There are a number of reasons why people decide to learn a new language. 

Whether you’ve moved to a new country, want to improve employability or impress your friends, one thing’s certain, for most people, it’s not going to be an easy journey – especially when you factor in work and maintaining interaction with other members of the human race.

Personally, I’ve been learning German on and off through traditional classes as well as online apps for about a year and a half now, but for me, it’s still a challenge to form smooth-sounding sentences with these grammar tables clouding my brain.

One time, I went to the dry cleaner’s (“Chemische Reinigung”) and conducted the whole transaction in German and I walked away with a spring in my step and a smile so big it bordered on creepy. But, I digress.

The good news for learners is that there are more and more digital language-learning services available these days that can cater to your individual learning style, goals and daily schedule.

While American companies such as Rosetta Stone and Duolingo  seem to be dominating the space, there are also a number of growing European startups tackling language-learning from all angles – here’s 12 to keep an eye out for… (not necessarily ranked, we should add):

1) busuu

BusuuHeadquarters: London, UK

Gist: Founded in early 2008 by Bernhard Niesner and Adrian Hilti, busuu is one of the major contenders in the language-learning landscape. The social network for language-learning claims 45 million users and offers both free and premium paid-courses for 12 languages. It raised 3.5 million euros in Series A funding in 2012 and recently inked a deal with Pearson.

2) Babbel

Babbel

Headquarters: Berlin, Germany

Gist: Babbel offers a system of learning for 14 languages and focuses on interactivity. The language learning platform is operated by Lesson Nine GmbH, which was founded in August 2007.  Last year, Babbel bagged $10 million in Series B funding and bought out San Francisco rival PlaySay in order to grow its US footprint.

3) bab.la

bab.laHeadquarters: Hamburg, Germany

Gist: Founded in 2007 by Andreas Schroeter and Patrick Uecker, bab.la is an interactive language portal offering bilingual dictionaries (that work offline, vocabulary lessons and games for free. Currently available in 25 languages, the site operates on a wiki-style model that allows users to contribute content as well as feedback.

4) LinguaLeo

LingualeoHeadquarters: Moscow, Russia

Gist: LinguaLeo – a personalized language-learning service – was founded in 2009 by  Russian entrepreneur Aynur Abdulnasyrov. Since then, it’s picked up 9 million registered users, $3 million in investment and a former VP International from Evernote as COO, Dmitry Stavisky. At the moment, LinguaLeo teaches English to users from Russia, Brazil and Turkey.

5) Vocabla

VocablaHeadquarters: Krakow, Poland

Gist: Polish startup Vocabla is a language-learning service that allows users to learn English through games and exercises with friends on Facebook. Founded in 2011 by Michal Dyrda, the portal supports 8 languages to start from and reportedly reached 400,000 users. Vocabla offers a free basic service as well as a paid premium option.

6) Lingvist

LingvistHeadquarters: Tallinn, Estonia

Gist: Founded by Mait Müntel, Ott Jalakas and Andres Koern last year, Lingvist takes an ‘adaptive’ approach to language learning. The startup, which is currently running its service in private beta, has developed software that claims to reduce the time it takes to learn a language. In April, Lingvist raised 1 million euros in funding.

7) Fluentify

FluentifyHeadquarters: London, UK

Gist: At its core, Fluentify is about connecting language-learners with native-speaking tutors from around the world through its video-conferencing platform. Founded by Giacomo Moiso, Andrea Passadori, Matteo Avalle and Claudio Bosco in 2013, the young startup recently closed a $410,000 angel investment.

8) Tutor Tigers

Tutor TigersHeadquarters: Helsinki, Finland

Gist: Founded by Kai Lemmetty, Tutor Tigers is a personalized language learning service zooming in on sharpening users’ English pronunciation. After taking an assessment test, users can enrol in hour-long sessions, alongside other students, with an accredited tutor for $5 per hour. Currently, the startup is focusing on Ho Chi Minh city as a test market.

9) Fleex 

FleexHeadquarters: Paris, France

Gist: Fleex is a platform that wants to help users learn English through watching videos with flexible subtitle options. For 4.90 euros a month, you can customize the settings so that in a video, both English subtitles and your native language subtitles appear. Additionally, you can pause at anytime to get translations or definitions of a word.

10) Preply

Preply

Headquarters: Kiev, Ukraine

Gist: Founded by Ukrainian entrepreneur Kirill Bigai last year, Preply is a platform aiming to make it easy to find an English language tutor. Currently, the online marketplace for English tutors is available in various cities in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and reportedly attracts about 5000 users. Preply is backed by $170,000 in funding.

11) English Attack!

English Attack!   English 2.0

Headquarters: Paris, France

Gist: Founded in 2009, English Attack! is an online educational service based on cognitive neuroscience that features learning units based on entertainment content, combining videos (movies, TV series, music clips etc.), photos, games and more. Available with a user interface in 23 languages and for both consumers and educational organisations.

12) SpeakingPal

spv3_cover_image

Headquarters: Tel Aviv, Israel

Gist: SpeakingPal develops a mobile learning system that brings speech recognition capabilities to the mobile phone for improved language learning experiences (they’re basically trying to turn phones into English tutors). Russian VC firm Maxfield Capital recently invested more than $1 million in the Israeli startup.

Any major ones we left out by mistake? Let us know!

CORRECTION 7 June 2015: An earlier version of this article stated that Preply’s headquarter was in Moscow, Russia. The company’s headquarters is in Kiev, Ukraine.

Featured image credit: Tupungato / Shutterstock

  • abarrera

    I would suggest uSpeak: http://www.uspeaklanguages.com/en/ :)

  • Thank you, nice list! The best way to learn a new language is to practice with native speakers. That’s why I would also recommend http://NekoPlaza.com . You can easily find native speakers :)

  • Gabriel R.

    English Attack is the best thing since slice bread!
    Disclosure: I’m a cofounder :”>
    #biased

  • Eleftheria Karyoti

    Great list! Babbel was recommended to me. One of the few that include Dutch. If you are focusing on conversational skills, check out CoffeeStrap. Designed for busy and mobile people :) They are part of the latest Rockstart Accelerator batch. Disclosure: I’m part of the Rockstart team.

  • Marie Soleil

    Can you tell which ones have apps? I know busuu and babbel do and they’re excellent. I have yet to review the rest. So far duolingo is one of the most effective. Thanks for sharing this list

  • Maybe you’ll include our online gamesforlanguage.com in your next post about US companies. As we believe that context matters, we use quick games and a travel story as key teaching tools. Don’t drill irrelevant words or weird sentences, but practice to understand, read, write and speak everyday useful words and sentences.

  • Interlinguals.com is the missing startup here that wants to become the airbnb for language study. It’s a network of experienced teachers and other natives that want to help out anyone to take face-to-face or online language lessons for an affordable price. Registration is free!

  • Theo @ German Startups Group

    I would add Lingoda, which has just recently received fresh financing:
    http://www.gruenderszene.de/allgemein/lingoda-finanzierung-samwer (in German)

  • You might also want to have a look at the language startup InterlinearBooks.com which aims to bring literature to language learners.

  • Juan Carlos C.

    Thank you for this nice list! I would suggest VocApp Flashcards https://vocapp.es/ and https://vocapp.com/ , learn with flashcards!