How effective are language learning apps? | Stillman Translations
How effective are language learning apps?

Learning a new language is always a journey. Finding the best language learning experience, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown, adds yet another layer of difficulty. Online courses appear to be the ubiquitous answer to everything, from yoga to PhDs. But how effective are language learning apps? Are they the most efficient option to learn a new language in today’s world?

Three reasons language apps are efficient 

There are three key features to watch out for when exploring language learning apps. The first has to do with one’s individual pace. Just as a teacher would adjust to your pace in classroom learning, apps are flexible enough to monitor your learning rhythm and adapt to it. Hence, the lessons in an app can keep a good balance between the many details of a communication situation and the clarity of delivery that is required to understand them. In short, apps can harness enough information within a simple learning environment. 

Motivation is also key to successful language learning on a mobile app. And what is the essence of our motivation during the learning process? The ability to track our progress and progressively build on it. The great thing about current apps is that they split the learning goals into several levels that you can reach quite quickly, while also rewarding you with new “points” if you continue to the next lessons. The fact that many lessons involve fun, game-like exercises helps cultivate that inner motivation.

A third must-have in language learning is the opportunity to immerse oneself in lifelike situations, which can be achieved through multi-media exposure to the language in lifelike scenarios. This is more complex than merely including audio or video. Many apps actually allow you to listen to real speakers of a language and to practice your own pronunciation, while also specifying which words are best for formal versus informal scenarios.

How to find the best app for you  

A recent review by CNET claims, after testing and comparing several apps, that there are at least 10 which are truly effective.. Having said this, the best app for you may not be the best app for everyone.The key to choosing your app lies on knowing your preferred modality. To help with the search, here’s a list of questions you can ask yourself:

  • Are you looking for overall language skills or would you rather focus specifically on vocabulary or conversation?  
  • Are you in it for the long run or do you need to use the language for a specific situation (such as a business meeting or a vacation abroad)? 
  • Do you prefer a structured lesson or a game-like experience?  
  • How much external motivation do you need? 
  • Are you looking for short lessons that you can squeeze into a busy schedule? 
  • Do you need to practice your pronunciation and receive feedback? 

According to Digital Trends, the most famous apps are available on web, Android or iOS devices. However, keep in mind that not all apps have every language pair available. You may need to consider pairing your target language with English rather than your native tongue. 

Language apps are effective for specific purposes

Based on all of the above, below is a guide to get you started on your search for the best language app. 

  • For bite-sized lessons: Babbel 
  • For a gamified experience: Duolingo (multiple language learning supported) 
  • For a focus on conversation: Pimsleur or Tandem 
  • For lessons in your first language: Mondly 
  • For an immersive experience (no aid in your first language): Rosetta Stone  
  • For an app that adapts to your learning pace: Mango 
  • For a focus on vocabulary: Drops 
  • For memory strengthening: Memrise 

Apps are efficient for specific purposes, so it’s important to have realistic expectations. Although apps are great for making progress in specific areas, the most effective language learning method is a well-rounded experience involving interacting with others.  

But don’t just take our word for it. A professor from Michigan State University has developed a study to measure the learning results of two popular apps. He has concluded that apps are definitely a good way to learn, but in his opinion the best results are obtained by combining machine and classroom learning.