“Buenos dias!” I’m pretty sure we have all said this to the locals whilst holiday-ing in sunny Spain, but stringing a sentence together to form some sort of conversation is always another issue. “Err, do you speak English?” And there we are, right back into the safety net of speaking the global lingua franca. The world is getting smaller, and friends and family always say that they wish they could speak another language. As much as I loved my degree course, you don’t need to go to uni to learn a language, you just need a lot of time and dedication. So I have reviewed a few language learning apps to help get the ball rolling.
I put 3 apps to the test for one week, the most vital period where you either like or lump a new habit.
So it’s day 1 of 7, I’ve downloaded my apps and I’m ready to go. One thing though, what language do I want to learn? I was thinking something non- European; a completely new learning experience, Mandarin is becoming ever more popular. Oh, maybe not, there’s no option to learn Mandarin on Duolingo – dammit! Ok, so change of plan, I’m going to learn Portuguese. I’ll be testing the apps for their individual features and teaching techniques. Using an app to learn a language is a complete new language learning method for me, so let’s see how it goes.
Ok, so maybe we’re not off to the best start, given that you can’t learn Mandarin on this app, but let’s keep a positive mind. Duolingo give their users a a personal profile with a picture, a daily points goal, and even a leaderboard so you can encourage and compete with friends. From just taking a glance at the app, it seems you start off by learning basic introductions and topics such as foods, animals and clothing, with a bit of grammar too. What more could you ask for?
Using a points system to focus on moving new words and phrases from your short term memory to your long term memory; planting the seed and watching the flower of knowledge grow – haha! Well perhaps not quite so romantic but I guess seeing the flower grow is a visual way of measuring your progress.This is a method that I haven’t used whilst teaching foreign languages, but is perhaps something that I will add to my lessons after using Memrise, we’ll see!
Rather than just calling you a ‘beginner’, BUSUU grades you according to the Common European Framework levels – fancy! The first thing that caught my eye is the download feature. Being able to learn Portuguese on the go is going to make this a lot easier. I mean, I am ever so grateful for wifi on the tube, but nothing is as reliable as a good old download.
I was going to give you all a daily run down of my language app learning experience, but then realised that perhaps you don’t need to know exactly what word I learnt on what day of the week. After a week of app testing, I was getting a feel for each individual app, the good features and the not-so-great features; what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I absolutely wanted more of. Here’s a run down:
Duolingo tells you what percentage of fluency you have after each lesson, you can even add this to your LinkedIn profile directly from the app – woohoo! The app has a virtual currency, the Lingot, which can be earned by acquiring new skills, consistent learning and inviting friends… and once you’ve earned enough Lingots you can use them to help you pass a tricky level and keep your consistency streak even if you miss a day. One thing that I really liked about Duolingo is that it considers the fact that accents can be difficult for us English to use since we don’t have them in our own language, and rather than marking you down for mistakes it simply just reminds you of where the accents should be. The down point for me is that the images used on the app can be misleading during translating and transcribing.
I really like the vocab list that Memrise provides, allowing you to see the vocab you have learnt and are yet to learn for each level. This is a really good incentive to advance and is excellent for reviewing your progress. Memrise has a quick teaching pace and uses a lot of repetition, which really gets you to grips with new vocab. The app also uses multiple choice questions which is excellent for word and sentence recognition. One thing I wasn’t sure about is that it gives you the literal translation of every sentence. This may sound great, but from experience I sometimes think that it is better to accept the phrase or sentence for what it is, rather than translating it in to you own language every time as this can slow down the learning progress.
It only took a few minutes for me to see that BUSUU was the best app that I was testing. It has excellent guidance and support for spellings, you can change the speed of the voice in the listening exercises which helps you perfect your pronunciation and there is also ‘practice your writing’ feature where other members can read and correct your work. The photos connected to the phrases make learning a lot easier for those of us who are visual learners, and… Uh- oh! No wonder it’s so good, that was just level 1. To reach level 2, consisting of quizzes, grammar and writing corrections, BUSUU charge a fee, where the most popular option is £4.99/ month for 12 months. I didn’t pay this myself, but can imagine it is worth the money for such a good learning experience.
So which one is best?
Short but sweet, I had the best learning experience with BUSUU, however I wasn’t prepared to pay the fee for the purpose of one week’s testing. Maybe this was a detriment to myself and I should have been prepared to spend the pennies, but for £12.99 for a one month only subscription, I just couldn’t justify it.
Duolingo is a great app and I would recommend it, I just found the images a bit distracting from the translations or sentences that you need to write. However, I do have a few friends who use Duolingo and they love it!
I really enjoyed the pace of Memrise, it was quick and the repetition meant that I was able to learn new vocab very quickly. I am aware however that as I can already speak Spanish, I found it easy to recognise and learn the words.
So what one would I recommend to you, a new language leaner?
I personally preferred Memrise, but as I said, I can already speak Spanish which I know gave me an advantage when learning Portuguese (hence why I originally wanted to test the apps with Mandarin). For someone learning a new language from scratch, with no previous knowledge, I would recommend Duolingo. It is user friendly and carries new learners at a steady pace.
Let me know how it goes!