Around the World in 100 Words – Five Language Apps for the Business Traveler


If you’re a business traveler and a frequent flyer to international destinations, you understand that English can take you many places, but it can’t always get the job done. Learning a few phrases in the languages of your foreign business associates can make your experience in their country more pleasant and score you extra credit points.

Too busy to read a foreign-language phrase book or attend a language class before your next trip? Language-learning apps are your solution. Compact and mobile par excellence, these highly engaging applications can accompany you in your travels and help you bolster your language skills at your leisure Spanish radio stations.

Let’s take a look at five free mobile apps that you can combine to acquire foreign language skills on the road and on the fly:

1. Byki

Quick, essential phrases in Danish, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Taglog are at your fingertips with this app. Rather than delving into extensive vocabulary, Byki is strong in teaching everyday greetings across several languages, with the multiple-destination traveler in mind. In three easy steps, you can master everyday cordialities that will take you across Europe and Asia.

The first step involves reviewing the flash cards, which come with images and native speaker audio. In the second step, you see the target language and come up with the English translation. When you’ve got the gist of the vocabulary, the third step is to translate from English into the foreign language.

Byki has also compiled a database of vocabulary around key themes such as beverages. Want to know how to order a beer in every country you visit? This is the app for you.

2. Busuu

Where Byki offers breadth, Busuu provides depth. Available in Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, French and German, Busuu has a similar interface to Rosetta Stone in terms of exercises and format. Native speaker sound, illustrations, colorful flashcards, dialogues and audiovisual quizzes make for an engaging and active learning experience. Students are rewarded with Busuu berries at the end of each level.

Another great feature is that Busuu allows you to review your mistakes. You can acquire vocabulary pertaining to a variety of themes, including work, sports, days of the week, body parts, telling time, dates and seasons, family members, numbers, colors, meals, directions, pets, geography, clothes, fruits, vegetables and more.

3. Vocabology

This vocabulary-boosting app is designed for the daily language apprentice. It allows you to get a word-of-the-day in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, French and English from a variety of sources. Because repetition is often the secret to retention, Vocabology uses the word of the day in multiple contexts, including an addictive quiz.

4. Flashcards Deluxe

One of the best ways to commit all of this vocabulary to memory is to review it throughout the day. This app allows you to create your own deck of flashcards with words you come across in your studies and to import decks from the shared library. You can personalize the backgrounds of the cards, add photos and sounds from your smartphone or from the app’s website, modify font size and colors, set up a slideshow and flag cards for more intensive review.

As you go through your cards, you signal your responses as either correct, incorrect or “strong correct” (meaning no need for further review). The program then schedules the cards in spaced repetition as a function of these responses so that you don’t under-study certain words and over-study the ones you have mastered. Using the Leitner card order option, you can also focus solely on the cards you’ve gotten wrong recently. Spend ten minutes with this app every morning when you wake up and/or at night when you go to bed for optimum retention.

5. Radio/Newspaper apps

As your familiarity with the language increases, you can begin to immerse yourself in the culture of your travel destination by listening to the national radio stations and reading local press articles. If you are traveling to Spain, for example, download the RNE app, Radio Nacional de España to listen to any of the six national radio stations, andEl Paisto enrich your vocabulary while reading up on trending topics, current affairs and popular culture. Unlike mobile sites, these radio-streaming and content apps are perfectly adapted to your particular smartphone platform and therefore supply an optimized interface. You don’t have to sort through several web pages to get where you want – in one click, you can stream the radio station of your choice, as effortlessly as if you were flipping channels on the highway in Spain. And in one click, you can read news articles in a format carefully tailored to your smartphone screen.

The rapidity of speech may be intimidating at first but if you undertake this exercise regularly, you’ll soon be amazed to find yourself deciphering fragments of conversations and recognizing the vocabulary words you have acquired.

There are hundreds of other interesting language apps out there but with these five alone, you can build a comprehensive and personalized program for foreign language acquisition. So how much time do you need to devote to this in order to see any tangible results?

Remember that we are not talking about fluency here (though multilingualism is a fantastic goal), but rather elementary communication in the context of international business. One school of thought makes the argument that you can get by in a foreign country with a lexicon of 100 words. With 100 words at your disposal, you are able to comprehend some of what is said around you, express your essential needs and ask basic questions. A pocketbook vocabulary of 100 words will allow you to order wine for your table at a company lunch, ask when your clothes will be dry-cleaned, inquire as to the best cup of coffee near your hotel and get directions to a local pharmacy.

And if you’re armed with 100 words, you’re less likely to be taken advantage of by that taxi driver who mistakes you for a novice and opts for the extra-long route to the hotel. Your ability to communicate in the local language, albeit on a rudimentary level, will place you in a different category of tourists or business travelers, one that is treated with more respect. You will also derive more satisfaction from mundane tasks like checking out of your hotel, since everyday interactions such as these become opportunities to practice your newfound vocabulary in context.

So next time you’re on the road-lugging around your suitcase, smoothing the wrinkles out of your suit, and struggling to get some shuteye – explore these apps for hours of distraction (even relaxation!) and acquire new language skills in the process. We’re sure that doing so will broaden your horizons and deepen your appreciation of the cultures with which you do business.