Are they any good?
Can you really become fluent using just an app?
These apps are very easy to use, most of them offer a free service, and they all have courses for complete beginners. The exercises are easy to understand and they are all based on a simple formula to help you memorise words.
Some are supported by visuals, which make understanding easier; some instead, are supported by translation in English.
Most of them have cute ways to celebrate completion of activities or levels: for example a growing plant in a pot or a little character celebrating your new level.
Do these gimmicks work? Actually, they do! Being celebrated for completing a level is very nice and it energises you, you feel you want to do more. Positive reinforcement is very powerful.
The most common pitfalls, in the free versions, are linked to gaps in grammar clarifications. For example, if you start learning Arabic, first you need to learn the script: I found Duolingo is actually fairly good with this stage as it includes the visual and the sounds with lots of repetitive practice.
However, when you move to learning simple sentences you start questioning the programme:
– The simple sentences are not useful to say on a day to day basis, like “My fish is beautiful” …unless you have a beautiful fish 🙂
– As mentioned, I tried Arabic which, like many other languages, has gender (masculine, feminine and neutral) and number (singular, plural, etc). However, there is no explanation nor examples to focus on these morphological changes, they are just there. If you are not familiar with how languages are structured, then you would probably get lost fairly quickly.
Well, even though they can be great fun, they tend not to be enough on their own. If you use them alongside some tuitions with a professional teacher, then they are a great way to practice and memorise vocabulary.
For sure they are a simple way to find out if you like a particular language, an easy way to test yourself before committing to a course.
The answer is no, you can’t, not using just an app. This is not because the apps are not good but simply because to be able to speak a language you need to acquire knowledge and skills:
This is why learning a language is such a unique and amazing experience.
What’s your experience with these apps?
Written by Lara Panzini
About the author
Lara Panzini started her carrier in education as a qualified primary school teacher. She holds a BSc (First Class Honours) Professional Studies from London University – Academic research methods applied to the workplace. She specialised in language teaching by obtaining a TEFL certificate and a certificate in Teaching Italian as a Foreign Language, RSA Diploma in Teaching Foreign Language to Adults (DTFLA), RSA Assessor Award: Training and Development (NCVQ: Level 3) and is a Business Cultural Trainer.