MindSnacks: Game-Based Language Learning on iOS

MindSnacks: Game-Based Language Learning on iOS

Last year, I went looking for some good language apps to install on my iPod touch. What I found was MindSnacks – now one of my favorite apps for studying a language. Although they’re only available on iOS at the moment, MindSnacks has an app for Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Italian.

After using MindSnacks long enough to go through an entire redesign and becoming an ambassador of sorts for their brand, I’ve got some pretty good things to say.


First and foremost, MindSnacks teaches you things through a series of delightfully colorful and addicting minigames.

Word Birds is one of several minigames you can choose from in MindSnacks.

Word Birds is one of several minigames you can choose from in MindSnacks.

Each app has up to 9 games to play:

  • Swell – Solve rapid-fire vocabulary questions to keep the ocean from draining! Now that I think about it, this game is pretty dramatic.
  • Belly – Help a frog get its lunch by picking the image that represents each word/phrase.
  • Word Birds/Chipper – Spell out words/phrases by tapping characters in the correct order. Chipper is just the Japanese version of Word Birds, so it uses Hiragana/Katakana instead of Roman letters.
  • Bloon – Bloon is a simple matching game where you have to pop balloons before they fill the screen. Perfect for getting over your fear of balloons! (Not that I know anyone with a fear of balloons…)
  • Slider – Put together words and phrases to keep a penguin from sliding into the ocean.
  • Bubbler – Pop bubbles with correctly spelled words/phrases to free the fish hidden inside! As an extra incentive, they put in a collection aspect by having several different species of fish to unlock.
  • Dam Builder – Shift logs around to put corresponding phrases next to each other.
  • Stacks – Stacks is another image-recognition game, but this time with a time limit.
  • Totem – Match up words with their translations, images, and pronunciations.
  • Galactic – This game is specific to the Mandarin app, and tests your ability to recognize tones when you hear them. I absolutely love this game for the value it adds for Chinese learners.
Chinese gets its own special game for tone recognition with Galactic.

Chinese gets its own special game for tone recognition with Galactic.

As an added feature to both Japanese and Chinese learners, you can tap a button at the top of the main screen to switch everything between Romaji/Kana/Kanji or Pinyin/Hanzi. This affects every game, and I advise switching away from Roman characters (Romaji and Pinyin) as soon as you can if you want to get the most out of MindSnacks.


Each MindSnacks app has 1,000 words and phrases to learn spread out over 50 lessons. This is quite a lot of content, and will probably last you a while.

One of my favorite parts of MindSnacks is that you can choose which lesson you want to take next. Why is this so amazing? You need to personalize your language studies. If you want to be good at a language, you need to use it – and what’s the best way to make sure you use it? By learning the words and phrases that matter to you.

You must choose, but choose wisely - for while the true grail will...oh, nevermind.

You must choose, but choose wisely – for while the true grail will…oh, nevermind.

Here’s a good example: I had just finished one of the earlier lessons in the Japanese app. MindSnacks suggested that I learn the family lesson next, but gave me the option of choosing another lesson instead, so I chose the food lesson.

Why? Well, I love my family and all, but I’m at college. I don’t see my family on a daily basis, so these words are not immediately usable unless I start calling my roommates “Mom” for some reason. Food, however, is always relevant. I’ve become a bit of a foodie in the past couple years, so I have every chance in the world to use food words in my daily life. This means I have tons of new opportunities to practice Japanese.

Makes sense, eh?

The fact that I was even given this choice is amazing to me, and the freedom is gladly welcomed.

In addition to giving you freedom of choice, you are also free to skip lessons if you’re already familiar with the material. When you first start using the app, you’re asked about any previous experience so you can be sent to a lesson more at your level – after this, if you go into the MindSnacks settings and tap “Reset Progress”, you can select any lessons you’ve already mastered in real life. This means you won’t have to go through any old material to move forward.


Like achievements and leveling up and whatnot? Have no fear! This is a feature in MindSnacks. You get experience for doing certain things, and your avatar will grow from an egg into a big strong…alien thing. It’s cute.

You also have stats for specific skills if you go to your profile, detailing how good you are at things like image recognition and spelling.

Many quests have their own minigames.

Many quests have their own minigames.

If that’s not your thing, many of the quests have their own special games to mix things up – and I’ve found finishing a new quest or achievement to be a great way to end a study session.


Okay, so unlike Duolingo, MindSnacks isn’t free past the first lesson.

To unlock all 50 lessons, it’s $4.99 per app. Is it worth it? Definitely.

You can also get an all subjects pass for $19.99 (or upgrade to it for a little less), which unlocks every MindSnacks app available, including their non-foreign language apps like SAT Vocab. This isn’t necessary for most people, but if you’re interested in several languages like I am, it’s a great deal.

There you have it – I love MindSnacks. And with over 180,000,000 words and phrases mastered using their apps, it looks like someone else loves them, too.

Available on: iOS
  • Kelby

    I gotta try this out. How good would you say they so with freqency based stuff? Is everything pretty common or is there just a smattering of vocab? Also ( I may have missed this) do they do anything with sentences?

    • Frequency-based like spaced repetition? Unfortunately, I don’t believe MindSnacks has any features for spaced repetition. You can test yourself over a random selection of the words you’ve mastered, but that’s not quite the same as using Anki or something similar.

      The vocab I’ve seen is generally useful for every day stuff. The ability to choose different lessons made this much more useful for me so that I didn’t need to go over colors for the millionth time.

      Also, they do have phrases/sentences included in their lessons along with single words! You’re not exactly forming sentences though – it’s more like a single basic phrase is a vocabulary term. They’re basic enough that it’s easy to substitute other stuff and learn that way, but you’re still not generally forming sentences. Still a great supplement to other studies though – especially with the tone recognition game. 🙂

  • dtlvan

    Still waiting for their Android version since June 🙁

    • Me too. Hopefully they can get that out sometime this year!

      • Alex Cobb

        Still not out.

  • Mccaffrey Clare

    I finished the mind snacks Japanese lesson. But it’s not enough to actually converse so I want to continue. Is there a part 2 or another app that goes a higher level? Would really be nice to continue with more lessons.

  • Bill

    1000 words is not much vocabulary. I’ve been waiting a long time for the next 1000 words but clearly it is not going to happen. So mind snacks is just a tease. Forget it!

  • Bungå (愛紗)

    I wonder is it pay for once in a limetime for the all pass? Or perhaps like duolingo, per month?