Language learning apps like Duolingo, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone have gained great popularity over the last decade. Is the hype justified?
Don't have the time to read? Watch this video instead.
Alright, so your travel plans to Latin America have been put on hold indefinitely. But you would still really like to impress that sweet Argentinian neighbour Adriana you occasionally wave to from your balcony, at a very safe distance of course.
So you download Duolingo, because this is a popular language app. Great, first step, check! You select the 'study 30 min per day' option. You make quick math. 20 min x 30 days = 900 min of Spanish in a month! With that kind of dedication, surely you'll make it at least to the intermediate level within a month.
True or false?
The best language learning apps
Before we answer the above question, let's explore the best language apps, and what they can do for you.
Learning is made fun and simple through gamification. It asks you for your daily and weekly goal, and offers a study program to get you there. You earn points for right answers, and there are 'learner of the month!' kind of rewards to keep you motivated.
Rosetta Stone offers free courses in 20 different languages. It offers audio stories to help you learn new vocabulary. There's an Extended Learning Feature that gives access to an online community of fellow learners.
Babbel does a good job of identifying your initial level in any of 14 languages. This program puts less emphasis on grammar, and more so on speech. It has a great speech-recognition software.
What these apps are missing
Language apps like Duolingo, Babbel and Rosetta Stone are great for learning new vocabulary. You might as well use them, since they're free. However, these apps aren't very useful when it comes to forming sentences you will use in real-life situations.
So your interaction with Adriana may translate to ''hola, dia sol pajaro bonito, vivir cerca viene beber agua jugo vino poco mucho? '' . Good luck with that.
If you're serious about learning a foreign language (as soon as Adriana moved out, you had trouble remembering 10 words in Spanish) and want to reach a conversational level, then it's time to go beyond the apps towards online Spanish classes.
Beyond the apps : talking with native speakers
1. The Speaking element
It seems common sense, but to learn to speak a new language, you need to speak in that language, as stated by Idelle, a current OCTB student who was using many different apps to learn Spanish, but felt that she was always making the same mistakes, since no one was correcting her. These apps will help you read and write, but not speak the language.
2. Natural setting
When it comes to a real conversation, there is no linear structure such as introduction - describe the climate - talk about interests - your favourite animal.
You will jump from one subject to another. Hence, memorization takes a back seat to analysis, comprehension, and comprehensible input. You do the best you can with what you know, and the native speaking interlocutor helps you fill in the gaps.
3. Personalized learning
Language apps generally follow a specific model tailored for a general audience. But if you need to learn Spanish to better understand your patients as a doctor, or your hispanic clients as a real-estate agent, you may be stuck learning colors and food categories for a while before you reach your domain of interest.
Would you like to try learning Spanish with native speakers who will not only engage you in the topics of your choice, teach you new vocabulary, and also correct you when you make mistakes? Then click on the button below to try it for free.