Language learning apps: Yay or Nay?
What language learning apps can and can’t do for you?
Language apps are riding high, Duolingo and Babbel have become a part of our lives almost like Deliveroo or Amazon. They are generally free and if not, quite inexpensive. Millions of students, professionals and people eager to travel again have downloaded language apps on their mobile phones.
So, what can language apps do for you, your Spanish, your French or even your Urdu?
Ok, I plead guilty, despite my job in a language school, I am a Duolingo user. I started using it to learn Russian for professional purposes. It is true that I am not very perseverant even though Duolingo is clever enough to send me some sweet reminders when I miss my lessons. Actually, Duolingo is also smart enough to make sure I know that in Russian familiya means name and not family and magazin means shop and not magazine. It’s fun and entertaining. Those apps are useful and can be helpful to approach a foreign language, its basic vocabulary and phonetics. In fact, there is a serious and interesting research: How effective are language learning apps carried out by Shwan Loewen at Michigan State University.
Language apps offer flexibility to learn a language at your pace and convenience; you can learn the ropes of Danish while sitting in a bus, tackle intimidating Polish phonetics with daily sessions of 15 minutes or have fun finding out that Turkish words contain suffix and prefix along with other units and is referred to as an agglutinating language
However, there is a catch: here’s what language learning apps cannot do for you, neither for your German nor for your Indonesian
Allow me a trivial comparison; you must remember the boom of electro muscle toner devices and electro gyms. We were promised with a prospect of a shaped, athletic body just by plugging electrical devices to our muscles. I have not met anyone yet looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger claiming to have used electro-musculation. No pain, no gain! Likewise, I have not met anyone yet who speaks Spanish fluently thanks to language apps.
And why is this? A language is a tool of communication between human beings, it involves body language, nuances, tone of voice, dialogue and emotions. In future, language apps may be able to incorporate AI, but so will language schools and teachers, which will augment the effectiveness of lessons thereby making language learning a truly holistic experience. For the time being, language apps are as good as electro gyms.
The article: “How to almost learn Italian” by David H Freedman illustrates quite well and with brilliant objectivity the mirage of language apps. He freaks out when he suddenly encounters a real situation. Let’s be realistic, do you really think Kasparov became the world chess leader by practicing chess against a computer?
Should you go for a language app to learn a language? The answer is Yay… and Nay
Yes! Definitely, go for a language app if you are curious or want to get acquainted with a foreign language or learn some basics. A language app can equip you with the basics and can help in igniting your interest towards a language. Language apps can also be a good tool to reinforce what you have learnt in a face-to-face course thereby helping you learn the language faster.
No! It’s a no go if you are highly motivated and wish to use the language in real-life situations, aim to visit a country, or move there. If speaking a foreign language is a personal challenge, then join a course with real time interaction, input and feedback. Learning a language in a small group of international students can be supremely efficient and stimulating whilst doing so in real time.