If you’re looking to learn a language, chances are Transparent Language Online has it. This online language-learning app has programs for more than 100 languages, from the ones most people are looking to learn to those with comparatively few speakers worldwide. The amount of content varies by language, but on the whole, the programs are thorough. The app also comes with the best speech analysis tool I’ve seen. Transparent Language Online is among the best apps for learning a language.
While an excellent app, however, Transparent doesn’t edge out our top two picks for language-learning programs, Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. They’re both, in a word, stickier. They compel you to pick them up again day after day because they’re more fun that the average language-learning app and more visually interesting, too. Still, Transparent is a wonderful program, complete with a mobile app, and it covers dozens more languages than Rosetta Stone and Duolingo combined.
Languages Offered by Transparent
A huge consideration when choosing language-learning software is whether it offers the language you want to study. Transparent has the most of any program I’ve seen, and that doesn’t even include English programs for speakers of other languages.
In the long list of languages, provided below, you’ll notice some are more obscure than others. 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. More popular languages have longer courses.
Excluding English programs, Transparent Language Online offers the following languages: Afrikaans, Albanian, Altai*, Amharic, Arabic (Modern Standard, 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*, 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*, Nepali, Nogai, Norwegian, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe (Standard, Central, Northwestern), Pashto*, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), 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.
*A separate transliterated version is available as well.
If there’s a language you need that’s not on this list, I recommend either Pimsleur or Mango Languages. Pimsleur has 50 language programs and is excellent, but it’s almost all audio based. Mango has courses in 68 languages, including some that Transparent doesn’t have: American Sign Language, Cherokee, Dzongkha, Igbo, Javanese, Malayalam, Punjabi, Shanghainese, and Yiddish. I don’t recommend Mango if you can avoid it because it’s not the strongest program, but it’s an option if you’re in a bind.
Transparent Language’s Pricing and Plans
Transparent Language Online dropped its prices in spring 2019 to put them more in line with other language apps. It costs $199.95 for a one-year subscription, paid up front. If don’t want such a long commitment, it’s $29.95 per month. Transparent has an offer for people who like to study multiple languages, a subscription to all languages for $249.95 per year. A 14-day free trial also gives you access to all the languages. Note that some libraries have licenses to Transparent, so you may be able to get it through your online library portal.
Most other language apps charge somewhere around $10-$12 per month. The exception is Rosetta Stone, which charges $179 for a yearly subscription, though it often offers substantial deals.
With a subscription to Transparent Languages Online, you get unlimited access to everything that’s included in your language program. You can jump around at will, which means you can explore everything that’s in the more advanced units before you level up to them. Transparent offers online private tutoring, too, but that’s sold separately.
The Transparent Experience
Overall, I like Transparent and feel that it presents the right amount of new content at any given time. You aren’t overloaded with new words and concepts, but you don’t take baby steps the whole time either.
I’ve used Transparent Language Online to dabble in German, Russian, and Urdu. I used it most recently to brush up on my Romanian. I currently live in Romania, so I’m actively invested in improving my language abilities. I looked at both the beginner units and the more advanced ones.
Comparing all the language learning apps I’ve used, Rosetta Stone and Duolingo are the easiest and stickiest, whereas Babel is probably the most challenging. Transparent is somewhere in the middle. I found that picking up my lessons in Transparent every day takes more internal motivation than Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. It isn’t clear how many lessons you’re supposed to do each day in Transparent, whereas many other programs give you a recommendation. Transparent also isn’t visually interesting. It’s a minor point, but it slightly discourages me from wanting to look at the app for half an hour.
Transparent Languages Online starts out with a dashboard. All your units and lessons appear under the heading My Learning Path, and they’re sequentially numbered. To the right is a chart that shows your progress in terms of how much vocabulary you’ve amassed over time. Also in that chart is a number telling you how many words in your vocabulary are stale, meaning you haven’t been exposed to them in a while.
My Learning Path tells you about the units and lessons that you’ll learn. Each unit contains multiple lessons and ends with an assessment. At any time, you can reveal the vocabulary you’re going to learn in the lesson by clicking the ellipsis in the circle and choosing View Contents. If you think the lesson is below your skill level, you can skip ahead to the unit assessment.
Assessment tests are short. They take less than 10 minutes. They’re a little fussy in terms of accepting an answer typed a certain way. For example, I typed what I heard as “this t-shirt” when the program wanted “This t-shirt?” capitalized and with a question mark.
For a languages that use a different character set, such as Urdu, before you even buy the program you must choose whether you want native characters or a transliterations, meaning the words are phonetically translated into the Roman alphabet (which is what English uses). If you choose native, there are many places where you can still enable transliteration, so it’s not a strictly either/or proposition.
Transparent recently added a new function for languages with new-to-you characters and letters. It lets you see more information about the characters while you’re doing exercises. For example, if you’re learning Urdu, you can click on a word or phrase that you’re learning, and a large pop-up window reminds you of the names and sounds of the letters or characters.
As you get into the lessons, Transparent gives you ample variety with speaking, reading, writing, and listening exercises. They’re fairly routine. My favorite exercise is hearing spoken words and having to transcribe them. My 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 again and you’re given an English word. You have to remember which card has the Romanian translation. It’s painfully slow and a little too easy.
To practice speaking the language, Transparent has a speech analysis tool. It’s by far the best one I’ve ever seen, and frankly, it took the company years to get right. But now it’s actually useful. When you 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 you speech 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. I 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.
For languages that are widely spoken, Transparent generally has a lot of content, but it does vary. Romanian has 7 units, with around 3 or 4 lessons in each one, giving you a grand total of 27 lessons. Very popular languages might have 8 or 9 lessons per unit. The upside is that each language has a unique program in Transparent. With Rosetta Stone, you get the same program no matter what 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 a lot of ways to practice and review. You can refresh words that have you haven’t 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, I got resources for reviewing grammar and the alphabet, although I was disappointed I didn’t find anything about grammatical cases, as they’re one of the tougher aspects of Romanian.
Transparent doesn’t have longer form materials, such as podcasts or short stories either. They’re helpful for more experienced speakers who need to be pushed past their limit. Duolingo has a Spanish language podcast for learners, and Rosetta Stone has some good short story content. There’s an app called Yabla that has videos with subtitles and closed captioning options that are really useful for more advanced students.
Transparent has a new tool called My Transcript that lets you generate a report of all the work you’ve done with the program over a certain time period. I suppose it’s handy if you need to justify your studies, like with a tutor or teacher.
Most of the learning content hit the sweet spot for me in terms of giving me enough time to remember a new word or grammar tip, and then asking me to put it to use. If you work through the activities in order, you’ll move among listening, reading, writing, and speaking at a good clip.
The app itself isn’t beautiful, as I mentioned earlier. It’s functional and smooth, but absolutely nothing about its looks will capture your attention. It isn’t particularly fun nor cutesy nor cutting-edge in its design. It’s just straightforward.
The writing and spelling activities in particular solidified some of the things I 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.”
Letters not found on American keyboards, such as those with a cedilla (ç) or tilde (ñ), appear on an on-screen keyboard that’s clickable. Or you can switch to simple typing, which means a selection of letters appear on the screen and you choose the one that’s needed next. You get simple typing in the mobile app, and while it works, I found it much more jarring and distracting than having a regular keyboard. Smartphone keyboards already have simple and elegant solutions for typing special characters (usually you press and hold a key).
The primary reason to choose Transparent Language Online as your language-learning app of choice is that it’s likely to have the language you need. It’s a solid program for beginners, with an abundance of tools for learning and practicing a new language. At $199 per year, the price is higher than what you can expect to pay for other programs, but it’s not wildly beyond the average.
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’s a top choice too, especially for languages that are hard to find elsewhere.