Welcome to the forty-third installment of Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy new tech column. Not everything we cover will be queer per se, but it will be about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology.
Header by Rory Midhani
Learning a language other than the one I natively speak has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in my 25 years thus far. It’s also one of the many things in life that’s super satisfying to practice and research – there is a measurable difference when you regularly practice a language other than your own. Like, one day you can’t read this book/newspaper/website and then in a week you can. It’s clear how much progress you’re making. And your tech can super help you here. Sure, we all know about Rosetta Stone, but here are a few more ways you can learn a language at a significantly lower price point.
Languages: Spanish, English, French, German, Portuguese and Italian.
Price: Free as the day is long.
We’ve talked about this before, and I have to say I still think it’s the best free thing that exists in the world. And when I say free, by the way, I mean for real free: no ads, no paid content, just language language language. Duolingo helps you practice translating from English into other languages, other languages into English, the actual grammar of a sentence, spelling, listening and (if you’re playing on the mobile devices) speaking. Win your way through levels and unlock lessons by earning coins and translating the internet. If you’re planning on teaching yourself a language, I recommend using this as the base ingredient to all your language learning recipes.
Languages: Spanish, English, French, Hebrew and Arabic
Platforms: web app/Chrome extension
Price: Free like boobs without bras.
This new language learning tool sits in the top right corner of Google Chrome as an extension and turns the content on the web into a vocabulary learning tool. Install the plugin and you’re off browsing real text for words you haven’t seen before in the language of your choice. The huge pro here is that it gets you right into the action by reading real world articles on real world issues – you wind up learning words for “protest,” “sexism” and “survival,” words you wouldn’t normally learn in a classroom environment or in a game-driven language learning software. The cons, though – this platform is entirely focused on vocabulary and doesn’t teach you grammar. It also exposes you to slang words and words we make up (eg, “mansplaining”) without being able to define them. Still, super great for what it does. I’d recommend using this in conjunction with another language learning software like Duolingo, or even in conjunction with traditional classroom learning.
Platforms: Exclusively iOS, but they’re hiring an Android Engineer as we speak, so.
Price: Free-ish, kind of like taking your dog to a fenced-in dog run. The first lesson is free and games are free, but you buy additional lessons. For one language, it’s $4.99 for all lessons. You can also get all lessons for every language/subject ($19.99).
Mind Snacks is ADORABLE. It’s geared toward children, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t use it. Mind Snacks works with listening, spelling, vocabulary and grammar. It also uniquely does synonyms and antonyms as well as visual processing (associating words with pictures). I highly recommend this app if you have little to no exposure to the language you’re trying to learn – it’s great for the ultra-beginner. Plus, like Duolingo, it game-ifys language learning so you don’t feel the learning happening. And as you gain levels, you hatch this cute little creature from an egg, kinda reminiscent of Pokémon.
Price: Free-ish. Maybe as free as you would be writing in your journal if you knew someone was reading it. There are free vocab, reading and writing lessons, but most of the grammar lessons come with a premium subscription (89.99 per year).
I couldn’t possibly do a language post without mentioning Busuu. The learning is less “gamified” and way closer to a traditional curriculum. In fact, the order of things you learn in the first few lessons is exactly what my freshman year French class looked like, and that was the foundation that enabled me to move to France. So. They also boast a huge language selection and the biggest language learning community on the web. While I think the lessons themselves are way less fun than the above competitors, you get something that none of the other solutions on this page offer: your exercises are correct by native speakers. And there’s a bit of a game element – you build your “language garden” as you progress.
So many ways to get your language learning on! Enjoy, queermos. Et bonne chance!