Robo-Tutors and Translating Megaphones: It's the Future of Language Learning


What does the future hold for language learners? 

When a device translates what you say directly into another language, is there even a need to learn languages anymore?

In this podcast, we've got everything you need to know about

  • Gadgets and stuff that translates our language into other languages
  • How AI has made language learning apps a lot more useful
  • Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality as learning aids
Read more

14 Quick Tech-Fuelled Ideas for Starting to Learn a New Language

In today's guest post, I've got a submission from Suzy St George, a regular writer for Take Lessons. She originally contacted me after reading my Duolingo review and went on to write this post offering a pretty good overview of language learning resources. 

Over to Suzy:

I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people who took a full two years of Spanish classes in high school, along with an additional semester in college, coasting by and memorizing vocabulary words just to earn an A on the final. After all, I’d never really need to know how to describe my clothing in Spanish, right?

Many years later, I found myself living in San Diego, surrounded by Spanish speakers. And when I started working for Take Lessons, one of the lesson categories I was tasked to write blog content for — to my surprise — was Spanish. As I planned out my blog content, I was embarrassed to realize I remembered close to nothing from my studies.

Luckily I found a huge bunch of easy and fun options out there for students as I researched the state of language learning today. From websites to plugins for your browser, these tech-fuelled language learning options stood out to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you’ve tried them!

Social networks

Most millennials are well-versed in social networks like Facebook. But did you know using social networking sites can help you learn a new language? I’ve poked around in a few of the ones specific to language-learners, and it’s such a great way to learn with the help of others. These networks can clue you in on local dialects and colloquialisms (slang), and most importantly, keep you interested thanks to burgeoning friendships with others trying to learn your language as well.

Here are some websites and forums to check out:

iTalki

You know iTalki as a tutor directory but it also features an online forum for those looking to discover new cultures and languages.

Livemocha

Livemocha was actually purchased by Rosetta Stone in 2013, so they’re sanctioned by a big name. Their philosophy is delivering an experience that helps with conversational fluency, so it’s a great option if you want to brush up on your casual speaking skills. Beyond its community of teachers, language learners, and native speakers, Livemocha also offers live virtual classes, tutorial videos, with a built-in Facebook-style networking page where you can chat with others to help you achieve fluency.

Apps and Websites

Apps and websites offer an easy – and often free or low cost – way of integrating a new language into your daily life. I always have my phone on me, so I’ve found these apps to be super helpful for killing time on public transportation, on my lunch break, or just hanging out at home. No matter your learning style, you can bet there is an app for that.

Babbel

Free for iOS and Android, Babbel covers 11 languages. It offers tricks to help you remember words, as well as interactive games to play. As you learn, Babbel remember your progression, making games more challenging with fewer English-based clues and more complex paragraphs.

Busuu

Similar to Babbel, Busuu adds a bit of gamification to the language-learning process with “busuu-berry” awards as you progress. Another plus: users can submit writing exercises to others for review, helping you improve your vocabulary in context.

Duolingo

This is actually one of my favorites, and I looked into it further after one of our Spanish tutors recommended it to me. Of course, you’ll want to compare it against your own language-learning goals, as many (including Kerstin!) have argued that it relies too heavily on memorizing vocab, while ignoring the very basics of grammar. I agree with the review – games like these are not the best route if total comprehension is your goal – but for me, it does the trick as a fun activity to keep me on my toes. As they say on the Internet, YMMV!  

Anki

Japanese for "memorizing," Anki is a free flashcard-style program. It displays a word, phrase, image, or sound for you to repeat, interpret, connect with, and commit to memory. Make your own deck, or choose from one of many available shared decks and start learning in a snap.

TakeLessons

TakeLessons is a nice alternative to italki. Not every student’s language-learning goal is the same, so the site will help you find the perfect fit for your needs.

Foreign Services Institute

This site offers a huge library of free professional materials for studying, and is a great resource for lesser-studied languages.

Memrise

This is a great language learning websites for visual learners, and is a fantastic supplement to working with a tutor. Web or app-based, this flashcard style program is a fun way to aid language memorization through competition. Points and reputation are boosted as you learn and complete activities.

Games

Who doesn’t love games? If you want to use your time efficiently, ignore the Candy Crush notifications and check out one of the popular language games instead. Playing games in a text or audio language other than your own engages you in the learning process, helping you recognize and understand words over time with the help of repetition. Want more than your average solo game? Look for MMO (massively multiplayer online) games, which often cross multiple linguistic boundaries to help you better learn languages on-the-fly.

Que Onda Spanish

I’m pretty sure I spent at least 30 minutes playing “Whack-a-Word” alone when I first found this website! Once you complete a course, based on the level you’ve chosen you can then play several different games. They’re all very simple but also pretty fun! For other language learners, there are also related sites (and yes, games) for learning Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, and more.

Die Himmelsscheibe von Nebra

Check out Kerstin's review of this German language learning game, taking you through a crime-fuelled story on your iPad or iPhone.

Google Chrome plugins

Plugins, tools you can download and add to your internet browser to do various tasks, can help language learners a ton. For example, you can use a translating plugin to ease your way into new languages by helping you translate all or part of your online reading.

Language Immersion for Chrome

I use this one often when I’m browsing other blogs written in Spanish, and it’s super helpful. This plugin translates random words on websites in the language you are learning, with the ability to add more or less translation assistance based on settings.

Instant Translate

Another option for a translating plugin, you can use this tool to translate any word in a window without moving away from the page.

Lingua.ly

This plugin translates, but also goes a step further and saves words you don’t understand so you can review them later.

What Are Your Must-Have Online Resources?

I would love to find out more about what you are using to learn a language right now. Which apps can't you live without? What's the best website?

Share your ideas in the comments below!

12 Ideas For Making the Perfect Language Learning App

As a language writer, it's part of my job to look out for new trends and developments in language learning. There are so many new apps released every day, and the language learning market is huge.

What makes a good language learning app?

Lanuage learning with an app only is a tall order for anyone, learner or teacher, and different users will look for different results. The following list is based on what I believe makes a good language learning experience, regardless of what the marketing of the app tells you about how it is going to make you fluent instantly.

The best apps:

  1. focus on doing one thing and doing it well, instead of claiming that they can teach you how to be awesome at listening, reading, speaking and writing AND grammar
  2. deliver on their promises
  3. keep your attention
  4. run well and focus on allowing you to learn instead of piling on features that only slow your phone or tablet's performance
  5. understands that you're often looking at the app on a small phone screen and you work with an on-screen keyboard
  6. are interesting, relevant and fun when it comes to their content
  7. encourage that addictive quality to keep you coming back and building good habits

Of course it's impossible for me to tell you all about the million language learning apps on the internet, but before I launch into a big dream list let's check out what is popular.

Language Learning Apps: What's Out There?

Here are the current multi-language bestsellers in the Google Play and Apple iOS stores (does anyone use Windows Mobile?):

Course-Style Apps

  • Duolingo

Duolingo is unbeatable, and I've already covered why it's not perfect. Interestingly, Google lists this as a "brain training app", not a "language learning app".

  • Mango Languages

Mango requires that you access it through an account that's linked with your school or public library. A fantastic language selection, cute interface and standard sentences to teach you the language basics.

  • Babbel

Similar to most of the above, Babbel adds speech recognition to the useful sentences of Mango and the gamification of Mango. Claims to have "reinvented language learning" in the introduction. The result of reinvention? Learning through vocab-based recall learning with flashcards and games. I would recommend this over Duolingo just because its dialogues felt more useful and real.

Vocabulary and Memorisation Apps

  • Memrise: The Ultimate Memorisation App

Memrise focuses on teaching through flashcards and spaced repetition, with user-sourced audio to accompany the words you're learning. Excellent for vocabulary training, but less effective for learning or practising sentences.

  • Vocab Express

Mixing flashcards and old-school vocabulary lists, the strengths of Vocab Express lie in focusing on keeping things simple. There's a leaderboard for those who compete with classmates. User reviews do bring up some room for improvement when it comes to the keyboard layout and saving your progress.

  • Flashcards+

This one has an Apple Watch integration and allows deck sharing.

  • Lingualy

The Lingualy app aims to combine flashcards with what you read on your smartphone to help you look up words in news articles and save them for revision.

The Language App Wish List

If you're out there and you're making a language learning app, here's what I think it should be like. I don't expect the perfect language learning app to be released any time soon, but perhaps one or two of these features rings a bell and you can build it into yours?

Or even better: Do these apps exist already? Do you know about them? If yes, then please leave a comment and tell me all about them.

1) Polyglot Smartphone Keyboards

I really don't like having to change on-screen keyboards between all the languages I'm learning. I text in German and English, I want to practise French, and ultimately my aim right now is to use the Welsh I learn. So that's four languages, plus the emoji keyboard. On my iPhone, this means I spend a lifetime pressing that little world button and getting annoyed at autocorrect.

I'd love the app of my dreams to do more than switch off autocorrect and the keyboard, and instead give me a better keyboard changing experience.

2) Trivago For Dictionaries

Trivago is a hotel room search engine, similar to Kayak for flights or Indeed for jobs. I would be so happy if there was an app combining the great things about several dictionaries together. The accuracy of LEO with the authority of Oxford or Duden, combined with the real-life examples of Linguee or the versatility of Wordreference. Then throw in Forvo so we can pronounce it. Simply enter a word and choose where you would like to look it up to get the right information, a reliable translation, a pronunciation demo. How awesome would that be?!

3) Placement Tests at the Beginning

It's not easy to design a good placement test, which is why most apps don't do much more than asking you "What's your level?". Duolingo obviously approaches this as "test out of a skill", which is as close as I have seen to a really great placement test at the start. There is nothing, however, that compares to the thorough experience you get at the start of something like Rosetta Stone. But I think apps could do better, especially when working together with language test designers to create a placement test

4) Enhanced Reading

The Lingualy app I mentioned above has a really intesting idea in my opinion. Support when reading in a foreign language needs an arsenal of level-appropriate texts and a flashcard system that talks to the best flashcard apps out there. I dream of a Kindle dictionary that can look up the pronunciation of my word on Forvo and then add it to Memrise for me.

Reading in a foreign language is not about inventing more and more apps, but about connecting the best ones together.

5) Language Exchange + Flashcards

I think HelloTalk is an excellent take on language exchange, but on several occasions while using it I wanted to put what I learnt into Flashcards or into my notebook. The dream app would be able to help me out there and offer an integration with one of the great flashcard apps. This could be as simple as exporting a file.

6) Calendar Integration

One of the biggest challenges of language learning is committing to doing something every single day, and my dream app would help a learner out with the habit-forming challenge. There are some great apps out there that help with this, for example coach.me, but I've not seen a language-focused one.

I’d like to see a daily checklist, a scheduler or daily timed activities. No matter if this is for flashcards or spending 10 minutes chatting to people via language exchange, there's nothing like ticking a box to say "I did this!".

What's Your Perfect Language Learning App?

Now it's your turn! If you're a developer feeling inspired by one of these ideas, feel free to take them and turn them into...not cash, but a really fantastic language learning app.

If you're a language learner, what do you think about these ideas? Do you have a favourite app? Do you have dream features you'd love to see from it?

Leave your message in the comments below - I can't wait to hear what you recommend!

Language Linkfest: April 2015

What what WHAT, how is another month flying by so quickly? I hope you've all had a wonderful month of April. I've loved it so far. The sun finally came out here in England, and it was about time. Right now I'm writing to you from a cool co-working event organised by my friend here in Lancaster. Join us if you're local.

In the coming month, I think I'm going to be a bit busier than usual because I am getting married!

I will do my best to keep up with the blog and podcast, and you definitely have a new episode to look forward to, but please don't worry if Fluent is a little quieter than normal. I have a bilingual life to start, after all.

Best of Fluent's blog

Best Language Articles

Edupreneur's Corner

I hope you're loving spring as much as I am.

Building a Language Foundation with Apps: Babbel and Duolingo

If you're a Fluent regular, you'll be familiar with my regular guest author Angel Armstead, who is ambitious and varies her studies by learning German, Russian, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese. Angel has been focusing on German recently and is on hand today with her own experience report of two leading apps, Duolingo and Babbel.

In this article, she shares the frustrations and benefits of using apps to get a first language foundation.

babbel duolingo

My Language App Choices

I decided late last year to look up German language apps and courses. I came across both Babbel, Duolingo and many others. A lot of apps were just teaching vocabulary which I also need but some didn’t have any sentences so they didn’t keep my attention for long. I eventually decided to go for a Duolingo/Babbel combo and see how that would work.

I heard of Duolingo back when it was still new, and started off with some doubts. I just didn’t believe that it was really 100% free. I assumed that I would do a few lessons and like everything else it would eventually ask for my credit card number. The small amount of languages turned me off. They’re getting Russian soon and hopefully Japanese & Mandarin. Its game-like features also had me wondering if I would learn anything.

In December last year I decided to try it out after getting Pimsleur German from the library. I could understand what was being said in Pimsleur but I was sure that I couldn’t spell any of the words. That’s when I decided to try out Duolingo because I knew they had German. On closer examination, another objection was answered too: I did find out from other users that there were no hidden fees. Duolingo being free was my main reason for trying it out.

First Impressions of Duolingo

When I first signed up, I had decided that I would only be around for a few days then I would move on to something else. Duolingo has an RPG feel, which I liked a lot since those are my favorite games. You get to earn points, level up and buy things with the currency (lingots) that you earn. But I still didn’t expect to do more than just a week because I didn’t expect to learn anything. Within the first few days I learnt a few new words and sentences here and there. I confirmed that I totally couldn’t spell those words. I do like being able to take timed tests to see how fast I can answer a question.  And now, I’m still going with Duolingo. It has become extremely addictive to have RPG aspects plus learning on the same site. It’s the same aspect that keeps me addicted to sites such as HabitRPG.

Duolingo has Skills that you learn and some skills have up to 10 or more lessons. Skills are things such as “Basics” “Food” “Phrases” and a lot more. Duolingo German currently has over 70 skills. I have a long ways to go due to my study for a few days then review for a few days habit. I won’t be finishing my “Skill” tree for quite some time. The lessons seems so short and they are but it’s amazing how many mistakes I can make in such a short lesson. Duolingo has optional skills such as Flirting, Idioms & Christmas that you can buy with the lingots that you earn. I’ve decided to do all the optional skills last.

First Impressions of Babbel

I didn’t have the same negative assumptions toward Babbel as I did with Duolingo. The few people I talked to that used it said they learned a lot of vocabulary and were more confident in the language they were learning. But I wanted more than just the vocab part, so I ordered the three month course last month while they were offering 6 months for the price of 3. I found Babbel just by putting in German language in my Kindle Fire app store. I got Babbel after I started Duolingo and originally was getting it to have something to reinforce what I was learning from Duolingo. I also wanted to learn through different teaching methods.

One thing I noticed straight away is that Babbel is not as game oriented as Duolingo. There are many courses once you pay the fee. I’ve started with the Beginners course and there are 6 beginners courses in all with various lessons in each course. I’ve gone over how to greet someone, ask simple questions and practice dialogues. I’ve even printed out all my dialogues so far.

I love that you have a review lesson to go over those things. When you complete a course, Babbel lets you know what you should know and where it falls in CEFR. Duolingo is fun but I needed more explanation. I needed to know why some things were wrong. I couldn’t understand the German case system at first and wondered why der forms sometimes would change to den. With Babbel, I had to practice going over when to use der or den. I had the same problem with the different ways I saw sie being used. I got it wrong so much in the beginning but now I rarely do. One thing I like about Babbel are the certificates for each course you complete. Maybe I’m a bit of a showoff? This is something I would print out and frame so I can feel a little accomplished even if it’s simply the beginner’s course.

What I like Best about Duolingo & Babbel

I love the RPG aspect of Duolingo such as the leveling up, gaining lingots and “buying” timed tests. I retain a lot more than I expected that I would.  I like Babbel because I feel like it explains things more in depth and is a bit more serious. There are parts of Babbel where I had a whole page of practicing forms.

Once you’ve been put through such a long exercise of practicing all the forms for You, Me and I, you’ll find that they are way harder to forget.

Frustrations with Both

No site is perfect. The thing that bothers me the most is sometimes I feel that other translations could be used. An impersonal teacher such as a program cannot have every viable answer in it. It has the best ones but sometimes the “best” translation is not the one I write down.

Babbel is very strict on spelling. I’ve gotten a lot wrong due to that. I happen to spell too many words based on English spelling and not German. When it first happened it was disappointing because it seemed like I misspelled every word. In Duolingo you would get kicked out the lesson if you did really badly. Duolingo gives you three hearts per session, and if you lose them all you’re kicked out and have to start over. Babbel is not as quite frustrating but I’m kind of a perfectionist and I just kept getting the same words wrong every time. I ended up making flash cards of those words since they seemed to be ones I was having the biggest problems with. Funnily enough, I must be getting things right. Now my problem is the reverse! When I’m supposed to translate, I end up spelling the words in German. I’ve been spelling good as gut and man as Mann. But that doesn’t frustrate me as much when I make that mistake because it shows that at least I do remember the German word now.  

Where do I see my Language Skills 3 Months from now?

I don’t expect to be finished either Duolingo or Babbel because of how I study. I study for 5 days straight and then take a few days to review. I’m fine with taking my time to work on these programs. I wouldn’t mind in three months understanding more of some of my favorite German songs or even understanding more in a video game. I have future plans of a class, a private tutor or both, and I like the idea of having a foundation in the language before doing either.

Duolingo and Babbel are just two of the apps that I have decided to test out to see how well they really do. Busuu will be next and whatever else I can find. Apps are easily accessible to everyone and when I find some that I think can help I can easily recommend to other language learners. There are a lot of people that I talk to that would love to learn another language but either lack of time or money feel they can’t. Apps make it a bit more affordable in the case of Duolingo or are just simply convenient (Babble). And maybe the excuses for learning a language will grow a little smaller due to apps like these (and future apps).

Have you tried out Duolingo and Babbel? How long did you stick with it? How much did it help? As always, we'd love to hear more from you in the comments

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