Why did Duolingo completely remove the immersion
How I failed to learn Spanish using apps
Do language apps help you learn a foreign language? Softonic editor Jan-Hendrik undertook the self-test and summarized his personal experiences and setbacks.
It is difficult for anyone who learns as an adult
There are three phases to learning a new language. Multilingual children growing up are fine. They soak up languages with their mother's milk with curiosity, passion and a thirst for knowledge. We have a harder time at school. In this second phase, we are more or less talented tormenting our way through grammar, gaining vocabulary and finding out our own inability in tests. The worst hits in the third phase are adults who tackle a new language while at work. Little time, a lot of distraction and limited motivation are the hurdles here.
I saw myself in that third phase when I came to Spain about three years ago. Hola and Adiós were a meager linguistic basis. Improvement was needed. As a software editor, the app and iPhone should of course help.
Learning apps are like fast food
Apps as a teacher have a hard time. Consumed like fast food, the language apps have to fit into the small breaks in everyday life. By the time the pizza is ready, you should also create a lesson bite. I've tried the following apps - with varying degrees of success.
Babbel: Wants to be the good friend among the vocabulary trainers - and fails
The first app: Babbel. Task: Learn basic vocabulary. Babbel is well structured. Vocabulary to be learned is structured according to subject areas such as food, sport or health. Images support the user in memorizing the words. Terms set to music help with correct pronunciation.
The repetition manager ensures that what you have learned is right. At least in theory. Because soon I'll let things slide. When I dusted the app for this article, the repetition manager was even empty. I was taken out of the database.
Conclusion: Babbel made two mistakes in terms of long-term motivation. On the one hand, the app lacks an effective means of pressure to keep me coming back. On the other hand, the repetition manager quickly fills up to the immeasurable. Selective deepening soon turned into resignation.
Download Babbel for Android
Download Babbel for iOS
Duolingo: The animal among the vocabulary trainers - stubborn, but too self-absorbed
Better is the concept of Duolingo despite a large entry barrier: The interface is completely in English.
Duolingo is more playful than Babbel. The app rewards learning progress with points and achievements, if desired in a competition against friends. Part of the reward is unlocking new lessons. Vocabulary is embedded in contexts so that word meanings are trained together with conjugations. Pictures help to memorize and all texts are set to music with good Spanish speakers.
The playful structure and the reward system are motivating. At first. If that's not enough, Duolingo gets stubborn: regular emails encourage me to keep learning. You should take this seriously, because without training you lose your progress and have to repeat lessons. The disadvantage: Anyone who is prevented from doing so, like me, loses the series of points. Business trip, points away, motivation away.
Conclusion: Duolingo took me harder than Babbel. In connection with the playful approach, this works without stress at first. The big mistake: The repeat function goes too far. At a certain point, you have to invest too much time in long-mastered lessons to brush up on them. New material and variety fall by the wayside and frustration ensues.
Langenscheidt IQ: the fun machine - extensively tested and put aside
Langenscheidt IQ Spanish is an educational game. In eight categories you can find out more about food, leisure or shopping - in Spanish. Different game modes test the learner with a kind of vocabulary memory or letter puzzle.
Langenscheidt IQ also takes a fun approach. The app fits into the category playful vocabulary break for in between. As an educational game, the app is excellently designed, convinces with clear pronunciation and useful terms. But all of this is not enough to ignite the learning fire permanently. On top of that, the terms are useful for a vacation, but hardly go beyond a simple basic stock.
Conclusion: Langenscheidt IQ Spanish is fun, but it doesn't reach me in the long run. The app doesn't offer anything more than simple terms.
iVocabulary: Digital vocabulary book for the garbage can.
All of the apps above share one problem: They only deliver ready-made meals. I tried to practice my own terms and create a kind of digital vocabulary book iVocabulary out. Bugs when exporting and importing to my mobile devices as well as the laborious creation and expansion of the vocabulary inventory quickly sank any motivation. The app was a waste of money for me.
Conclusion: Interesting concept that stifles motivation through bugs and laborious operation.
Some apps are useful
So was the linguistic excursion into the colorful world of apps a failure? I actually used and learned to appreciate at least some apps on a regular basis. Above all, this includes dictionaries. I don't want to miss that Langenscheidt standard dictionary Spanish and dict.cc plus. Both apps reliably spit out word meanings even in WLAN and cell phone holes, as long as the battery lasts.
A secret tip is on top of that Verb forms Español. The app comes with a huge list of Spanish verbs. Conjugation, languages, all of that can be looked up. And the endless number of irregular verbs can be summarized in lists and repeated in a targeted manner. Despite the powerful exercise module, I mainly used the app as a reference work.
My conclusion: Learning with apps is like learning with people - only worse
What's good about language learning apps? You don't kick anyone in the butt. What's bad about language learning apps? You don't kick anyone in the butt! Motivation is the key to learning success. And this is where most apps fail.
As a student, like most of them, I didn't really enjoy tests and classwork. Exams are annoying. In this context, learning controls are a useful means of giving motivation a little boost. Apps have to do exactly the same thing.
My self-experiment proved how demanding it is to keep people willing to learn. Duolingo also shows the possibilities and limits of this group of learning apps: Points as a motivational and sanction instrument work together with emails as reminders and means of pressure up to a certain point. The apps have to move within such cornerstones. If Duolingo didn't take itself too seriously, the principle could even work.
All in all, the apps with no learning objective turned out to be the most useful: the dictionary apps. But printed copies would have done it too.
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