Best Language Learning Tools For Expats

Language learning apps for expat ESL teachers can be super useful for helping you learn what you need to get around a new city. These language learning tools can help you go from a helpless newbie to a skilled local while learning at your own pace.

Why should I learn the local language?

In reality, you will probably be fine most places in the world not speaking the local language. The expat communities in most cities where ESL teachers tend to work are usually pretty robust and it is entirely possible that you can go your entire stay in a new city without even having to interact much with the local population. However, this will leave you very little in the way of options for things to do and people to spend time with and isn’t an optimal way to spend your time in a new country. This also doesn’t speak for the ESL teachers that will be in the more rural areas of a country where there may be not expats and even no people who can speak English beyond the bare minimum. When thinking about it in this way the need to learn the local language can seem a bit more urgent and useful.

There is also the reality that learning the local language will make tasks such as renting an apartment or setting up utilities easier and will go a long way if you have to interact with any local officials in regard to visas and permits in showing that you actually care about living in the country.

Unfortunately, however, most expats don’t ever end up learning the local language. This study from 2015 reveals that of all of the expats surveyed only about 29% claim they can speak the local language fluently. A full 39% say they can speak very little of the local language and 11% say they can speak none of the local languages.

What makes a good language learning tool?

The most important thing for you to consider when looking at different language learning tools is what your individual learning style and learning habits are. There are a wide variety of tools and apps and software available and it can be a bit overwhelming when trying to select one for you. Also, some apps and software only offer certain languages so you may be limited in your selection if you are trying to learn a language that is less popular.

When I speak of your learning habits I am referring to your ability to sit down for stretches of time to learn chunks of words, or if you will, learn phrases as you need them. Software that is built around lessons that will take an hour at a time, for example, may not be the best solution if you don’t have the time to commit. You may instead find it more useful to learn from a phrase app while you are going around the city (this is how I am learning Thai). If, however, the thought of being put on the spot to try to communicate in a language you don’t know just by reading and memorizing from your phone stresses you out then you may be better suited to a software or app that has lessons that you can work through at your own pace. The more honest you are with how you learn the easier and faster you are going to learn. Also, remember that these tools can be used in conjunction with each other so while you are learning at home you can also use a phrase app to help you while you are out and about.

Wouldn’t a language school be a better option?

That depends. Language schools can be great ways to learn a new language but they are by no means superior or inferior to software and apps which you can learn from at home. As I discussed above you need to think about your learning style and habits. Some people just weren’t meant to learn online and if trying to learn via software probably won’t complete the lessons. If this sounds like you then, by all means, you might want to look into paying for classes at a school. But, don’t think that just because it is a school with teachers that it is better than software and apps at home. There are many people who have learned languages from software and phone apps just as there are many people who have failed to learn a language from attending a language school. You will just have to look at your individual preference and pick which works best for you.

What are the best language learning apps and software?

Rosetta Stone


  • It goes without saying that Rosetta Stone is one of the most popular language learning software on the market for a reason. The program relies on the idea of dynamic immersion which attempts to mimic natural language learning such as when you learned your first language. This has proven to be very effective for millions of people worldwide.
  • Rosetta Stone has a patent accent tuning application which helps learners to perfect their accent to a native level. This is a problem for most learners even after they have achieved a fluent level of mastery they still have trouble communicating sometimes due to the differences in accent.
  • The online subscription allows students to access the program from anywhere in the world with ease and even offers multi-platform access so you can easily move from your PC to your tablet to your phone without a problem.


  • Compared to other language learning tools available Rosetta Stone can be a little pricey. The software is tried and tested and has been proven effective for millions of users. With this tried and true name comes a price. Cost-conscious consumers may shy away from spending the money on the subscription or the software.
  • There are many languages that are popular which aren’t available on Rosetta Stone. Because of this, even if you want to learn with this particular language learning tool, you may be unable due to the limitations of what languages are offered.
  • The software can be incredibly repetitive at times and for language learners who already have some experience, there are not placement testing options so that you can skip past what you already know. If you already have achieved a certain level of mastery of the language you are trying to learn then you may be backtracking over a lot of what you already know in an attempt to get to what you don’t know yet.



  • Duolingo is completely free. You can learn all of the languages that are currently available without having to pay anything to do so. When compared to the pricier language learning software options this can be a great bargain if the language you are looking to learn is available.
  • There is a very clear path for advancing through the program. A visual roadmap has been created that checks off as you complete different sections and sub-sections of each language. There is also the option of testing out of specific sections so if you already have some experience you don’t have to waste time going over what you already know.
  • The app is interactive and fun so that you aren’t simply repeating phrases and sentences in a rote memorization style of learning. Instead, there is memorization games and interactive lessons that keep things fresh and interesting.


  • There are currently only a little over 20 languages offered so the selection can be very limited. The number of languages offered is growing fast so if the language you are looking for isn’t currently available then you can check back.
  • There is little in the way of support when compared to the paid options. If you need help then you will have to rely on the forums in order to get answers to any questions you may have.
  • There is not spoken interaction with other students available at this time so you will have to find other ways to practice if you would like the chance to practice before going to the public with your new language skills.



  • Busuu allows you to interact with native speakers as you learn in order to easily implement what you are learning in a real-world context. This is great if you would like to practice what you are learning without going out and talking to people and you can easily check what you are saying in the app as you speak.
  • The app has a very simple and logical progression from individual vocabulary words to simple phrases to more complex expressions. This can be handy if you like to have an easy to follow path to where you are going when learning new things.
  • The program allows you to collect badges and points to create simple psychological incentives to keep working and learning. If you are a big gaming addict and like collecting these sorts of accolades then this could be helpful for you in your path to language learning.


  • Even though Busuu is marketed as a free app you will need to acquire the paid version in order to unlock most of the features on the app. The cost for the paid version is $11 per month for a 3-month subscription.
  • Only 12 languages are currently available so the option for learners is severely limited. This means if you are living in a country that speaks a less popular language you may be out of luck for the time being until they add that language to the list.
  • The learning style presented in the app may not be for everyone. You should take a look through before committing to the long haul to make sure this is going to be the right app for you and your individual learning style.