With many schools closed for the remainder of the year, parents schooling their children remotely are searching for educational resources. Many are turning to the internet to supplement their child’s curriculum, using myriad apps and websites. Opportunities abound to learn a second, third or even more foreign languages. Here are some of the best foreign language apps to get you started.
How to Best Use Foreign Language Apps
In 2018, a study conducted by MIT determined that the best time to learn a second language is before the age of 10. According to researchers, who assessed over 670,000 participants for the study, “children under 10 can more easily absorb information and excel in the new language.” This contradicts decades of previous research that claimed native speaking-level language acquisition had to occur before children reached preschool.
For language app developers, this research provides timely and valuable data that informs their content. However, while learning a second language helps children become more creative, flexible and better problem solvers, learning in and of itself is not a passive exercise. According to Scholastic, “language acquisition is a product of active, repetitive, and complex learning. The child’s brain is learning and changing more during language acquisition… than during any other cognitive ability he is working to acquire.”
The challenge for app developers isn’t how to develop content that’s interactive and rewarding – they’re very adept at getting kids to engage. What makes a language app successful is how well it mimics the way children acquire language in the first place. Behavioral scientist Dr. Kim Berens says “babies don’t learn language through conjugating verbs, but by identifying objects. All toddlers start learning to talk by naming concrete things with a concrete correspondence in the world.” Language acquisition occurs when a need is successfully communicated and repeated over time.
Berens tells Parentology for a foreign language app to be successful, developers should follow the same principles: start by identifying objects, then follow with repetition. “We learn to speak by imitating what we hear, then reinforcing it so it becomes habitual,” she says. “Ideally, there would be a time-based requirement where kids are getting faster at naming things and achieving those goals.” These measures target, strengthen and ultimately reinforce the lesson. In this regard, gamifying seems perfectly suited to foreign language concepts; there’s motivation to engage, and a payoff to reinforce.
The award-winning language learning platform, Drops, recently entered the children’s education market with the launch of Droplets, an app designed specifically to teach foreign languages to children aged 8-17. Accessible, effective and compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), Droplets uses simple, repetitive word games and swipe-based interaction to reinforce the lesson.
Sessions are short (around five minutes), which is ideal for children with shorter attention spans, and parents looking to limit screen time. The Droplets pedagogy reflects Berens’ belief about traditional language approaches, which “focus heavily on grammar and sentence structure, which are often confusing and can lead to frustration and burnout.”
By comparison, Droplets learning tools teach core vocabulary, new alphabets and common phrases, “combining visual mnemonics, spaced repetition algorithms, and game theory.” The result is a fast-paced, visually engaging learning program rooted in foundational language acquisition.
“Providing a fun and accessible way to learn a language has always been at the root of our mission,” Drops CEO Daniel Farkas said on Drops website. “We’ve taken our vocabulary-focused approach and our proven framework to specifically cater to kids and teens to help them to begin, and stick to, their language learning journeys.”
Droplets is available for free download on iOS and Android, with the premium subscription providing unlimited access to the Drops suite of apps.
Duolingo is another example of a foreign language app that instructs via bite-sized lessons, while keeping learning fun with a gamified platform. Developed by a well-rounded team that includes experts in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, data science, learning sciences, UX research, linguistics and psychometrics. Their reward system allows you to level up by accruing points and speed testing.
An American platform, Duolingo includes a website and a mobile app, both of which are accessible without charge, though a premium service is available for a fee. To date, there are over 300 million learners using a combination of the site and app.
Not too long ago, Duolingo was offered as a supplement to aid and assist teachers in their classrooms. Teachers can sign up for a free account, and the site provides personalized feedback and practice lessons while teachers track progress through a dashboard tool.
Based on a 2012 effectiveness study by the City University of New York, the response so far has been positive:
- Overall the average improvement in language abilities was 91.4 points and the improvement was statistically significant.
- The effectiveness measure showed that on average participants gained 8.1points per one hour of study with Duolingo.
- The 95% Confidence Interval for the effectiveness is from 5.6 points to 10.7 points gained per one hour of study.
Part of Duolingo’s success is engagement. The game-like lessons keep students motivated and excited about learning a new language. Kids can earn virtual “coins”, unlock new levels and watch as their scores – and fluency – skyrocket.
Gus Οn Τhe Go
Described as a “language learning adventure,” Gus On The Go features a cute, animated owl as the titular character. Gus teaches language basics such as numbers, colors and food, then reinforces the lessons with fun, engaging games.
Designed as an introduction to language acquisition, the size and scope of GOTG’s vocabulary are manageable, with 90 new words and 10 activities to engage young learners. While there are no time frames within which a student must finish the lesson, each one builds on top of the other in a way that’s intuitive to natural language progression.
Available for download in the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store, this app contains no ads, in-app purchases, links or sharing functions, making it safe for young users.