Look around next time you're sitting in traffic or on a crowded bus or train. How many people are looking at down at their smartphones?

Study after study has shown that too much screentime is bad for your working memory, sleep and general sense of wellbeing. However, that also depends on what you're using your screentime for.

Instead of playing Candy Crush, what if you devoted your idle screentime to something productive and enriching, like learning a new language? 

If you check out the most popular types of apps from the Apple store, you'll notice that apps promoting education - including tools for language learning, come in at third of the most download apps of all time! This is just a little behind business and gaming apps. 

In comparison, apps for social networking or shopping come in at 17th and 20th in the rankings respectively. 

There are so many great language learning websites out there, as well as apps for portable, on-the-go learning. Some are paid services, and some are free.

Others offer a free trial or certain content for free, but if you want full access to all the features, you'll need to pay.

Faced with hundreds of different Top 10 lists ranking the best language learning apps, we went ahead and did our own (unscientific) research into the world of language learning apps.

So without further ado, here is our list of the best iPhone and iPad apps for learning French, with explanations of what we liked about the perks of each one. 

The larger iPad works better for language games
iPads have a higher graphic resolution, which makes language games more fun! Source: Pixabay Credit: FirmBee

So... Should You Learn With an iPhone or iPad?

Before we outline the best apps for iPhone and iPad, let's take a look at the distinguishing features between the two kinds of devices, as well as their similarities.

What's the same?

  • Both iPhone and iPad are storage and communication devices operating with the same system and can perform almost all the same functions
  • Both have cameras and come preloaded with utilities
  • Operating the iPhone and iPad is essentially the same; both feature touchscreens and have wireless connectivity capabilities.
  • As long as both your tablet and smartphone are Apple products, you'll be able to sync them so you have the same applications on each

And what's different?

  • You can make phone calls on your iPad using certain applications and connecting to WiFi, but only the iPhone can place calls over cellular networks
  • The iPad has a bigger screen, and this gives it higher resolution graphics and therefore greater versatility than the smaller iPhone screens
  • An iPad is compatible with any app designed for either an iPad or iPhone, but the iPhone will only open apps adapted for smartphones
    • However, sometimes iPhone apps opened on the iPad might have issues with distorted graphics and various bugs.

It's important to keep these differences and features in mind when choosing which device or app to use for your French learning. Usually, app designers will release twin apps; one for the iPhone and one for the iPad.

If you're thinking of investing in an iPhone or iPad to turbo-boost your French learning, hopefully our list has introduced you to some of the benefits and limits of each device. 

So, which apps will optimise your French language learning experience?

Apps to Make Language Learning Fun

 Learn to Speak French in 24 Hours...

Can you really learn a foreign language in such a short amount of time?!

You can definitely get started! This app works well as a crash course for someone beginning their French language journey, either as a standalone or alongside other French learning tools.

Enroling in a traditional classroom language course requires money and time - commodities that are often in short supply!

That's where the 24 hours app can help...

This app is primarily based around its audio functions which help you learn wherever you are by offering pre-recorded phrases and words. These are spoken in English first, then the French translation is provided right after.

If you can complement the listening and repeating exercises by focussing on the screen, all the better. The words are shown as they're said. 

We like that 24 hours offers lots of conversational phrases, recorded by a native French speaker.

The downsides? There is no repeat function, and lessons won't play automatically - each time you've completed a lesson and want to move on, you'll need to tap to the next lesson manually to play it.

Sync your devices to guarantee access to language learning wherever you are!
Sync your iPhone and iPad so you have the same language learning apps wherever you go. Source: Pixabay Credit: Rani_Ramli

French Grammar and Vocabulary with Busuu

Busuu is an award-winning app favoured by more than 80 million language learners worldwide. 

When you sign up, you become a member of the Busuu learning community. You'll have guidance from native speakers who can help you perfect your pronunciation and your grasp of idioms and everyday phrases.

You can also challenge yourself with their in-built quizzes!

The creators recently included a progress bar that provides a fluency score, to help you track how you're going.

Busuu is a language exchange platform, so as you learn French, you can also help other people learn your native language!

So, what are the downsides?

Some lessons and features are available for free, but for more in-depth lessons, you'll need to pay a fee. The app says it can be used offline, but some users report that their downloaded lessons don't stay downloaded.

However, with a strong internet connection, you can pick up a lot of French with Busuu.

Learn & Play Languages Beginner

Learning is always more effective when you're having fun!

This app mixes visuals with audio and games to help you learn French faster.

We like that it helps you pick up vocabulary faster by grouping words intuitively. For example, all the basic words for greetings are in the same lesson.

You can support your learning through this app with your own paper flashcards, or note vocabulary down in your phrasebook,

Learning a second language by yourself isn't easy! This is doubly true if you're lacking in external motivation like needing French for your business communication or an upcoming holiday on the Riviera.

Learn & Play Languages Beginner tries to make language learning feel like a fun game!

Their basic program is free, but if you're looking for more content and in-depth learning, you'll be asked to pay a small fee. On the upside, this app is available is offline and doubles as a translation tool!

Are you in need of a high-quality French English translator?

At Superprof, we love language games to keep us engaged and motivated...

Keeping French Fresh with Mindsnacks

We rate Mindsnacks highly for its challenging quizzes and engaging games.

It doesn't explore verb conjugation extensively, but listening to new phrases and memorising them through fun activities is very stimulating.

You'll have plenty of opportunities to memorise and conjugate verbs, but entire sessions won't solely focus on this.

One of the best features of this app is the ability to challenge friends with its family sharing feature!

The two apps we've covered so far are great, but if you want something with all the bells and whistles, look no further than...

Memrise Language Learning

Memrise is a fantastic language learning software featuring opportunities for speaking practice, a flashcard function, and lots and lots of fun games.

But what does Memrise offer that other apps don't?

Videos. Thousands of videos featuring native speakers, introducing new vocabulary and drilling you on what you already know. They can even outline the upcoming learning materials featured in the next lessons.

And there's so much more on offer...

Memrise includes so many cool tech-based functions, such as chatbots and object recognition. For the latter, you can take a quick picture with your iPhone or iPad, and Memrise will tell you the French name for it, then store it in a database for future reference.

Learning French has never been more versatile, or more high-tech!

Download multiple language learning apps onto your iPad!
Download a few language learning apps onto your iPad to get a feel for what you like Source: Pixabay Credit: Firmbee

Applications Deserving of An Honourable Mention

All the apps we've mentioned already put their own spin on language learning. But there are so many apps out there - we've hardly scratched the surface of what's available for you to download!

Here are a few you may already know...

  • Duolingo: this is the most popular language-learning app, with a free and paid version
  • Rosetta Stone: a long-running language program with more than 25 years in the language learning game
  • Babbel: a subscription-based e-learning platform
  • Rocket French: has one of the highest quality and comprehensive audio programs out there

When I was looking for French lessons online, Superprof shortlisted several great tutors for me. I started learning in no time!

So What's The Best Way To Learn French with Apps?

Many people believe that to learn a language effectively, you'll need to sit in a classroom and learn from a certified teacher.

Many others hate the classroom method and wouldn't go back there if someone paid them!

We at Superprof understand that every language learner is different, but nearly everyone can benefit from the following tip:

Take advantage of free trials to find an app that suits your learning style. 

You may find that a complement of two apps suits you best - a fun, everyday one and one with a more traditional approach.

And if you don't have Apple devices, nearly all the apps we've mentioned here are also compatible with Android smartphones.

Inspired? Read up about learning French online or take online french courses here.

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Erin is an Australian musician, writer and francophile living in France.