50 Languages is one of the best free language apps currently on the market, but fair warning: It’s not super high-tech. The app is available for Android and iOS—you can access content from the website, too—and it contains high-quality materials for studying and practicing your reading, writing, and listening skills for dozens of languages. Moreover, it’s entirely free. The only upsell option is to remove ads, but the ads are few and far between. 50 Languages is an excellent companion to any language-learning program, despite its dated appearance.
Among free language-learning apps, PCMag has named two Editors’ Choices: Duolingo and Memrise. Both offer an experience that is similar to what you get with pricey full-featured language software, although in a more condensed form. There are many excellent free language apps out there, including 50 Languages, but most of the free apps are better suited to helping you study and practice something you have learned elsewhere, rather than learn it from scratch.
Despite the name, 50 Languages has more than 50 languages on offer, even when not counting American and British English. They are: Adyghe, Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic (Modern Standard), Armenian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Bengali, Bosnian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Estonian, Finnish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Mandarin Chinese, Marathi, Nynorsk, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Punjabi, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovene, Serbia, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tigrinya, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
Transparent Language is another great option that’s also sometimes supported through libraries. If you can’t get Transparent or other software through a library, you’ll find that the best full featured language-learning software programs cost somewhere around $200 per year.
Price and Plans
With some free language-learning apps, you have to download a specific app for your chosen language, or you have to wade through a long list of options for upgrading to a paid version, all the while wondering if it’s worth it. 50 Languages isn’t like that. You download one app, and there are only two upgrade options. You can pay to have advertisements removed from one language program for a one-time fee of $2.99, or you can pay a one-time fee of $9.99 to have all the ads removed from all the languages. Simple.
It’s also worth pointing out that the adds are few and far between, or at least they were when I used the app. I remember seeing one or two video ads pop up, but I was able to dismantle them immediately. I never saw banner ads or anything else that stuck around on the screen.
Compared to other language-learning apps, both of those prices for upgrading are extremely inexpensive. Many apps charge a monthly fee to remove ads. Duolingo, for example, started supporting its mobile apps with ads in 2017, and it costs $9.95 per month to get rid of them (you also get offline access to lessons for the price). Memrise Pro costs $59 per year, although you get a bunch of extra perks for that price. Quizlet charges $19.99 per year for its Premium option. Beelinguapp, a language-learning app focused on reading, charges a one-time fee of $4.99 to get rid of ads.
50 Languages is available on iOS and Android. The 50 Languages website has a ton of reading and listening materials to download as well, plus some interactive tests.
When you first start using the mobile apps or website, you’ll notice that you’re never asked to create an account or authenticate in any way. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to not have to provide any personal information. Everyone’s usage is anonymous. On the other hand, without an account, there’s no way for 50 Languages to backup your progress from the app to the cloud, or sync it across devices. The locally installed app saves your progress, but it all disappears the moment you have to wipe your phone. It also prevents you from moving seamlessly from a phone to a tablet to the web app.
Before you can get started, you have to choose the language you want to learn and your language of instruction. You can only load one language to learn at a time, although you can switch at any time.
What’s Inside 50 Languages?
The amount of content in 50 Languages is impressive, and so is the quality. There are sections in the app for listening, reading, writing, taking quizzes, and playing games. That said, there is no real structure to the app. Everything included is perfectly suited to helping someone review and study a language, but it’s exactly designed to teach anything from scratch.
When you use the app, you get to jump around at will. 50 Languages gives you free reign to study or practice however you like. In theory, you could work your way through the material sequentially, seeing as all the lessons are numbered, but the app itself doesn’t guide you from step 1 to step 2 to step 3, as typically is the case with other language-learning apps. For example, Duolingo prevents you from moving forward in the lessons until you’ve successfully completed all prior lessons or tested out of them. Duolingo also tracks your progress on an overall roadmap that gives you a bird’s eye view of the whole program. 50 Languages doesn’t do that.
The materials include a phrasebook, downloadable audio files, the alphabet, numbers (1-100), vocabulary sets, games, and tests. There are a few other types of materials listed in the app, such as Translations and Radio Stations, but they aren’t locally stored in the app. Tapping on those sections bumps you to external web pages.
I used the app to review Romanian while also taking an intensive face-to-face course in the language. 50 Languages was perfect for drilling numbers, as numbers are fairly straightforward to learn. I also like listening to the audio files, which you download locally. Each audio file has a topic, such as Public Transportation, and the phrases all relate to that topic. For example: “Which bus goes to the city center?” and “The next train is in five minutes.” Each audio file is a few minutes long and contains three people saying the same thing. The first voice announces a word, phrase, or sentence in English (or your chosen language of instruction). The next voice says the same thing in the language you’re learning, but slowly. The third voice repeats it, but at a more natural pace.
As mentioned, the app is pretty low-tech. When you play the audio files, there’s only a play and pause button. You don’t get a full player, so you can’t rewind or fast forward. Additionally, the files aren’t labeled appropriately. They’re simply numbered. There’s no way to tell what audio file 37 contains until you start listening to it. It would greatly improve the app if the audio files had a description or even a descriptive title.
Other sections of the app, such as the vocabulary lists, do have descriptive titles so you can choose the theme you want to study.
50 Languages gives away an enormous bank of high-quality language content for free. The app itself is low tech, however, and would be greatly improved with a few changes to the design, such as adding descriptions and titles to otherwise numbered lessons, and updates to the user interface. The material is excellent for studying and reviewing material you’ve already learned elsewhere.
Among free language-learning apps, the Editors’ Choices are Duolingo and Memrise. Both have structured lessons, which is rare in free language learning apps. And because they’re free, there’s no financial reason to stick to using just one. I recommend pairing those with 50 Languages and other apps to round out your studies.