Beyond Duolingo: Language Learning Apps for Cultural Immersion

Learning a new language opens the doors to new experiences, new cultures, and a new way of thinking. Learning a second language will change your life. But not everyone has the resources to immerse themselves in another culture whenever they want.

So what are some ways of learning a new language with tools, apps, and online resources? Take your travel experiences to the next level with the best language apps.


lingopie interaction screen

With Lingopie, you learn languages by watching TV shows. In addition to improving your vocabulary and grammar, you will also improve your listening and comprehension skills.TV shows are a great way to learn a new language. TV shows make it easy to grasp foreign language concepts and vocabulary.

No matter what your level of Spanish (or French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Russian) is, this language app and language immersion website will help you improve your fluency.

As of 2023, there’s a Lingopie Chrome extension that works with select Netflix shows inside the Lingopie app. You can watch some of your favorite Netflix shows while learning words, building up a vocabulary and flashcard database, and enjoying some language-based culture lessons.

Check out this review of Lingopie for Spanish language learners.

This language immersion site is unlike others. It is almost effortless to memorize vocabulary and grammar thanks to the intriguing, often addictive content.


Instead of relying on textbooks or grammar exercises, the StoryLearning approach, created by Olly Richards, places a strong emphasis on learning languages through immersive stories. The StoryLearning method emphasizes the importance of “comprehensible input” in language acquisition.

When we talk about comprehensible input, we mean language material that learners can comprehend, even if it introduces new vocabulary or grammar. This method, advocated by linguist Dr. Stephen Krashen, is foundational in StoryLearning. When you interact with stories at a suitable level—where you comprehend 70-95% of the material—you instinctively learn new vocabulary and grammar in a meaningful context. Your brain is actively processing the information, which improves neural connections and boosts memory retention.

The design of StoryLearning courses revolves around engaging narratives that hold learners’ interest. This method guarantees that learners are not simply memorizing rules but actively interacting with the language. As you progress through the narrative, you are exposed to new vocabulary and grammatical patterns in relevant situations. This learning style helps you grasp and recall these elements easily, as your brain links them to the story’s events and characters.

Stories are a powerful tool for learning because they engage multiple parts of the brain. When you read a story, your brain is not only processing the language but also visualizing scenes, empathizing with characters, and predicting plot twists. This multi-sensory engagement makes the language learning experience more dynamic and memorable.


Preply is a fast-growing player in the online language tutor platform space. It’s a great place to learn from hundreds of different native speakers in your target language by taking lessons with qualified teachers.

There’s a money-back guarantee and the first lesson is often free. Want to learn complicated verb conjugation with a private teacher? Need specific accent tutoring? This is the app for you.


In contrast to game-based language apps that often lack in-depth explanations, OUINO uses an immersive, extensive, and customizable approach to language learning.

For starters, there’s a non-linear learning path. Instead of restricting you to specific levels, OUINO lets you select lessons based on your personal goals and learning pace.

Another thing to love about OUINO is how it teaches verb conjugation holistically. Verbs are critical in any language, and OUINO simplifies this often daunting task by breaking it down into digestible sections. The methodical approach to verb conjugation helps you understand and remember.

You also get accurate examples and feedback without relying on voice recognition. And there’s a Flash Card memory system to help you review previously studied material.

The Building Blocks module is also noteworthy. Instead of avoiding complex language concepts, this module embraces them, teaching you the words that tie everything together. Learn Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and German


Italki is a great service for practicing the language you’re learning with native teachers via an online language class. It’s an online learning platform that connects students with learners. You can browse teachers and see the hourly rates.

iTalki lets you access thousands of teachers all over the world and it’s as close to in-person language class learning as you can get.

The great part is that teachers in developing countries charge less than many Western countries for language lessons.


This free language learning software is a top pick for the best tool. Using a flashcard-style delivery of content, Mondly app lessons help you match words and sounds with pictures. This is visual learning at its best and is very effective.

You get the chance to converse with the software by answering questions (via your microphone or keyword) and holding an entire conversation in your target language. A great way to practice your speaking skills. This is a great feature of the tool.

There’s a good range of languages to choose from including Hindi, Thai, Vietnamese, Hungarian, and Ukrainian. And these are just the languages available to English-language users. If you’ve ever tried the double-immersion method (I word I invented – don’t look it up), then you’ll know what it’s like to learn a new language through one you’ve already mastered. For example, fluent or advanced Spanish speakers might try to learn French, German, or even Thai through Spanish.

The speech recognition feature will help you improve your pronunciation by recording you saying words and phrases and analyzing the results.

Mondly has a web app and a mobile app version (Android and iOS). Both are easy and reasonably fun to use. There are some differences, though. For example, Thai language is not available in the app. The app is pretty basic with the free version, but the monthly plans with many more lessons are not expensive.

Language Transfer

I was looking for some new podcasts to listen to and came across the Language Transfer series. I was really impressed with the quality of the lessons and how effective the learning method is.
It’s not often you come across free audio lessons that are this good.
I did some more research and found out that there’s an Apple and Android app available too.

You might not have heard of this tool because it appears to be a solo project with no corporate funding, which limits the marketing abilities. This language app is also 100% free.

The free audio classes might seem a little different to what you’re used to, but I was able to learn how to construct Turkish sentences, improve my Italian, and even learn some Arabic after only a few listens. You should stick with your chosen track for at least three or four episodes.


Babbel is the most popular app in the App Store language category. It’s true that the company’s marketing efforts contributed to the product’s popularity, but the story doesn’t end there. Besides offering easy-to-navigate interfaces and free classes, Babbel also offers courses by level and theme and a review section. All of this at a price that is among the lowest you’ll find in any app. One of the most economical plans is the 12-month subscription for less than $5 a month. 

The program is also backed by a 20-day money-back guarantee. There are clearly many satisfied language learners using Babbel, with 10 million subscriptions sold. 

It’s one of my go-to tools for brushing up on my language skills.

Babbel Live offers interactive online language classes for people who want to learn languages the way many of us have for decades: in a classroom with knowledgeable teachers. Babble Live combines new school methods with old-school live classes led by a qualified language teacher in small groups. Its lessons are built by a team of more than 150 language experts.

A Babbel subscription gives you access to hundreds of hours of training with one of the leaders in modern language learning.


You get a ton for free in LingQ.

The tool comes with thousands of hours of audio content, access to all courses on the web and mobile app, downloadable audio files, full-text translations, and excellent podcasts. There is pretty much everything you need to learn a language here. It seems that other users are enjoying the newly updated interface as well.

An interesting feature is the ability to import pretty much any kind of media to your library. While there’s already a massive library of podcasts, audio shows, TV shows, and lessons on everything from science to culture, you can import your favorite news show, podcasts, YouTube channels, Medium articles, and more. Using imported media as lessons, this content becomes an interactive part of the platform.

The vocabulary-building tools are among the best among language learning apps.  

LinqQ was founded by Steve Kaufmann, a well-known linguist, polyglot blogger, and YouTuber. In addition to being an author and writer, Steve also contributes to magazines and newspapers. He’s been studying languages for decades and has distilled his knowledge and learning style into an app that gets 10,000 downloads a month on the App Store. 

The strength of LingQ is its ability to be used as an ebook reader tool for learning your target language. By studying foreign language texts in the app (after importing), you can turn reading into an interactive learning experience. 

So why upgrade?

As far as I can tell, the creators have provided so much for free so that people will eventually upgrade to the whole ecosystem. Although it might seem risky, it appears to work for this business. Reviews are positive, and I believe the premium plan is well worth upgrading to, especially since it costs less than $10 a month. There are even cheaper long-term plans.

Other benefits of upgrading are unlimited imported lessons, offline access to lessons, and unlimited vocabulary flashcards. 

There’s also Premium Plus, which gets you live tutoring, premium lessons, and writing correction. This works on a points system (called LingQs). The Plus refers to the 3000 LingQs you receive as credit for signing up for the Premium Plan. At over three times as expensive as the ‘regular’ Premium Plan, this is an investment for serious language learners. 


Skillshare teachers are experts, pros, and industry icons, excited to share their wisdom, experience, and trusted techniques with you. Skillshare has stricter guidelines for getting on its platform than some other learning sites. Classes are all taught by vetted professional course creators who have experience in the language industry.

skillshare chinese courses by professional tutors

You’ll get unlimited access to all of their classes when you sign up for a monthly or annual subscription.

And you get a month’s free trial on signup. Sound good?


MosaLingua is another flashcard app that will help you build vocabulary and get familiar with a language fast. Learning with flashcards is scientifically proven to be very effective. The MosaLingua app also comes with high-quality books, videos, and other resources to help you learn.

Founded by an Italian polyglot, MosaLingua has improved a lot over the years and is now a highly-respected tool in the language learning niche.

The voices and dialogs are clear and well-produced. You can choose your level and jump straight into whatever topic you want to learn with just a few taps on the screen. The MosaLingua Spanish Business app is particularly useful for digital nomads or entrepreneurs who are traveling abroad and meeting other business people or looking for work in a Spanish-speaking country. The app includes many topics that don’t appear on other apps, such as sales, customer service, logistics, finding a job, and accounting.

The app offers a hands-free option (handy for when you’re driving or walking), progress reports, and a good search facility. Record your voice and the AI recognition technology will transcribe it and score you on how well you pronounce phrases.

Languages covered include Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, German, Italian, and Portuguese. And for non-English native speakers, there are options to learn these languages in German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. Many language hackers learn a 3rd foreign language through their 2nd language. MosaLingua makes this easy.

One of the better learning apps for improving your local language skills.

Available for Android and iOS

Ling App

The Ling App is a great-looking mobile app and web-based learning resource. The free version is so good it rivals many paid software tools. Some useful features are a dictionary and an audio function. If you’re interested in learning less “popular” languages like Swahili, Georgian, Lithuanian, Nepali, or Ukranian, this is the app for you.

This gamified language learning app makes studying more fun than endless listening and repeating phrases. If you’re a beginner, try the slow motion function to get familiar with the different sounds of a language, and test yourself with flashcards for all vocabulary related to a specific topic.


HelloTalk is like iTalki, but it runs as an app on your phone. Find a language partner and start chatting. It’s that simple. The app also comes with tools that help the learning process, like translation, pronunciation aids, and corrections. One of the best ways to learn your target language is the language exchange method. In its simplest form, participants take turns practicing the language they are learning to speak with native speakers. At some point, the focus language changes, and the other person practices.


Anki is a language app that was recommended to me over and over. It’s a flashcards app that works across most browsers and devices. Not just for learning languages, Anki is useful for memorizing anything but the language learner community has adopted it as the go-to flashcards app for learning a local language.


I’m a fan of the Pimsleur language learning method. It helped me learn Spanish fast when I wasn’t living in a Spanish-speaking country. The Pimsleur concept is based on the spaced repetition learning method, which, to be frank, is an effective way to learn new language skills. You repeat what you hear in the audio lessons. The recordings are designed to make you repeat phrases and embed them in your brain.

While learning through spaced repetition might not appear to be the smartest or most efficient way to improve, it works. Pimsleur has been around for many years and has had plenty of success in the language learning field so the company must be doing something right.

It works like this: the presenter (almost always a man with an American accent) briefly introduces a section and begins saying phrases. A short pause then follows and then a native speaker says the phrase in the target dialect. The phrase is then broken down into smaller chunks for repeating.

It sounds like a very rudimentary way of learning but it’s effective. In fact, it’s designed to mimic how we learn to speak.

I never found the lessons boring. On the contrary, they gave me a sense of achievement. And the dopamine hit from achieving a goal (even one you hadn’t predetermined) is a powerful impulse to continue learning.


One of the oldest running online course providers, Coursera used to be a free website. In the last year or so, this has changed. There’s still a free trial available and financial aid is available to qualifying students.

The structure of courses on the website and the payment methods change frequently (an annoying aspect of the site) but you can still get a lot of value for free. And the course material is high quality.

Coursera encourages students to follow a certification path so they can prove their competency in the courses studied. If you don’t need the certifications you can still follow the syllabus and learn for free in many cases.

At the time of writing, the Chinese for Beginners course is $49, which seems like good value, considering the difficulty of producing good Chinese language learning courses.

Read more about Chrome Extensions for Travel here.

ReadLang Chrome Extension

I asked the netizens of Reddit for their choices for the best language apps and ReadLang was one of the most recommended. This extension is a superb addition to your browser for people that read foreign language sites. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you reading Argentina’s La Nación newspaper and you’re having difficulty understanding the text in a paragraph.

Click the Readlang Web Reader extension button and then click on phrases on the page to get an automatic translation. Google Translate does this same function but it translates the entire page of content (which isn’t always convenient). It’s also a bit cumbersome to copy and paste single words into another browser window for translation.

Readlang Web Reader works with lots of languages, including Mongolian, Korean, Finnish, Chinese, and even Maori.
It allows for customisation of how the extension highlights text and translates. The sections you highlight and translate go to a database on Readlang. You can then review the phrases as flashcards. It works like Memrise but only uses words you translated. So it’s an even more personalized level of learning. It also works on tablets and phones.

Readlang of my favourite tools for language study.

MateTranslate is a new Chrome plugin that lets you save vocabulary from Netflix as translations for your language learning apps. It’s free to use.


This app uses flashcards for teaching through repetition. Words and phrases appear repeatedly to force your brain into remembering them. That’s the theory, at least. But Memrise has a few tricks that regular flashcard applications do not. Like Duolingo, quizzes test your ability to write, recognize characters, and read phrases. If you fail particular phrases, you will see them again later.

For each flashcard, you can listen to the pronunciation at different speeds and with different voices.

In the beginner Chinese course, the Chinese characters appear alongside the Pinyin pronunciation. Every translation is also available at the click of a button. Memrise offers courses in Spanish (Spain and Mexico), Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic and most European languages. The software works in your browser or as an app on your phone.


DuoLingo is one of the best-known apps for learning a new language and is very popular. Duolingo‘s unique teaching method is a great way to supplement your language studies or even learn a new language from scratch. It won’t replace a course or a good language learning system, but it’s a handy app to have your phone for downtime study. However, it has some flaws, so try it out before you commit to your foreign language studies.

Duolingo uses gamification (learning through tests and games) to help you progress. It’s free so you won’t have to worry about forking over money when you get to a particular stage of your learning. But there’s a limit to what you can learn with Duolingo.

I recommend using a course or software that will give you a head start in your target language and use Duolingo to reinforce the knowledge you’ve gained. Think of it as a kind of teacher that prompts you to come up with answers. Test and evaluate, is my advice. All the same, DuoLingo is evolving fast and is still the pick of the apps.

DuoLingo offers courses on many languages, including: Latin American Spanish, French, Japanese, German, Italian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Hindi, Turkish  Dutch, Latin, Swedish, Greek, Irish, Polish, Norwegian, Bokmål, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, High Valyrian, Danish, Romanian, Indonesian, Welsh, Czech, Scottish Gaelic, Swahili, Ukrainian, and Esperanto.

Other Notable Apps

  • For the difficult Asian languages, try Lingodeer, a beautiful-looking app and free for the moment.
  • SmartCards+ is another top-rated flashcards app with a great user interface.
  • If you want to boost your German language skills, try Chatterbug.
  • Google Translate is an invaluable translation app, not only for practicing a language but for communicating when you don’t yet speak the local language and the locals don’t speak your language. The voice translator and “image” translator are wonderful features that 10 years ago would have seemed too futuristic to be real. An essential travel app.

Learning Languages Through Youtube & Netflix

Google’s online video platform is the second most powerful search engine in the world and the number of video hours uploaded every minute is staggering. So it’s no surprise that videos to help you learn a new language are easy to find. Make sure to check out the endless amount of learning resources available to everyone for free. But do keep in mind that for every good video there are ten bad ones. YouTube Premium lets you download videos to your phone so you can learn on a flight or long journey without using data.

Use the Language Learning for Netflix Chrome Extension to turn Netflix into a language-learning powerhouse. Show subtitles in multiple languages at the same time. Compare the original audio with a translation in your language or another language. Change the playback speed and switch audio easily. Use the built-in dictionary, which also makes suggestions on important words to learn.

How to use Apps To Maximise Language Skills

Listen While You Sleep

A hack for the Tim Ferriss-type personalities. The idea is based on studies around listening to foreign languages as you sleep. Sounds like a good plan. In theory, it could work. But in practice, it’s impractical.

Not to mention the sleep interruption from voices in your head. The only time I would consider this is when I’m flying. I can’t really sleep on a plane and the sleep I get is of poor quality so I might as well use the time to do something productive. Listen to audiotapes of the language of the country you’re heading too. With luck, you’ll learn a few new words and they will be fresh in your mind. At worst, you’ll get bored and fall asleep. Either way, you’re ahead. Try Pimsleur’s Audio language learning program.

Music, as a mnemonic, is a way to learn a language by associating strong emotions with phrases, and concepts. Liking the music you’re listening to helps a lot. If you hate Salsa, then it’s not a good idea to listen to this music as practice. You’ll just associate the whole learning experience with negative emotions. Listening to pop or rock music in the language you’re learning is a good way of introducing yourself to popular phrases and colloquiums.

Learning Languages Through Another Language

This is a radical way of learning but depends on you already knowing a second language. Let’s say you speak French to a high level of proficiency. With this method, you try to use your second language to learn a new language. An example might someone whose native tongue is English learning Thai through French.

This is a great way to learn. Here’s why:

  1. It slows you down a little so you won’t skim or brush over explanations. Sometimes we can read in our native language without absorbing the information. Reading in another language can force the brain to make new connections and force new words into the “database” of the mind.
  2. It creates different neural pathways for the language. As with mnemonics, learning through another language can help us remember new vocabulary, basic phrases, and grammar rules better.

Read Comics And Children’s Books

This works well if you’re a fan of comics and you learn better through visual methods. Comics are great because every scene is matched with an image. There’s a lot of dialogue there too so you’ve got several reasons to choose comics.
The obvious choice here would be Manga. But you could also read Tintin in its original French. Best of all, it’s a fun way to access your chosen language.

Marvel, DC Universe, and other comic book producers have apps that you can use to practice another language.

Tech Language Takeover

Change your phone and computer interfaces to the new language you want to learn. This makes things a little awkward, but in my experience, the more difficult and uncomfortable a situation, the better your brain will remember the language used.

Ever had an argument with your significant other in another language? You won’t forget the language they used. You also won’t forget the words you scrambled to find in a hurry. Emotions help with learning. Fact. Going full native is one of the best methods for learning new languages.

Photo of Taipei Night Market by Keith Lang. Rights Reserved ©

Learn a language with these apps & tools

If you like what you're reading and would like to see more, fuel my writing with some caffeine! Cheers

Get The Travel Talk Newsletter

Travel News & Things You Can Use.
👍 Just good content, delivered bi-weekly.

1 thought on “Beyond Duolingo: Language Learning Apps for Cultural Immersion”

  1. Hi Kieth, great post! I personally use Is that a good app or would you advise me to use one of the ones you mention in your post? I love combining travelling with language learning too, I’ve noticed you learn a language far quicker that way! 😀

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *