Applications to help language learners
Are you interested in learning a foreign language, but tend to think getting started would be too much trouble, and you don’t really have the time? Nowadays, with everyone constantly carrying around some sort of smart device with an internet connection, it’s easier than ever to learn a foreign language.
Learning a foreign language with apps is possible almost anywhere at any time, and the learning sessions don’t have to be longer than 10 minutes. The apps offer a way to spend your idle time, such as your public transport work commute, doing something useful.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at five language learning apps and hear comments from one developer.
These days there are several language learning apps on the market. All of them try to make language learning fun using different methods. When you’re having fun learning, you may not even realize you’re doing something you may have been reluctant to do before. Typically, the learning starts with simple words and expressions through combining pictures and text.
In some apps, the focus is on learning to hold a conversation about daily topics. All of the apps emphasize the importance of regular practice and the importance of repetition for the memory. Usually the apps remind you of the daily sessions and need for repetition via either email messages or direct notifications from the app.
We’ll begin with the Finnish app called WordDive, which can help you learn the basic grammar and vocabulary. The service promises to help you become fluent in a language in three months if you practice for 45 minutes five times a week.
The CEO of WordDive, Timo-Pekka Leinonen, mentions as a strength of their service the company’s expertise in different fields including pedagogy, foreign languages, user experience, gamification, mobile apps and artificial intelligence, which are all essential to the development of language learning apps.
With the help of AI, the courses are optimised for every user individually. ‘During development we focused on figuring out how to make technology serve the learner better than language learning material printed on paper does’, Leinonen says. According to him, the aim was not to create an electronic textbook, but to revolutionise the way languages can be learned using technology.
The service makes use of learning through different senses and mental imagery. ‘What is central to our concept is the AI’s ability to optimise the lessons for everyone as well as learning through the simultaneous use of different senses (see, read, hear, write and repeat out loud)’, Leinonen continues.
Leinonen mentions as the best indication of the company’s competitiveness the popularity of the course that is aimed at the candidates of the matriculation examination in Finland. The 45-hour course has helped many candidates raise their grade in the English matriculation exams. Up to a third of the candidates have reported using WordDive while studying for the exams, and 98% of them recommend the service to others.
Duolingo provides an easy and entertaining way to start learning a language. Typically Duolingo’s language courses start with simple exercises containing words and images and later proceed to whole sentences. The lessons focus on either grammar or vocabulary related to different topics, with reading, listening and speaking exercises.
Gamification is an essential part of Duolingo as well, and the point is to maintain the learners’ interest with different kinds of challenges. Like in games, you get points by finishing lessons, and once you have a certain amount of points, you’ll level up. You can also invite friends to use the app and compete with them.
Babbel teaches you to speak a foreign language correctly and confidently with interactive exercises based on real-life conversations. The method emphasizes the need for regular repetition and using the previously learned words in new contexts. The app has a variety of lessons related to different topics ranging from working life to leisure and travelling. You can freely choose which order to take them in, so you can focus on vocabulary that’s relevant to your current life situation.
The app makes use of different cognitive techniques to support the memorising process. Additionally, the app uses the user’s native language to aid learning by providing information on the differences between the languages. Of course, not all languages are available, so for Finns for example, the information on linguistic differences provided for other languages doesn’t serve its original purpose. In any case, the strengths of the app include the exercises with varied vocabulary that help you learn to speak in typical daily situations.
The three factors behind the success of Memrise are science, fun and community support. The efficiency of its method is based on the ‘mems’ (memories) that are created by using different senses. Because memories fade over time, Memrise has been designed to jog your memories at the right time before you forget the words you’ve learned.
The developers compare reviewing memories to gardening ‒ reviewing a memory helps it grow as if it were a living flower that needs watering. This helps you to grow a ‘garden’ of memory. Community support plays a central role in Memrise: users can help each other by sharing information about languages and material to aid in memorizing, such as videos, recordings and memory techniques.
For the most part, the features in Busuu are the same as in the other apps. Community support is also important in Busuu. One of the most interesting features of the app is that you can send your own texts to native speakers to correct.
Users can also help others learning their native language through the app. According to a study conducted by the creators, 22 hours of learning with Busuu is equivalent to one semester of language learning at university.
An aid worth checking out
Language learning no longer needs to happen at a certain place or at a certain time, because in order to learn a foreign language you don’t have to sign up for classes anymore. Unlike the old-fashioned self-study materials, in which you repeat after the recordings, language learning apps are interactive. With the speech recognition feature in the apps, you get immediate feedback, which supports your learning process in a different way compared to the self-study materials with their recordings (although the quality of the feature varies according to the app).
Even though the apps aim to maintain your motivation through gamification, it’s a fact that learning a foreign language requires real motivation, effort and time. As we pointed out in a previous article, it’s good to make use of other methods of learning in addition to the apps in order to expand your vocabulary and develop good general language skills. It’s also good to keep in mind that the apps can’t replace practicing with people.
Even so, whether the reason to learn a language originates from working life, the requirements of the curriculum of your school, or travelling, language learning apps have become an aid that is worth checking out.