Duolingo, used by over 300 million people, is a free app that has made language learning easier, especially Spanish and French. However, it’s not without its weaknesses. Duolingo is great for starting out, but if you’re a year or two into it, you need more resources to go with it. It’s not that great for building vocabulary and the lack of exposure to real native speakers can be a limitation at higher levels. Moreover, recently Duolingo started restricting features on top of the adverts. We’ve compiled this list of Duolingo alternatives to help round out your language learning experience. Read on to find out more.
Who it’s for: Users who want to connect with real tutors
DuoLingo’s AI-based learning approach is great but one thing that is sorely missing is the lack of real human interaction. Duolingo does a good job of teaching you the basics and its spoken exercises can help you get a decent grasp of how to say things in the language you’re learning. But at the end of the day, nothing can replace talking with an actual native speaker.
iTalki is a great platform where you can get real tutors in the language you’re learning–both community tutors and native speakers, to talk to you over video-conferencing. iTalki lets the tutors set their own rates. For some languages like Russian, rates can be as low as $6.00 per hour for a community tutor. If you already have a decent grasp of the language and just want some speaking practice, the community tutor option is great–these aren’t professional language instructors, but rather, native speakers who are happy to help you improve your speaking skills. If you want a more guided experience, professional teachers are also on the platform but can be a bit more expensive. iTalki lets you schedule and cancels lessons over the week.
The payment process is also integrated into the app so you can handle everything from just a single dashboard. We like to think of iTalki more as a complementary tool to Duolingo, not an alternative. The best language learning approach would be to use Duolingo first to get basic comprehension, and then start using iTalki to get exposure to a native speaker.
iTalki is cross-platform with a desktop version as well, but we’ll link you here to the mobile apps.
- Real native-speaker tutors
- Professional tutors can guide you through actual courses
- Community tutors are great for improving speaking skills
- Tutors for some languages can be very expensive (over $30 per hour)
Who it’s for: Users who want to expand the size of their vocabulary
Duolingo is great because it frames learning in a way that’s similar to the natural language-learning process. You are exposed to phrases and sentences more than just individual words. There’s also a strong association built into it between speaking and listening, and learning. There is a major drawback to this approach, though. It makes it difficult to learn specific words, including basic ones. I’ve spent several months learning a language on Duolingo. I know enough that I can make out a decent amount of the conversation in TV shows. However, because of the way Duolingo works, it leaves out teaching you certain basic words. I know how to say something as complex as “Those people like sitting on chairs and playing on their phones.” But I’d have to check Google Translate to figure out how to say “upper” or “lower.”
This is where Memrise comes into the picture. Memrise adopts a completely different strategy from Duolingo. Instead of focusing on conversational fluency, it tries to use the spaced repetition memorization technique to help you build up your vocabulary first. Memrise uses digital flashcards, much like Anki. You get different card decks for different languages. The app uses a spaced repetition algorithm to determine when to show you cards. If you consistently get one right, it will take a longer time before the next time that’s displayed. On the other hand, if you frequently forget the word on a particular card, it may be shown more frequently. Like iTalki, we like to think of Memrise as a companion to Duolingo, not an alternative. Memrise is weak when it comes to building conversational fluency. However, it’s much stronger than Duolingo in building basic vocabulary. It makes sense to use both to cover both areas.
- Uses spaced repetition to help you memorize words effectively
- Doesn’t help much in improving conversational fluency
Who it’s for: Users who want to go deeper into a specific language.
Duolingo is good for beginners, but you won’t go very far with this app. That’s where I’ll recommend Babbel. It combines the translation of Duolingo, with the vocab building of Memrise, thus making is a lot easier to master language learning. Another thing that Babbel does better than Duolingo is grammar. It embeds grammar at the same time as vocabulary so that you’re learning both at the same time.
The only caveat though is the price. Unlike Duoling which is free and easy, Babbel has a price. However, the first lesson in every course is free to try. So, you can get an idea of what you are getting into and if you like the service, you can get the full course from $6-$13 per month, depending on one monthly or yearly plan.
- Good for building both grammar and vocabulary
- Paid service for the most part
Who it’s for: Users who want a more game-like experience for fun language learning
Duolingo and Memrise even more so, are great learning tools. They have some level of gamification built in (for instance, Duolingo’s league rankings). However, it can feel like a chore to use them at times. After all, their main emphasis is on learning and accessibility, not fun. Clozemaster takes a different approach. It doesn’t claim to be a language learning tool at all. Instead, it projects itself as a game.
As the name suggests, Clozemaster makes use of cloze text. What’s this? It’s just the formal way of saying “fill in the blanks.” Clozemaster is a fill-in-the-blanks game for language learning. It displays sentences in the target language, with keywords missing. You get to select the missing words from a couple of options and that’s about it. Your score per language increases as you progress and you get extra bonuses and progress tracking. Clozemaster is a bit closer to Memrise in the sense that it focuses more on pure vocabulary rather than sentence structure. However, if you’re starting to feel that Duolingo is a chore, Clozemaster makes for a fun alternative.
- Gamified experiences reduce learning stress
- Limited learning utility–only focuses on fill-in-the-blanks type exercises
Who it’s for: Users who want easy exposure to native speakers through chatting
Hellotalk adopts the same approach as iTalki–that exposure to native speakers is crucial in langauge learning. However, it departs significantly from the latter in one key respect: it makes use of chatting instead of video calling to help users build their language skills. Users can search for members around the world who speak the language they’re trying to learn and then connect with them via Hellotalk’s chat interface. When chatting, Hellotalk features an extremely handy Grammarly-like correction interface that gives you correct alternatives to incorrect text that you’ve entered. This truly makes it possible to learn from your mistakes. Hellotalk has over 15 million users who speak over 100 languages meaning that you’re almost certainly likely to find a chat partner who speaks the language you’re trying to learn.
As a freemium app, though, it does have some drawbacks. Notably, the search function is somewhat limited. Moreover, because it’s an open community you might end up being flooded by requests and social updates: too much of a good thing.
- Gives you a free method of talking to native language speakers
- Huge community that speaks over 100 languages
- You might be flooded with too many chat requests
- Search functionality is limited for free users
Who it’s for: Moderately fluent users who want help reading texts in their target language
This app is for language learners who are a bit more experienced than the typical Duolingo crowd. It’s oriented towards people who already have a basic working knowledge of the target language and who’re looking to improve their skills through reading actual texts. One difficulty with reading foreign language texts is that even if your vocabulary is fairly well-developed, many words, especially technical terms, can trip you up and make an entire sentence hard to understand. This is where Readlang comes into the picture. This hand tool allows you to translate only the words you need translated in a given sentence. These aren’t simple machine translations, either. There’s a real community involved in phrase translation so that you won’t get confused by particular idioms or turns of phrase that Google Translate can mix up.
This comes at a cost, though. The free version only allows you up to 10 phrase translations a day, though letting you do unlimited word translations. The Premium version at a $5 per month subscription gives you unlimited phrase translations too. Installing it on Android and iOS is a bit tricky, though. Instead of being a dedicated app, you get a smart bookmarklet in either Chrome or Safari that gives you Readlang’s functionality on any page you visit.
- Manually translated phrases, with better results than translation software
- Helps you translate just the words you need in a sentence
- Not much use for basic langauge learners
- Unlimited phrase translation costs $5 per month
Lingvist is not exactly a Duolingo alternative, but basically just another flashcard-like program. The way it works is quite simple, you open the app, and Lingvist just presents an endless stream of flashcards, so you can practice as much as you want, be it 100 cards or 50, whatever time you have at the moment. This comes in handy when you only have a few minutes available, here and there.
Where Lingvist lacks is the number of languages it offers i.e. – Spanish, German, French, Russian.
- Native audio
- Better vocabulary
- Few languages
Wrapping Up: Duolingo Alternative
Duolingo is a wonderful intro to a language. And while there are no total alternatives, these are few apps resources you can use along with it. For users who want exposure to real native speakers, Hellotalk and iTalki allow you to do just that, through chat and video calls respectively. Memrise helps you build vocabulary quicker than Duolingo, as does Clozemaster. Readlang helps experienced learners understand just those words they don’t know. They’re not free of issues, though. iTalki can be very pricey–almost as much as hiring a real tutor. And Readlang isn’t really of much help unless you know the language at a basic level already.