This unique app offers a new way to learn languages
As the weeks of lockdown continue to tick by, and as the weekdays continue to blur into weekends, I’ve found myself on a non-stop search for new activities. I’ll try anything that might differentiate the days, give me a sense of structure, or keep my brain engaged. As much as I love cooking new things and listening to audiobooks, sometimes I need an extra challenge—and for me, there’s no better, more engaging challenge than practicing a new language.
I love learning languages, specifically because I find it hard. I can’t zone out the way I sometimes do when I’m listening to a podcast, or watching TV, or even reading a book. And that’s not to mention the emotional side effects that come with language learning—when I study another language, I feel connected to other people.
Basically, exactly the way we all want to be feeling right now. I had a great experience checking out the audio-based language program Pimsleur, but I was excited to check out something totally different—a mobile app (not a website!) that tries to make learning as interactive and unintimidating as possible. For three weeks, I gave Mondly a try.
What is Mondly?
Mondly is, most simply, a text and audio-based language learning app. If you’re familiar with DuoLingo, Mondly’s interface will probably look familiar. Like DuoLingo, Mondly relies on “gamifying” the experience of learning a new language by asking the user to complete small, interactive challenges every day.
That being said, Mondly offers a number of features that makes the experience of using it pretty unique. I’ll explore these more below, but some of its secret weapons include the ability to change your learning language, a chatbox that helps you construct a full conversation, and an augmented reality app that teaches you vocabulary by superimposing images on your own phone camera.
How much does Mondly cost?
If you want to get a taste of what Mondly has to offer, you’re probably best off starting with the free version. This will allow you to access a limited number of lessons—not enough for long-term learning, but enough to figure out if the Mondly approach works for you.
If you decide you’re all in, you’ll likely want to upgrade to a Premium subscription. This will allow you to access all the content on the app, without limitations. On top of that, this subscription includes two bonus apps: a version of Mondly aimed at kids, and an augmented reality app where you can practice vocabulary with a virtual teacher.
If you only need access to a single language, one month of Premium costs $9.99. Alternatively, you can pay for a full year for $47.99, lowering to monthly cost to just $4. But this level of subscription is limited to single-language use—if you want to learn multiple languages, you can shell out for Mondly's top tier Premium subscription, at $479.90 for twelve months. It’s a steep price tag, but if you’re a heavy app-user looking to learn two or more languages, it could be worth it.
What languages does Mondly offer?
One of the greatest things about Mondly is the number of languages it offers, especially compared to apps like DuoLingo. Mondly currently offers an impressive thirty-three languages, including some that you are less likely to see on comparable apps, like Finnish, Croation, Persian, Afrikaans, and Thai. You can find a full list of languages on the Mondly app.
How does Mondly work?
At its most basic level, Mondly is a pretty classic example of gamified learning. Each day, you can take a number of lessons to introduce core vocabulary and to practice speaking. The lessons are quick—by which I mean I could generally finish them in about two minutes, and would generally do several in a day. Each lesson asks the user to do things like drag words to their corresponding images, to fill in the blank in a sentence, and to speak vocabulary into your phone’s microphone. You start these lessons with three stars, and you lose stars for every mistake you make. Theoretically, keeping your stars and maintaining your daily streak should help you stay motivated. Simple.
This description might make Mondly seem relatively simple, but the app offers enough unique features to stand out from the pack. One of Mondly’s big selling points appears as soon as you sign up: while you’re filling out your profile, the app will ask you to select what language you want to learn through, allowing you to select any of the thirty-three languages that it offers. This is the language that the app will use to offer tips and explanations—basically, the voice of the teacher.
If you’re an English speaker accustomed to learning through English, this might not seem that remarkable, but it’s actually a pretty big deal. Most apps limit the number of languages you can select as your base language—which might make learning difficult for people who don’t speak the same language as the app developers. If you’re a polyglot, this also means you can decide to learn Portguese through Spanish, for instance, rather than through a more dissimilar language.
If I was to pick one feature that really sets Mondly apart, though, it would be something entirely different—the augmented reality app that comes with a Premium subscription. Remember Pokémon GO? It’s kind of like that. By accessing your phone camera, Mondly can make a virtual teacher appear in your house, who then summons virtual animals, objects, and dishes of food. If you’ve been waiting to hear what makes Mondly so unique, this feature is the biggie.
What I liked about Mondly
As far as gamified app-based learning goes, Mondly has a lot to like. I tested out the Premium version, which comes with a lot of content. Lessons are divided by topic, so in addition to your unique daily lessons, you can choose to learn vocabulary under sections like “Family,” “Preparing a Trip,” “Public Transportation,” and “Romance.” Most of these sections include an estimated two hours of content, so it’s easy to supplement if you feel like the daily lessons aren’t enough. If you’re learning a language with a different alphabet, you can toggle between that alphabet and a Latin alphabet, which is a nice feature.
Mondly also offers multiple ways of engaging with vocabulary, aside from the central lessons. Every week you complete all seven daily lessons, you unlock a weekly quiz reviewing the content you’ve covered—and after you complete a month’s worth of weekly quizzes, you can unlock a challenge reviewing the entire month. The app also has a nice feature where you can quickly review vocabulary and phrases that you haven’t practiced in a while, reducing the likelihood that past lessons will fade from your mind.
My very favorite feature of Mondly, though, is its virtual chatbox. This chatbox prompts you to participate in a scripted conversation by recording yourself saying one of a few potential responses. The app will confirm if your pronunciation was accurate, or will ask you to repeat if you made mistakes. Once you’ve completed this exercise, you can listen to the whole conversation—including your own recordings. The effect is that you get a better idea of what you sound like speaking the language you are learning. The combination of speaking, reading, and hearing the conversation definitely helped the vocabulary stick in my brain. It probably helped that Mondly’s audio was, in my experience, smoother and less robotic than DuoLingo’s. These conversations really did sound organic and natural.
What I didn’t like about Mondly
While there was a lot I liked about Mondly, there was also plenty that didn’t quite work for me. I’ll be blunt—I’m not a fan of gamified learning. I find these bite-sized lessons a little too bite-sized. Personally, I’d rather invest more time and feel like I’m understanding the content more thoroughly. If that means sacrificing the aesthetics of a mobile game, I’m fine with it. I felt like Mondly taught me to recognize vocabulary in the context of the app, but I’m less convinced I could actually take what I learned out in public.
Mondly offers three levels of difficulty: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I started at the beginner level with Arabic, a language that I’ve never attempted to speak before. After a few days, I started to wish I was learning through a more traditional method—I liked that I was learning how to imitate Arabic’s sound system, and was practicing basic vocabulary, but I found it frustrating that I didn’t know anything about grammar or the alphabet. Prompted by this frustration, I decided to try Mondly multiple ways: I continued my beginner lessons in Arabic, but I also started intermediate Spanish, and advanced French. I was hoping that one of these levels would be perfect for me, but I wasn’t able to differentiate between the three levels of difficulty very easily. I found myself wishing that I could take a placement test (something I have never wished for in my life) just to speed things along.
And then, of course, there’s the augmented reality. Here’s the thing: if you asked me to name the single phenomenon that terrifies me more than anything on earth, I’d say the uncanny valley. There is no objective way to talk about this, so I will just say, completely subjectively, that I found this feature deeply unsettling. Maybe you will love it. Maybe it is exactly what you need. Personally, I stood petrified in the corner of my living room while a virtual woman repeated the word “carne,” from the doorway, sending a floating plate of virtual meat drifting toward me with terrible finality. Thoughts of this moment haunted me as I tried to fall asleep later that night. I’m sure there’s an audience for this, but it is clearly not me.
Is Mondly a good way to learn a language?
Learning is incredibly subjective, and it’s just not possible to guess if an educational app is going to work for the general user. Chances are, you know your own learning style much better than I do, and you’ll be better equipped than I am to decide if Mondly is worth your time and money. Personally, I liked Mondly as a supplement to another language learning program, but not as a primary way of learning. I had my best experience when I used it as a way to brush up on vocabulary, without any lofty expectations. Given that this was my relationship with the app, I would probably be better off sticking to DuoLingo—a program that’s less intensive, but free.
Nonetheless, Mondly gave me an introduction to Arabic that, overall, I enjoyed. One of the trickiest and most exciting things about being an absolute beginner to a language is beginning to employ a new system of sounds, and this was a nice way to learn some core vocabulary. I’m a person who has always had trouble sticking with gamified learning, and who generally struggles to stay in a studious mindset while looking at my phone. If you’re just looking for an app to practice vocab, or if you’re a different kind of learner than me—one who full-heartedly loves DuoLingo, and thinks the augmented reality sounds cool rather than scary—Mondly could be just right for you.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.