The language learning app Duolingo has become one of the most trusted sources for people to improve their language skills. With lessons in over 20 languages through short games and challenges, Duolingo has something to offer to all ages and language ability levels.
But it isn’t the right solution for everyone—and that’s okay! There are plenty of other completely free language learning apps out there for you to try.
So, here are the best free alternatives to Duolingo.
Why Use a Free Duolingo Alternative?
Let’s start with why you might want to use a Duolingo alternative.
Duolingo is completely free, which is amazing. Although the company experimented with using in-app purchases, such as the poorly received health bar and gems, these are now long gone. The introduction of these pay-to-progress restrictions saw many users leave Duolingo.
Now the intrusive payments are gone, why would you use a Duolingo alternative?
For one, the depth of the Duolingo courses. Duolingo claims that “34 hours of Duolingo are equivalent to a full university semester of language education,” complete with a supporting study [PDF].
The suggestion implies that Duolingo is more effective than a college language course, which would cost more, take longer, and require you to relocate.
Retired language professor Steven Sacco put the theory to the test.
Sacco studied Swedish on the Duolingo app for 300 hours (most introductory Swedish college courses require around 150 hours coursework, so he doubled that), and then took UCLA’s Elementary Swedish final exam. What happened?
Despite the 300 hours study, despite Sacco’s history of immersion with language and linguistics, he took home an F.
This is one of the main criticisms of Duolingo. It presents itself as a way of learning a language when it is a tool you should use as part of a wider learning experience.
I’m not knocking Duolingo. I use it myself. But it isn’t the only free language learning tool available.
1. Online Communities
One of the best ways to learn a new language is to surround yourself with other people who have similar goals. Online communities of language learners are fantastic resources to learn tips and tricks about effective language learning, practice speaking with native speakers, and find out about other great learning opportunities online and offline.
This very active forum offers language learners a place to practice their writing skills in any language they choose, connect with language partners, post information about their language learning journey, and learn from the success of others.
Like most communities on Reddit, this subreddit is a mishmash of topics and discussions. Many posts recommend resources for continued language learning, share personal accomplishments, or pose questions to the almost 100,000 community members.
This free language exchange community focuses on getting language off of the page and into the conversation. The site offers opportunities for video chatting or in-person meetups, as well as free lessons and corrections by native speakers.
If you have difficulty “hearing” the native language as you read it, this site can be a lifesaver. You can use the recordings that are already online to hear how different accents sound in your target language while reading the accompanying transcription. You can also submit your own texts for native speakers to read and record your own voice for others seeking help.
If you do want a game-style online language learning platform, consider Mango Languages. This program is available for free through many library systems and offers language learning opportunities for over 70 languages.
The program is intuitive to use and prioritizes culturally and conversationally relevant language skills. Furthermore, Mango recognizes that you cannot make it to the library every day. Once you begin a course, you can use your library login with the Mango Languages iOS and Android apps. That way, you can continue learning at home.
While this site isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing option on this list, it’s hard to beat the quality of its resources. Courses in the public domain intended for training the Foreign Service Institute, the Defence Language Institute, and the Peace Corps offer PDF instructional guides in numerous languages and dialects.
With some digging, you can also access multiple audio files and training materials.
Duolingo falls short in a few areas. Luckily, you can use Memrise alongside Duolingo to give your language learning a greater sphere. Guiding you through individual words and phrases using a flashcard-like system, Memrise can help expand your vocabulary alongside other language learning opportunities.
Many users say that Memrise helps you to learn and speak the language like native speakers and locals, which differs from Duolingo’s formulaic approach.
The Memrise UI is easy to navigate, and you’ll find an extensive range of languages and courses ready to learn.
If you like to learn on the go, or simply auditory learning, you should check out language learning podcasts. As you might expect, the world of podcasting has some brilliant resources for learning a new language. Here are three language learning podcasts to get you going.
Starting to learn a new language? You should check out the Innovative Language 101 Series of podcasts. The series features a comprehensive list of languages, with each podcast providing an overview of the language, learning tips, and more.
Coffee Break Languages aims to teach you a new language in your coffee break. Listen to a new podcast for your language each day, and you’ll learn a new word, phrase, or otherwise. The beauty of the Coffee Break Languages podcast is the length. It is short, to the point, and really does only last the length of a coffee break.
Linguistica 360’s News in Slow series is a great take on contextual language learning. Instead of listening to a new phrase on repeat, News in Slow talks through daily news events in Spanish, French, Italian, or German.
The idea is that you can relate to the news stories, so you’ll create a stronger connection to the language being spoken.
No matter what combination of online and offline language learning resources you use, YouTube should your #1 choice. You can learn almost anything on YouTube, and a new language is no exception.
Nowhere else online do you have so much access to native speakers talking about any subject imaginable. Whether you choose to watch specific language learning videos, news, or television shows, YouTube makes it easy to practice your new language.
Many say the best and quickest method to learn a new language is immersion. Heading to the nearest country that speaks the language you want to learn isn’t always possible. In that case, the next best thing is talking to native speakers of the language directly.
The HelloTalk app connects you to people all around the world that speak the language you want to learn. The idea is that you teach each other your native languages, helping build comprehension one conversation at a time.
With over 18 million users and over 150 languages catered for, you’ll find someone to help you learn a new language.
Should You Use a Paid Language Learning Service Instead?
The language learning resources above are all free. Some of them also offer a paid service, but you see that you can learn a substantial amount without ever dipping into your pocket.
Still, paid language learning services exist for a reason. If they didn’t provide an excellent service that also comes with results, they wouldn’t survive.
Julie Hansen, US CEO of Babbel (one of the most trusted paid language learning services currently available online) states that:
“Language apps on the surface might look similar, but they are not. Babbel teaches genuinely useful content that can be applied in real-life scenarios . . . When you consider that other language apps teach you how to say useless sentences such as ‘the penguin drinks milk,’ it is clear that Babbel is the most effective app for learning a new language in a meaningful way. None of our content is machine-generated or user-generated, with all of Babbel’s courses being created by a team of more than 150 linguists and teachers, and tailored to each combination.”
If you are a serious language learner with financial resources in place, there are a lot of great reasons to invest your money in authentic language learning experiences, whether through an app, a university course, or an immersion experience.
But for casual language learners or those without extra income, there are a lot of great options available.
Which Is the Best Duolingo Alternative?
Looking for a Duolingo alternative is perhaps not the best approach to learning a language. Sure, this article is all about the best free Duolingo alternatives. There is plenty of them, too.
But you should consider Duolingo as one aspect of your free language learning path, rather than as the focal point. For example, here are a bunch more Duolingo alternatives you can use in your language learning quest.