How Effective are Free Language Apps for Language Learning?

If you’ve studied a language before, you know that it’s important to use all the tools you can to make sure your language learning is a success. Free language apps can be great ways to supplement your studies, but there’s been some debate recently as to how effective apps like Duolingo really are for language learning. While it’s always exciting to hear that someone is open to learning a new language, it can be disconcerting when a language newbie cites a free language app as their go-to resource. So let’s take a look at how effective language apps really are, and discover if you can indeed learn a language with just a free app!

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Reuse and Recycle

The majority of language apps adhere to a key concept for language learning, and that’s to reuse and recycle words users get wrong the most during drills. This means that when you take part in games, exercises, or tests on these apps, it will bring up words you get wrong the most and repeat less the ones you get right. This is definitely one of the big pros of these free apps. Repetition is a core part of language learning and it’s important for helping students recall new vocab. After all, the more you’re forced to use something, the easier it is to remember.

Fun and Games

Another great aspect of language apps is that they tend to turn learning into a game. This can make acquiring a new language fun, and users tend to feel more engaged and focused. Many apps even have levels that you can only unlock once you’ve passed a certain set of drills or recalled specific vocabulary. The gaming nature of language apps is some of what makes them so addictive, and, since consistency is important for successful language acquisition, it’s a definite plus that apps keep learners coming back again and again for more.

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Where and Why

Here’s where we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty, less positive side of free language apps. One of the main issues language instructors bring up about these apps is the fact that the game style doesn’t leave a lot of room for explanations. Because they tend to be based on a more fast-paced type of learning, many free apps are hesitant to bog users down with grammar and vocabulary explanations. Experts tend to agree: language apps like to keep things light and fluffy (and in this way maintain a large quantity of consistent users). The only problem is, you can’t have a balanced language diet if all you’re having is dessert.

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Black and Blue

While most free language apps are inclined to focus heavily on vocabulary, they often fall short when it comes to providing users with valuable sentence examples. In fact, a big complaint amongst language learners is that apps don’t usually offer very in-depth sentences. This makes sense to some extent because free apps generate the sentences automatically, so we as users can’t really expect varied and complex phrases much beyond: ‘His hair is black’ or ‘Blueberries are blue’. However, when the majority of sentences aren’t ones you’ll probably ever use in real life, it’s easy to see how relying on an app to teach you a language can be faulty.

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Chit and Chat

A vital part of learning a new tongue is that you have to start using it from day one. Generally language students learn new languages because they hope to utilize them out in the real world one day—whether they be for business purposes or travel and recreation. This is why interacting with native speakers and having a chance to converse in a foreign language is so important. And this is a huge part of language learning that is simply missing from those fun free apps. While some apps have come up with online chats where users can practice messaging in their chosen language, they still can’t take the place of good old-fashioned human interaction. Perhaps someday this gap will be filled, but it’s still a bleak reality of free language apps.

Attempting to learn a language by solely using a free app can seem tempting, but language teachers and experts agree that it is definitely not an effective and optimal way to successfully do so. Does this mean you should give up language apps as useless? Of course not! Free apps are great supplements to your language learning and can be excellent for learning and language maintenance, as long as you pair them with some of the more ‘traditional’ methods such as a good language instructor, language exchange partners, and textbook study!

What are some of your favorite free language apps? What do you like about them? How do you think they improve your learning experience?

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