If you are looking to learn a language chances are Transparent Language Online has it. This app and website has programs for more than 100 languages, from the most popular ones people study to those with few speakers worldwide. The amount of content that Transparent offers varies by language. Transparent is also better than some of the best language-learning apps in terms of its speaking and listening exercises. It is more expensive than many other apps, however, and it is more challenging.
Our top two picks for language-learning programs are Duolingo (free) and Rosetta Stone (from $36 for three months). They are both, in a word, stickier. They compel you to return to them day after day in a way that Transparent does not because they are more fun and more visually interesting. Still, Transparent is great for learning basic words and sentences in more than 100 languages.
What Can You Learn With Transparent Languages?
A huge consideration when choosing language-learning software is whether it offers the language you want to study. Even leaving out all its programs for learning English, Transparent offers the most languages of any language app we have seen.
In the long list of languages, provided below, you will notice some are more obscure than others are. Many of these lesser spoken languages have shorter courses and are part of Transparent’s 7,000 Languages Program, a nonprofit that aims to make less commonly taught languages available. Languages that are more popular have longer courses.
Excluding English, Transparent Language Online offers lessons for the following languages: Afrikaans, Albanian, Altai, Amharic, Arabic (Modern Standard, Egyptian, Iraqi, Levantine), Armenian, Azerbaijani, Balinese, Baluchi, Bashkir, Belarusian, Bengali, Bosnian, Breton, Bulgarian, Buriat, Cambodian (Khmer), Chechen, Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Cree, Croatian, Czech, Dakota (Standard and Sisseton), Danish, Dari, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Denesuline, Dutch, Esperanto, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French (European and Canadian), Georgian, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hausa, Hawaiian, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Kalmyk, Kazakh, Koasati, Korean, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Luxembourgish, Macedonian, Malagasy, Malay, Maori, Mirandese, Mongolian, Nahuatl, Nepali, Nogai, Norwegian, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe (Standard, Central, Northwestern), Pashto, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Quechua, Romanian, Russian, Scottish Gaelic, Serbian, Slovak, Somali, Spanish (Latin American and European), Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tajiki, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Turkmen, Tuvan, Ukrainian, Urdu*, Uzbek (Cyrillic, Latin), Vietnamese, Welsh, Wolof, Yoruba, and Zulu. An asterisk indicates that there are two courses, one that uses native script only and one that includes transliteration into Roman letters.
If there is a language you need that is not on this list, we recommend trying either Pimsleur or Mango Languages. Pimsleur has 50 language programs and is excellent, but it is almost all audio-based. Mango has courses in 68 languages, including some that Transparent does not have such as American Sign Language, Cherokee, Shanghainese, and Yiddish. We do not recommend Mango if you can avoid it because it is not the strongest program, but it is an option if you are in a bind.
Pricing and Plans
Transparent Language Online has dropped its prices starting in 2020 to put them more in line with other language apps. Currently, it costs $24.95 per month, which is high, or $149.95 per year. Most other language apps charge somewhere around $10-$13 per month or $100-$150 per year.
You can get a generous 14-day free trial, no credit card required, that includes access to all the languages. You can jump between languages, and the app saves your progress with each one. Another way to get this app free is to check whether your library has licenses to Transparent. If so, you may be able to create an account from home, just as you would if you purchased it, and get access to the program.
With an account, whether you pay for it or get it through your library, you get unlimited access to everything that has included in your language program. You can jump around at will, which means you can explore everything that is in the more advanced units before you level up to them. Transparent offers online private tutoring, too, but that is sold separately.
The Transparent Language Experience
In the years that we have tested Transparent Language, our opinion about it has wavered. Sometimes it feels too challenging. Sometimes it feels like it presents the right amount of new material per lesson. In addition, sometimes it does not feel challenging enough. The difference comes down to which languages we are using to test the app and how much experience we have with them.
We have used Transparent Language Online to dabble in German, Russian, Urdu, Spanish, and Romanian. While we not a native speaker of any of those languages, we have a lot of experience with Spanish and Romanian, but none whatsoever with Urdu or Russian. They have different scripts, too. As to German, we have learned a little on my own, only enough to say and understand a few travel phrases, really.
Romanian and Spanish were not challenging enough to keep our skills sharp. Urdu and Russian felt extremely difficult, like we would have had to take extensive notes while completing the exercises and use them going forward. The German lessons gave me just the right amount of challenge.
An important aspect of any language-learning app is whether it compels you to pick it up every day. Thinking about all the language apps, we have used, Duolingo has always been the stickiest. Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are close seconds. With Duolingo, we know right where to go to practice a skill that feels weak, whether it is a particular verb tense, grammatical case, or listening. Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur feel sticky because the apps tell you exactly how much practice to do each day, making it easy to go in and complete your lesson. Transparent is a little like that. You can set a goal to study each day, but it is done by time rather than lessons. We also find that with Transparent, we can easily go down a rabbit hole of learning about the history of a language or watching videos that provide tips on learning the language, and suddenly we have been off track from my primary learning routine for ten minutes.
Another issue with the service is that Transparent is not visually interesting. It is a minor point, but it slightly discourages us from wanting to look at the app each day.
Transparent Language Feature and Interface
Transparent Languages Online starts out with a dashboard. All your units and lessons appear under the heading My Learning Path and they are sequentially numbered. To the right is a chart that shows your progress in terms of how much vocabulary you have amassed over time. Also in that chart is a number telling you how many words in your vocabulary are stale, meaning you have not been exposed to them in a while.
My Learning Path tells you about the units and lessons that you will learn. Each unit contains multiple lessons and ends with an assessment. If you think a lesson is below your skill level, you can skip ahead to the unit assessment. You can also remove it from your Learning Path if you like.
Assessments are short. They take about 10 minutes or less. They require you to show you can read, write, speak, and hear all the vocabulary you learned leading up to them. If you do not pass an assessment, you can still move forward with your learning, however. You are never locked out of lessons.
For languages that use a different character set, such as Urdu, you must choose whether you want native characters or a transliteration, meaning the words are phonetically translated into the Roman alphabet. If you choose native, there are many places where you can still enable transliteration, so it is not a strictly either/or proposition. In addition, if you get the Romanized version, you usually have the option to reveal the native writing alongside the transliterations.
Transparent has a nice feature for languages with new-to-you characters and letters to help you learn more about the writing system while you learn and study. You can see more information about the characters while you are doing exercises by clicking on them. For example, in the Urdu course, you can click on a word or phrase that you are learning, and a large pop-up window reminds you of the names and sounds of the letters or characters.
Exercises in Transparent Language
As you get into the lessons, Transparent gives you ample variety with speaking, reading, writing, and listening. The exercises are fairly routine. Ours favorite one is hearing spoken words and having to transcribe them. Ours least favorite is called Four Square, in which four cards appear on screen, face down. Each card turns over one by one to reveal the word, which you also hear. Then, they all go face down and you are given an English word. You have to remember which card has the Romanian translation. It is painfully slow and tedious.
To practice speaking the language, Transparent has a speech analysis tool. It is very good. To practice speaking, you hear a native speaker say a word or phrase. You also see the waveform of their speech. Then you record yourself saying the same thing. The part worth noticing is that when once you finish, the app scores you, and if your score is not up to snuff, it highlights the portions of your waveform graph where you got it wrong. You can then play back your recording and pay attention to the part where your pronunciation did not match the native speaker’s. The highlighting combined with the playback make it useful.
How quickly you complete lessons and units is up to you. Each day, you can work through as little or as much as you like. We found two lessons a day to be enough without going at it hardcore. Each lesson took around 10 to 15 minutes, less in the early lessons and more in later ones.
How Much Content Does Transparent Language Offer?
For languages that are widely spoken, Transparent generally has a lot of content, but it does vary. German has 10 units with five or six lessons each, for 52. Romanian has seven units, with three or four lessons in each for 27 lessons. The most popular languages have as many as eight or nine lessons per unit. The upside is that each language program is unique. It is not like there is a core set of content that is translated to each language. With Rosetta Stone, however, you do get the same material no matter which language you choose; in other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re learning Chinese or Spanish, you learn to say “a woman and her dog” in unit 2.
In addition to the lessons, Transparent gives you many ways to practice and review. You can refresh words that you have not seen in a while. You can opt to practice a specific skill, such as writing. A tab at the top of the page called Browse has even more resources and study materials, but again, they vary by language. In Romanian, we got resources for reviewing grammar and the alphabet, although we was disappointed didn’t find much about grammatical cases, as they’re one of the tougher parts of Romanian to master.
Transparent does not have longer form materials, such as podcasts or short stories. They are helpful for more experienced speakers who need to be pushed past their limit. Duolingo has podcasts for a few languages, as does Babbel. Rosetta Stone has some good short story content plus some new streaming classes and videos. Another language app called Yabla has videos with subtitles and closed captioning options that are really useful for more advanced speakers.
Transparent also has a tool called My Transcript that lets you generate a report of all the work you have done with the program over a certain time. We suppose it is handy if you need to justify your studies, like with a tutor or teacher.
Most of the learning content hit the sweet spot for ours in terms of giving us enough time to remember a new word or grammar tip, and then asking us to put it to use. If you work through the activities in order, you will move among listening, reading, writing, and speaking at a good clip.
The app itself is not beautiful, as we mentioned earlier. It is functional and smooth, but absolutely nothing about its looks will capture your attention. It is not particularly fun, cutesy, or cutting-edge in its design. It is just straightforward.
The writing and spelling activities in particular solidified some of the things we had learned earlier in a lesson. For example, you might see flashcards teaching you how to say, “excuse me.” A few activities later, you must type the phrase for “excuse me.”
Special characters not found on American QWERTY keyboards appear on screen while you type. For example, in Romanian, when you type ‘t’ you get two options: t and t with cedilla (ţ). They are labeled one and two. You can either click the letter you want or choose the corresponding number. If you do nothing, the app defaults to the key on your keyboard.
You can also switch to simple typing, which means a bank of letters appears on the screen and you choose the one you need. In the mobile app, it is a little dizzying because the letter bank refreshes after each selection, so the letters are constantly changing and moving. We found it too jarring and distracting. It also does not seem necessary seeing as smartphone keyboards already have a simple and elegant solution for special characters: press and hold a key. It is easy to install a keyboard in another language on a mobile device.
The Final Word on Transparent Language
The primary reason to choose Transparent Language Online as your language-learning app of choice is that it is likely to have the language you need. It is a solid program for beginners, with an abundance of tools for learning and practicing a new language. At $149 per year, the price is not bad.
Rosetta Stone has a more deductive learning technique, a slower pace, and more visual appeal, all of which contribute to making it our Editors’ Choice among paid language-learning programs. Duolingo is our Editors’ Choice for free language-learning programs. Transparent is excellent, however, and offers many more languages than Rosetta Stone and Duolingo combined, so it is a top choice for languages that you cannot find anywhere else.
Offers instruction in more than 100 languages
Clear learning path and structure
Excellent speech analysis
Writing and spelling exercises could be more polished
Some languages have more content than others
Pricier than others