Welcome to the detailed review of 6 vocabulary learning apps for beginner/casual and serious learners. Learning vocabulary is one of the top 3 priorities for 92% of language learners. And this is understandable – to build conversational confidence and express yourself clearly, you need an extensive vocabulary. Memorizing vocabulary takes time, and some strategies are simply more efficient. The most effective of them known today is the spaced repetition system used by so many flashcard and vocabulary learning apps today, including Duolingo, Anki, and Heylama.
What is spaced repetition, and why is it effective?
The spaced repetition system is a scientifically proven vocabulary learning technique that helps you memorize new words and phrases for the long term. As you progress from practice to practice, the time intervals between reviews increase until you can effortlessly recall the word even after a long break. For example, you practice the word now, then in an hour, then in 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, etc., until it's in your long-term memory. The interval increases if you can recall the word correctly and decreases if you can't remember it.
Learn more about spaced repetition in our blog post.
Two very different types of vocabulary apps
There are two very different kinds of vocab apps:
- fixed curriculum apps geared towards casual and beginner learners
- and flexible, self-study apps ideal for more serious learners.
The difference is pretty straightforward. The fixed curriculum apps come with pre-built decks or curricula that you are expected to go through step by step. These apps are meant to replace teachers in a way. Duolingo is a good example. Someone at Duolingo put together those vocabularies and exercises, and you just progress through the app from set to set. Such apps are pretty opinionated, meaning you have very little say in what you learn. It's designed with casual or busy learners in mind who want to be guided. The downside is that this approach is only practical for absolute beginners. Dedicated learners quickly hit the wall. As soon as you start using other resources and want to have a say in what to learn, these apps start feeling too rigid, linear, and repetitive.
Flexible, self-study apps are better suited for more serious learners. These are more tools than language apps. These tools let you create your own flashcard sets and practice them at your own pace. You decide what and when to learn. To take most of such apps, you need to put effort into your learning process. For example, you'll have to create vocabulary cards or find community decks and adjust them to your interests and goals. Let's start with tools for serious learners.
Vocabulary learning apps for serious learners
Anki is the dinosaur of vocabulary learning. It's been around for decades now and is one of the most popular apps out there. It's a versatile memorization tool designed to practice anything, not just languages.
Anki is available on the web and mobile. It's free of charge on the web but costs some money if you want to use it on your mobile.
The biggest downside of Anki is its user experience.
First of all, the look and feel of the app are pretty old-school, and the user experience is somewhat clumsy. It can get tedious very quickly, and it takes time to get used to it.
Second, it's 100% manual because it's a generic memorization tool. If you want images, examples, translation, or pronunciation included in your flashcards, then you have to add them one by one.
That said, once you figure it out, it's a pretty straightforward app that does its job.
Heylama is the flashcard vocabulary tool designed exclusively for language learning. Heylama lets you quickly add your words, practice them with spaced repetition, and track your progress.
- It comes with features unique to language learning such as automatic pronunciation, translation, example suggestions, maximizing the speed of adding vocabs, etc.
- It's flexible and minimalist. It sports a no-bullshit and no-distraction design that lets you focus on learning and not managing the app or your vocabulary.
- The best part of Heylama is that it also comes with a Telegram coach that lets you practice your vocabs on your favorite messenger! Learners who use our Telegram coach learn 4x more vocabs. Learning with our Telegram coach feels like a fun conversation, not a chore. Smart reminders sent at perfect times will help you stay on track.
We already have a strong community of 1000s of users who are helping us make Heylama the #1 vocab learning tool for serious learners🤘.
Quizlet is a flashcards app targeting university students. It's not specifically for language learning, more like a generic flaschards app. It also uses spaced repetition at its core and is a good choice if you're getting ready for an exam that has a deadline as it adjusts the spaced repetition algorithm to that deadline. Instead of optimizing for long-term retention, Quizlet helps you get ready for your exams and be able to retrieve whatever you learned in the short term.
You can access other users' sets and start learning them. Once you copy a set, you can edit and change it depending on your preferences. Because of its focus on all subjects, Quizlet can get a bit tedious and overwhelming. However, it's countered by a generous free version.
Vocabulary apps for casual learners & beginners
Lingvist is a fantastic app for beginners looking to master the highest-frequency vocabulary. It offers vocabulary courses, essentially lists, for several most popular languages. Language experts claim that knowing the top 2-3K words in any language covers 80% of everyday conversations, which Lingvist helps you achieve. It's for you if you prefer a more serious user interface and don't want any gamificaiton.
Priced at 10 Euros a month, it's slightly on a premium end of the beginner apps.
Lingvist does offer the functionality of creating your own decks, but it's a secondary feature. Its core value proposition is carefully crafted vocab sets with examples.
Memrise is another excellent app for beginners! Just like Lingvist, it teaches you the most common words and phrases. However, compared to other apps, Memrise features short videos by native speakers for each vocabulary or expression, making the learning experience delightful and fun. It feels like learning with and from native speakers. Starting at 7 Euros per month, Memrise is a pretty affordable option among all other apps.
Drops is a vocabulary learning app from Kahoot, one of the most successful educational technology companies. It's more a game than a learning app. It also focuses on the top 2.5K vocabs. The learning experience is animated, every vocab has a fun illustration, and vocab pronunciations have been dubbed by professional actors! Drops starts at 8.5 Euros per month and can be a good choice for beginner learners looking for alternatives to Duolingo.