Apps Teach Languages

Using smartphone applications to learn a language or as a personal translator will broaden your horizons. Take a look at these options:

∎ Duolingo is an ambitious World Wide Web translation project masquerading as a language-learning app. Dreamed up by a team of geniuses at Carnegie Mellon University, the free Duolingo teaches Spanish, German, French, Portuguese or Italian while the student translates Web content.

Getting millions of people to participate in a “massive-scale online collaboration” is the aim of Duolingo. But you can forget all about that and just do the learning. You’ll “learn by doing,” says Duolingo’s chief creator, Luis von Ahn. You jump in and begin seeing and hearing simple words in the foreign language and start translating, learning nouns, verbs and parts of speech without memorizing declensions and without tears.

∎ For translating on the fly, there’s Google Inc.’s Google Translate, a free app with versions for most devices, though the Android iteration has the most features. The app works in scores of languages including Azerbaijani, Estonian, Icelandic, Persian, Russian and Urdu.

With patience, you could use Google Translate to “converse” with someone even if neither of you knows the other’s language. Type or speak a phrase and tap for the translation. The Android version has a “conversation mode” that displays each side of a discussion in cartoon-voice bubbles.

∎ Lingualia-Language Course is a free new app from Lingualia SL Education and is for iPhone and Web users, though an Android version is in the works. After you sign up, Lingualia asks whether you want to learn Spanish or English. Another tap and the app takes you to the first lesson. Hola! You are off and running with a dialogue between Juan and Mario.

Play and repeat phrases, then use “flashcards” on subsequent screens to begin fixing the words and phonetics into your brain. The “adaptive learning” software is designed to uncover gaps in your progress and fill them in.