The language learning app sector was imported from the desktop courses which were available in the mid-2000s, which offered classes through CDs, desktop apps or, as was new and trendy at the time, on the web.
Babbel and Busuu were part of this initial wave of language learning web apps, but Rosetta Stone was still the premier-service, which had offered language learning CDs since the early 1990s.
What several of these new language learning services offered was free courses or community-built lessons. The founders of Duolingo were especially focused on building a language app that could be accessed by anyone in the world.
Through this community building, Duolingo and Memrise have published hundreds of courses on rare and fictional languages. Some languages have even been saved from extinction through the courses published by these apps.
Building language learning apps for mobile led to the gamification of the sector, with prizes for finishing a course, flashcards, health bars and other gaming features to make learning a language informal and fun.
That has led to criticism from some, although research has shown that the gamification of language learning can lead to improved outcomes for learners. It also enables new forms of learning which are uncommon in classrooms and overnight courses.
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Several of these apps have seen their revenues double in the past two years, as more people around the world learn their second or third language on mobile. During the coronavirus pandemic, some saw a surge in educational usage, as schools looked to use apps as homework.
That said, approximately five percent of language learning is done on mobile, the other 90 percent is still offline. One issue with relying fully on apps is that most are not sophisticated enough for learners to reach fluent stage, meaning they need to take courses after learning on the app to become fully fluent in another language.
Other apps, such as HelloTalk and Tandem, have tried to fix this by letting users have conversations with native speakers. If the user gets a sentence wrong, these apps provide instant feedback either from the native speaker or using AI.
We have collected data and statistics on the language learning sector. Read on below to find out more.
Top Language Learning Apps
|Duolingo||The most popular and highest grossing language learning app in 2021, which went public on the NASDAQ|
|Babbel||In a world of freemium services, Babbel stands out as a paid-for only service, which hit 10 million subscriptions|
|Busuu||Popular in the EMEA region, with Russia and Turkey being two of the most active countries. Has 10,000 live tutors available|
|Memrise||Designed by two experts in memory, Memrise has won multiple awards for its app, including Google’s App of the Year 2017|
|Mondly||A Romanian-based language learning platform which has already launched multiple VR apps, and offers 33 language courses|
|HelloTalk||Instead of teaching the language through cards or voice, this app lets native speakers talk to each other, with real-time adjustments|
|Rosetta Stone||The most established language learning company, with hundreds of offline courses. It has 52 apps for all types of language teaching|
|Tandem||Similar to HelloTalk, Tandem is focused on conversations with native speakers. It includes sign and fictional languages|
|Drops Kahoot!||Users learn the language through identifying different images, with 45 languages available|
|LingoDeer||Unlike most language learning platforms which prioritise European languages, LingoDeer has several Asian courses available|
Language Learning App Revenue
Revenue in the language learning sector increased 33 percent to $6.18 billion in 2020. Online services cover about 10 percent of the total income in the language learning industry.
Note: This only covers app revenue, although it is difficult to differentiate as some mobile-first platforms do offer web, desktop and offline services to customers
Language Learning Revenue by App
Babbel was the highest grossing language learning app in 2020, although we expect Duolingo will surpass it in 2021. Memrise and Busuu are both far behind in total revenue generation, but have seen year-on-year growth.
Note: Some of the values are estimates based on performance of previous years
Language Learning App Installs
Duolingo was the dominant language learning platform for installs, with 61% of total installs across the top 10 most popular apps in 2021.
Note: This covers installs between January to September 2021
Language Learning App Usage
Duolingo is also far ahead in app usage, although it should be noted that some of these apps only offer a limited free version. Busuu and Memrise have both seen their market share fall in 2021.
Note: This covers Q3 2021
Language Learning App Downloads
Duolingo is far ahead in total downloads, which is to be expected as it is ahead in total installs and usage for 2021. Even as early as 2015, Duolingo had already push ahead of competitors in total downloads.
Note: Language learning apps tend to conflate the terms registered users (i.e. those who add an email address to access the app) with downloads, although the disparity between both values may be minimal