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Say ‘what’ again! 7 ways for expats to learn new languages


Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry or savor their songs.

Nelson Mandela

Having moved to the Netherlands just over a year ago, this quote hits close to home. Or at least my new home.

My first few weeks (okay, first few months) were spent awkwardly smiling, not knowing how to respond other than muttering the ever-useful “geen Nederlands” (no Dutch). I missed small talk at the grocery store and conversing with neighbors. And as an expat in a foreign land, it’s important to immerse myself in this ‘new-to-me’ culture… as well be able to ask for help or another round of beers.

I’m not alone. According to a report by Finaccord, the total number of expatriates worldwide numbered around 50.5 million in 2013. By 2017, Finaccord forecasts that number will reach around 56.8 million.

In tech hubs the world over, demand for expatriates is rising. On average, international companies employ around 1-2 percent of manpower to help transfer skills, technology and create the “corporate glue” that binds an international organization together. Currently Asia leads as the world’s fastest-growing region for foreign entrepreneurs founding their start-ups in the continent.

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This week, Estonian language learning startup Lingvist announced it secured $8 million in new funding. This isn’t the first announcement for the booming language-learning market.

English may be the business language of choice, but it’s nice to learn the language in your host country. And while learning a new language takes effort and time – something most people don’t have in abundance – language learning startups have made the process faster and easier than ever. Here are seven great language-learning applications to get you started.


Recognized as the best app of 2013 by both Google Play and the App Store, Duolingo is one of the highest rated apps available when it comes to learning another language.Lessons are divided into short challenges that only take a couple of minutes each and how bright and inviting the interface looks.  The gamification involved in every ounce of this app helps users achieve a sense of bite-sized accomplishment throughout their lessons.


Similar to Duolingo, Babbel helps users pick up a language by completing and repeating phrases. Babbel gives you everything you need to speak, write and understand a new language – learning grammar intuitively as you go.


A subset of Rosetta Stone, LiveMocha is the world’s largest online language learning community. Livemocha fuses traditional learning methods with online practice and interaction with native language speakers from around the world. Learn a new language, practice with native speakers and help create a world without barriers.

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As you might surmise from its name, Memrise, and it’s 200+ language choices, teaches users by having them memorize words. Memrise uses clever science to adapt to your personal learning style and performance. The program also allows users to compete with your contacts, because learning is even better when you’re beating your friends.


The team behind Lingua.ly speaks thirteen languages between them, so they clearly know the challenges behind learning a new language. The app lets you to match your language learning to your personal interests and on your own timeline. The courses are free for life, with supplemental blog posts full of tips and tricks to learn, practice and master a language.


HiNative is a global Q&A platform where you can ask native speakers any questions you have about their language and culture. You can also upload audio files for tips on your pronunciation and accent. It is a wonderful place for language learners and those who want to travel to every nook and cranny of the globe.


Through interactive play, MindSnacks teaches you essential vocabulary and conversation skills. The app uses games to help teach people of all ages, so if you’re looking for a free and fun way to learn a new language, this is it.

These programs allow users to learn a language quickly and efficiently. You don’t have to go native, but basic proficiency helps.

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