There is a lot of question around the usefulness of language learning apps. While many people advocate them as a valid language learning tool, others shun them and claim them to be a waste of time.
Now, as a language learning app, we are likely a bit biased. However, there are some very clear advantages to this format of learning that may be overlooked. There are also admittedly some downsides to consider as well, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives overall.
Other than that, I also just want to put the usual disclaimer for these types of posts - everyone learns differently. Whether at different speeds or different styles, every person is unique and just generally absorb new things better through certain means.
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the topic at hand: do language learning apps actually work? Well, yes, but it is not quite that simple.
People have been learning languages since languages have existed. A language is a form of communication, probably one of the richest kinds there are. In its most basic form, language is a transfer of an idea from one person to another. It just so happens that this transfer occurs through the use of spoken or written words.
Of course, languages are passed down from one person to another. This can happen in many settings, whether at home when speaking with a parent or grandparent, in a classroom with a native-speaking teacher, or on YouTube as you sit back and slouch on your chair in your room.
Language learning comes in many different forms, basically. In the past, before the time of the internet, things were a lot more difficult. You either had to attend classes or know someone that spoke that language and convince them to teach you. Not only was this difficult, but it was also very limiting.
Thankfully, the internet came and democratized language learning. Now there are so many different ways to learn. This was only improved further with the onset of smartphones. Now, it is worth noting that we have learned a lot over the years about the best ways to learn languages.
While there is still a lot of differences between each individual, we know that participation and use of a language plays a big part in the success and the ultimate goal of fluency. That is the basis on which language learning apps like Ling and why so many people like to use them.
Everyone is probably familiar with a couple of the biggest language learning apps on the market. A simple search for ‘learn Thai’ will bring up hundreds, if not thousands of results. It is worth noting though that they are not all made equal.
Some people have favorites that they trust and use often. That is the key here - using one that will keep you coming back to learn more. That is the way to learn a new language. However, some of these big-name apps have limited options available and do not offer some really interesting languages people want to learn. For example, did you know that Babbel does not offer a Thai language option?
It is a case of finding what works for you and fitting that into your language learning plan. Implementing apps into a broader learning plan is usually the best way to cover all the bases and increase your chances of success.
Rather than hearing me spout opinions non stop about how great the Ling app is, maybe we should take a bit of time to look through some of the data. There is quite a bit of data around about language learning, though apps, in particular, are not covered as much. Either way, there is still plenty we can learn.
Just recently, there was an article by the BBC that looked at how language learning apps were becoming increasingly popular in the UK during the many lockdowns that occurred. Globally, some apps saw a sign-ups increase by 67% in 2020 over the previous year.
I think that is a testament to how popular language learning apps are as a go-to for learning a new language, but more on that later. For now, let’s look at how people use apps when learning languages.
Another popular language learning app found that people use the app for a few minutes at a time, rather than for extended periods. Around 15 minutes was the average use time. They dive into the app several times a week, too. Most importantly, people use them when they have free time, rather than having planned sessions.
Now for the good stuff. One study found that 59% of participants who used a language learning app improved their speaking skills. In fact, the more time they put into using the app, the higher this number was.
How cool is that? Language learning apps can actually work. However, I think it is important to keep things in perspective. Oh, and picking the right language for you.
In the end, learning something is about 80% confidence and 20% actual learning. Don’t quote me on that though, it is more that I am trying to make a point. Having some knowledge and actually using it will build your confidence, meaning you will then be more likely to use your language skills even more.
Let’s be realistic: you are not likely to become fluent in a language through language learning apps alone. But that's ok. Apps in this space were not designed to be used exclusively. Instead, they were meant to be a supplement or complement to a more in-depth learning course.
There are many different strengths that language learning apps like Ling boast over other options. Here are just a few:
How exactly do you start learning a language? Do you jump right in a book a lesson at your local school? Probably not, as they can get expensive. After all, you don’t even know if it is the right language for you. How can you know how passionate you are about something from the get-go?
Thankfully, apps offer a much easier way to get started. There is very little commitment to downloading an app and trying it out for yourself. There are free versions available, like with Ling, that let you get a feel for the language and the app itself. You can then find out for yourself if language learning apps work.
Not only that, but language learning apps are also designed in such a way that you only need to invest a few minutes at a time to top up and learn. Basically, you can see whether language learning is right for you with little money or time investment.
For these reasons, apps make for a great stepping stone. Actually, it is more like dipping your toe into a pool to see how cold it is. If it feels just right, then jump in. If not, then no worries.
Sometimes, you just feel like you have been working hard while achieving nothing. Whether at work, while cooking, or, say, learning a language, there is always that very demotivating feeling at the back of your head. Thankfully, there is something that can help (at least when it comes to language learning).
Apps often have a built-in feature that allows you to see how much you have learned and progressed since the beginning. Also, just having a scroll through all the topics you have covered and mastered can be very motivating. For that reason, language learning apps can play a big part in keeping you on track.
Remember when I said about confidence being the key to learning? Well, seeing how much progress you have made from the beginning is sure to boost your confidence to new heights. At least, it should be enough to keep you going and possibly using your skills when out and about.
Don’t overlook the psychological aspect of language learning. Try using a language learning app that helps you to track and measure your progress.
If 2020 taught us anything, it is how to do things independently. Don’t get me wrong, class and group-based learning can be really helpful and effective, but they can also be expensive and less flexible. Of course, this option goes out the window anyway when there is a lockdown.
Language learning apps are generally an independent learning tool. While the likes of Duolingo have added some community-minded features and functions, it doesn’t change the fact that you will need to put the effort into yourself to learn.
This is an important skill to have in every facet of life, both at home and at work. The main point I am making here is that there should be a balance between group learning and independent learning. Apps are a great option when it comes to learning by yourself, as I have been outlining in this article so far.
Even after the lockdowns and everything else go away, be sure to put in some time for independent learning.
Let’s face it - studying isn’t fun most of the time. Even when learning about something you are more passionate about, things can start to get tedious. Grammar isn’t the most interesting thing in the world, after all.
That is where apps like Ling come into play. Using the power of gamification, they take the language you are looking to learn and build different, varied challenges around it. Essentially, they are making the learning process into a game. Whether learning to pronounce new words or write them out, apps are able to help.
Features like a chatbot offer unique ways to learn and test your skills. Other types of games include timed activities where you must build sentences correctly in your target language, and write out letters within the guidelines. It is just a case of keeping your learning and coming back to the app.
So, we know that people usually use language learning apps for a few minutes at a time, rather than for long periods. Why is that? Well, it all comes down to convenience. Think about it, our mobiles are almost always with us, so it makes sense that we reach for them often.
This is especially true for periods of boredom or when you are otherwise waiting around. Sure, you could play a quick game of whatever is popular these days, but you could also work on memorizing your vocabulary for the week.
In addition. apps are built around the idea that you use them for little periods of time throughout the day or week. They strategically group and categorize topics and make lessons bitesize to help you fit language learning into your schedule. It is so much easier (and convenient) to whip out your phone than it is to head out for a lesson.
Language learning apps are really helpful for staying topped up on your learning when you would otherwise be doing something likely less productive.
With all being said, language learning apps are a tool. They are convenient, almost always at hand, and allow for a wide range of interactions. These together make for an ideal companion as you learn.
You can top up what you know, work independently, track and measure your progress and growth, and hopefully have fun along the way. Remember, the longest of journeys start with a step forward. Whether or not you think language learning apps work, it is a great skill to have.
We wish you the best on your language learning journey!
What is your thought on the effectiveness of language learning apps? Do you find them effective as part of your language learning plan, or do you find them too gimmicky? If you agree with the former, then give the Ling app a look.
Ling is free to try out a couple of key topics that cover the basics you will need in any language.