Posted on June 29, 2014 at 12:00 AM.
Granted we are biased, but we are also big believers in the ability of technology to help language learners. Here is a summary of some of the best apps out there to learn a new language.
OpenLanguage aspires to create the next generation of the language-learning textbook. Their 'Tablet Textbook', leading a new generation of language learning apps, provides students with all the basic studying tools in one single interface with real-life lesson podcasts, sentence-reordering exercises, word-by-word translation, the ability to save vocabulary in the target language, and a "Task" feature, which consists of special exercises you can complete to get feedback from their teacher as well as from the student community. There is even an "accuracy" feature where you can record yourself and get feedback from voice recognition software!
Duolingo has risen to be near the top of choices when it comes to language learning on a tablet. It uses gamification, which is a strategy for rewarding users for their progress much like one would in a video game. For example, “players” lose hearts for incorrect answers but level up for successful responses. Unlike other apps or desktop software, Duolingo is completely free (no upgrades or in-app purchases to get more features). In fact the company's motto is: "Free language education for the world." To make this work, each user essentially becomes a translator, as their responses are used for translating other web sites. A short video at Duolingo's website explains this in more detail (think crowdsourcing).
Rosetta Stone has become the benchmark software for language learning on the desktop. The Rosetta Course is designed as a companion to the company’s software with additional practice and learning courses. Unfortunately those looking for a more detailed solution can only get a sample until they are willing to make the leap and purchase a full version of the Rosetta Stone desktop software. Those who have done so can sync their progress from their iPad while using the mobile apps.
Busuu downloads activities for later offline use, enabling you to do practice even without an Internet connection. This app alternates vocabulary and grammar lessons with comprehension tests that are crowdsourced with other Busuu users. It also has a rather innovative visual lesson strategy, which may appeal to those who prefer visuals when trying to learn. Courses are available in 12 languages.
Furthering the learning by gaming trend is Mindsnacks, which has separate apps focused on teaching Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese. Instead of rote memorization or digital worksheets, Mindsnacks has several games that are said to be designed by Ivy League professors. Each game focuses on a specific component of the language in order to round things out.