How Your Phone Can Help You Learn a Language—iPhone edition

Just like Beatrice from our last post, I’m also learning a new language this year. And my phone has also been an incredible tool for this! Here are some ways I’ve used my iPhone to help me with this goal:

Siri translate

Starting with iOS 11, Siri is able to translate phrases from English to Mandarin, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Just activate Siri, then say something like, “How do you say (word or phrase to translate) in (language)?”

Siri remembers the context of your last request, so if you then say something like, “In (another language),” Siri will translate the previously given word or phrase into the new language. Or say something like, “How do you say (new word or phrase),” and Siri will give the translation in the previously specified language.

Closed captions

Most video apps in iOS have subtitle options built in, like TV, Netflix, YouTube, etc. I’ve found watching movies in the language I am learning, while keeping English subtitles on, is a terrific way to improve my vocabulary as well as my ear for the way the language is natively spoken.

Voice Memos

Just like the Voice Recorder app in Android discussed in our last post, the Voice Memos app can be extremely useful for learning a new language. Record native speakers, notes in class, or anything else you want to be able to reference with exact audio reproduction later.

Third-Party Apps

There are many, many apps in the App Store to help you learn a new language. Here are three free apps that have been particularly useful for me:


DuoLingo is a free platform for learning new languages that you can use through their website or through their iOS or Android apps. Though they do have a paid subscription that does things like get rid of occasional ads, you can get all the language training they offer for free. DuoLingo offers extensive courses in many different languages. DuoLingo emphasizes daily activity by tracking streaks and by making it so just 5-10 minutes a day checks off your goal for the day.


Tinycards is flashcard application that can be used to study and memorize information on just about any topic. It has many built in topics with populated flash cards, or you can create custom cards of your own. Tinycards is made by DuoLingo, so all of the languages they teach have flash cards ready to help you increase your vocabulary.

Google Translate

Google Translate is full of features to help you learn a language. Most people are aware that you can type a word or phrase and get a translation, but there is much more than that. Point your camera at signs or other text to see the translation in augmented reality on your screen, use conversation mode to have two way verbal conversations in 32 languages translated as you chat, and even hand-draw characters to get their translation.

Change the iPhone’s language settings

As Beatrice mentioned in our last post, this can be a very effective way to learn specialized vocabulary and get practice working in your new language regularly and in a real-world situation. To make this change in iOS, go to Settings, then tap GENERAL, then LANGUAGE & REGION, then IPHONE LANGUAGE.

Jason Merrill, Mac & iOS Consultant

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