7 Ways to Learn a Language with Your Phone

I like technology, but for some reason, I’ve always been a late adopter.

I didn’t get a cell phone until 2005, an iPod until 2009, and a smart phone until 2014.

In fact, my friends and coworkers used to tease me all the time about my little flip phone. I didn’t really care, since I only used my phone to talk.

But when I finally bit the bullet and bought a smart phone, I found out how much I had been missing.

By Olybrius (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Olybrius (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], Image Source

My phone has made a huge difference in the volume and quality of my language learning. I’d go so far as to say that if you have a smartphone with a reliable connection to the Internet, you have everything you need to learn a language in your pocket.

I own a relatively inexpensive Nokia Lumia Windows phone that doesn’t have any bells or whistles, which I mention to point out that even a cheap phone can make a world of a difference.

Here are seven ways to learn a language with your phone. A lot of this is undoubtedly old hat to some of you, but I’m living proof that some people don’t realize how much language-learning power these things hold.

1. Use apps.

I’ve used Duolingo, Babbel, and ReadLang on my phone. Google Translate also has an app, which has been really useful to me. And I know there are plenty of other apps out there made specifically for language learning.

ReadLang in particular has been a staple of my language learning lately. So when I discovered I could go through flashcards at the airport, waiting for my lunch at a restaurant, or lying down on the couch, I started reviewing them all the time.

2. Listen to podcasts.

There are plenty of language-learning podcasts available, many of which are free.

I also like to download podcasts in my new language that aren’t intended for language learning, such as news, discussions, or stories for kids. I’ll listen to them on the drive to work in the morning and get 20 minutes of free listening under my belt before I even get to my desk.

3. Watch YouTube.

You have to love YouTube. Millions of videos, all free. On your phone, you can browse to YouTube and can watch vlogs, clips, shows, and even whole movies in your language.

You can also get language instruction at any of several YouTube tutorial channels.

4. Read news.

At night before bed, I pull out my phone and read a few articles from Bild, Der Spiegel, or Huffington Post Deutschland.

Then in the morning when I’m feeling a little too lazy to get out of bed just yet, I’ll read a couple more stories until I’m ready to brave the day

That’s an extra fifteen minutes of reading I sneak in without even thinking about it.

5. Talk over Skype.

Got a language exchange scheduled over Skype? Use your phone.

I have Skype on my phone, but my Lumia doesn’t have a forward-facing camera. So I can’t do anything “face-to-face” with my phone, but I’ve been in language exchanges before where my partner has used theirs, and things went pretty smoothly.

6. Download eBooks.

I installed the free Kindle app on my phone, so now I’m able to read ebooks that I purchase through Amazon. Right now, I’m working through a novel about Jerry Cotton, who is kind of like Germany’s answer to James Bond.

You can also read PDFs. I read a PDF of Der Kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) from beginning to end on a plane last month, which was more entertaining and beneficial than leafing through the SkyMall magazine.

7. Browse social media.

The ease of access to my phone means that my unfortunate Facebook addiction has become worse. However, that also means I get a lot more exposure to German now.

I created immersion environments for both Facebook and Twitter, so now every time I check my feed or wall, I sneak in plenty of German exposure without even thinking about it.

Wrapping Up

People have been learning languages without smartphones for millennia, so I’m not saying that you have to go out and buy one. But if you have one, make sure you’re getting the most of it.

Anything I missed? How do you guys use your phones for language learning?

  • http://allthetongues.hol.es/ Roman Shinkarenko

    That is, 7 Ways to Learn a Language with Your Computer.
    I don’t have even a cell phone, that’s why any mention of mobile apps irritates me.
    Why they can’t make a PC version for those apps?

    • Red/

      There are ways, for instance, to run android apps on ubuntu (operating system for pc) or also on chrome.
      If you google into the search bar: run android apps on
      the search preview show you some other options too…

      • http://allthetongues.hol.es/ Roman Shinkarenko

        “PC version” is not the same as “run on emulator”.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      “That is, 7 Ways to Learn a Language with your Computer.” …yes and no. Same services, yes, but mobile computing is a completely different experience, I’ve discovered.

  • Red/

    I am a late adopter also.
    I bought my first smartphone few months ago. It’s a cheap lumia dual sim.
    I downloaded a nice free app for french language: France Tv. It contains around 40 tv channels of french television. So now I have more choice of what to see apart from France 24 that I see directly on tv.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Very cool. Good tip!

  • vern777er

    Hi Ron,
    I got an iphone a month ago and I have to agree with your article, I didn’t realise what I had been missing.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Hi Vern! I know, right? Same here…I kind of wish I wasn’t already *so* attached to my phone, though. haha

  • JoshJ

    Hey, Another great app for the iPhone is Tandem. You can practice speaking with native speakers via, text, audio and video chat for free. Compliments other apps really well. http://www.tandemapp.me

  • Ксения

    Решила выучить английский, выбрала для себя удобный способ – обучение
    английскому по skype. Подробности тут http://preply.com/angliyskiy-po-skype

  • Clare O

    excellent idea. my husband was listening to spanish on his phone when a native speaker walked by. he took the phone, looked over a few things and said it was wrong. lol. still a good idea.