesson contains two episodes of the show, two lessons (5-10 minutes), and two quick lesson summaries, plus a short test to check your learning. The only thing that doesn’t work well is the test, which is too basic and doesn’t records your score, but the lessons themselves are fabulous and great for learning to speak like a native.
Available for IOS and Android – Totally Free – Good for: competitive types, vocabulary and grammar.
This is, in my opinion, the best free language learning app out there – and possibly one of the best overall. I’ve been using it for a about two months now and I absolutely love it. The app is really simple to use and good fun, plus you can collect XP for each lesson you complete adding an incentive to practice more – especially if you want to compete against your friends on the leaderboard!
You can also unlock bonus content like extra lessons in things like flirting, or heart bonuses to help you complete the trickier lessons. Collecting the lingots that allow you to buy the bonus content is another incentive to play more – Duolingo really is more like a game, so it’s easy to get hooked. The actual lessons are simple and fun, and start right at the very basics, but you can take a test before you get started, so the app will let you skip these if you’re more advanced already. Each stage focuses on a different skill, like colours, household objects, present tense verbs or adjectives. Within each skill are ten short lessons involving speaking, listening, reading and writing questions that teach new words or grammar through repetition in various forms. Each lesson takes just a few minutes to complete, and you can do as many as you like each day – but the more you do, the more bonuses and XP you’ll earn.
This app covers a full range of grammar skills – right the way up from the simple present tense to the conditional and future tenses – so it’s a great companion for language learning. The short lessons are ideal for a quick practice when you’re on the bus or on your lunch break – I do lessons while the adverts are on when I watch TV!
Available on IOS and Android – Free (basic access) – Good For: beginners and basic conversations.
Like the Babbel website, the app has a range of courses available, which work using visuals and flashcards, plus repetition and multiple tests of the same thing, to drill the basics in an almost hypnotic way so that they really sink in. The courses are fun, and include ones which focus specifically on the speaking and listening, or reading and writing, skills, but you can only download the first lesson in each course free – after that you need to sign up. I’d say this app is best for total beginners, or intermediates in need of a refresher – you won’t learn conversational fluency with this alone.
Rather than learn specific grammar rules in order of difficulty, this app focuses more on what a beginner might need for holidays and simple conversations: how to introduce yourself, talk about your hobbies or music tastes, reserve a hotel room, or discuss your feelings. There are also a few grammar based lessons, concentrating on the simpler things like building sentences and present tense verbs, but it’s the pronunciation lessons, and the vocab lessons with useful words and sentences, that are invaluable.
Available for IOS and andriod – Free demo, or £14 a month for full programme – Good For: companion to the full course
Rosetta Stone has to be the most famous name on this list, and are also the oldest language learning app. The free demo is fairly restrictive, but those with a full Rosetta Stone account can use the full app alongside their course for free. The Rosetta Stone language learning methodology is different to most language courses and has proven very effective: rather than teach Spanish through English, they teach Spanish through Spanish – mimicking the way that children learn their own language for the first time.
This is the perfect way for beginners to get started. With absolutely no translations into English, the programme relies heavily on flashcards, visuals and repetition to teach language rules – so it’s great for total immersion in the basics and for concentrating on pronunciation. My favourite element of the programme is that learners can schedule free video lessons with a live tutor – perfect for practising Spanish with a native speaker.
Available on IOS and Andriod – Totally Free – Good for: Memorising Words
Although it’ll never help you reach a conversational level of Spanish, Memrise is a great little app that will help you get to grips with the basics of vocabulary and pronunciation, by concentrating solely on memorising words. There are different modules in the app, and each module is then broken down into multiple lessons, like ‘Basic Mexican Spanish’ or ‘250 Most Commonly Used Spanish Words’ – with each module generally teaching you around 15 words. More advanced learners will find the ‘Advanced Spanish’ module helpful, or you can concentrate on Spanish words by frequency of use.
Think memorising words sounds tedious and difficult? Think again! Memrise have come up with some fairly creative, and usually hilarious, ways of teaching you the words; instead of repetition, Memrise provide a funny way of thinking about the word to help you remember it, sometimes accompanied by a picture. A particularly good example: to remember bañarse (“to bathe oneself”) Memrise point out that “However shy you are of nakedness as you bathe yourself, you’ll never be able to ban your arse from the bath!”.
Memrise is a great app for learning common Spanish words, and you can concentrate on the ones which will be most helpful on your travels (like directions and food), so it’s ideal for people in need of basic Spanish, fast, before heading to South America.
What Else Can I Use?
Alongside these apps, you can use your smartphone to open up a whole world of language immersion. Try these ideas to add another dimension to your language learning…
- Download Google translate to help check individual words as you go
- Listen to Spanish songs on Spotify (get ready for some Shakira!)
- Watch Spanish music videos, TV clips, or adverts on YouTube.
- Download Spanish podcasts.
- Read Spanish news articles – try elmundo.es or check out onlinenewspapers.com for lists of any country’s newspapers.
- Download Spanish movies and TV with English Subtitles.
- Listen to audiobooks in Spanish – try reading along in English to help your understanding.
* For those headed to Brazil, these apps also teach Portuguese.