Sprechen Sie Deutsche? Language Apps made simple

09.05.2013

Are you traveling abroad this school year? Have you always wanted to learn another language but didn’t have time to sign up for a class? Or are you currently learning a new language in class, but you are worried about losing your skills between semesters? If any of these relate to you, then we have an app for you.

While you’ve been in class, programmers all over the world have been busy building the best language-learning phones apps. A big concern about language learning apps, is that they are not the best method to learn anything. However as more and more teachers are using apps to assist with the learning process, large improvements have been made to make apps which provide a wonderful learning experience. Even though apps should be used to assist your language learning process, not all apps are created equal and picking the best apps from the lesser apps can be daunting. To make matters worse, some of the lesser language apps excluded from this list often contained obvious mistranslations. Which is why we here at UD Libraries have created a short list of the best language learning apps for both iOS and Android phone operating systems to help you continue your language learning experience. Due to some small app differences between operating systems, we have a separate list for both.

iOS Language Apps

1. Duolingo features small games and tasks that the user completes in order to advance to subsequent levels and lessons. It boasts colorful and fun graphics. Users are limited to learning Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian. The app requires sound and microphones for some activities. Activities include pronouncing words into the microphone, typing a spoken word, selecting the word that corresponds with a photo, and clicking and dragging words to build a sentence. Minor drawbacks include a green “continue” button that seems like an extra, cumbersome step after each short activity and you can’t quit in the middle of a lesson. Users can’t skip around to learn certain categories of words (food, travel, conversational, etc) which may be a drawback for some. Overall, Duolingo provides a fun way to learn foreign words and grammar using small games.

2. Memrise has introductory language learning methods for Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Each “course” can be completed offline, so internet or cell phone connectivity is not necessary (might be good for a plane ride). Each new vocabulary word includes graphics, similar sounding words to help with pronunciation, and memory prompts. These can be somewhat bizarre, but perhaps they are intended to help users retain the information. For example, learning “I would like” in French (“je voudrais”) comes with the following learning prompts: “I would like some hay. Je-Vood-ehey” and “I would like a VOODOO RAY to kill my enemies. Je vood-ray.” Each course is created by different users, so consistency may be a problem within this app. Sections within the course are clearly labeled, and a user does not have to go in order, like with Duolingo.

Others:

Mango Languages requires users to set up an account using the Mango site made available from their local library. Soon, UD Libraries will not have access to Mango Languages because the OhioLINK deal did not go through for this fiscal year.

Byki was bizarre and I couldn’t figure out how to sign up for the free “community edition.”

Android Lanuage Apps (greatest to least)

1. The Babbel Android language apps are serious business. They are extremely well thought out and well executed; most likely by a fantastic team of linguists. Once you get use to the quick pace of this app, you will notice how it combines many different types of learning activities to keep learners thinking. However, do note the microphone pronunciation feedback function is very precise (assuming you are in a quiet room), and it will not let you get away with bad pronunciation. If you want a great language app similar to the desktop Rosetta Stone software, look no further. (other notes: offline-use allowed, only the French Babbel app was used for this review. Babbel apps are also available for iOS. Other Babbel language apps: Spanish, French, German, Italian, English, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Turkish, Polish, and Indonesia)

2. DuoLingo is one of the more passive learning Android apps. For instance, I did not feel overwhelmed with all the different types of extraneous information which Mango Languages app throws at you. Most importantly I like having to type in the language so early in the learning process. But unlike the iOS app, this Android app does not encourage pronunciation feedback much at all. This android app however does a great job utilizing similar words between languages (close cognates) to allow users to guess what a word means before teaching you what it means. And you might like their email study reminders. Overall, a great language app. (online only use; same languages as iOS app)

3. Memrise for Android is an online-only app which has some login obstacles before getting started. However, once you’re in, you just can't stop. It is the most fun language app. Like the iOS app it has lots of pictures and quirky quotes which help you learn along with its heavy rote memorization. This app is meant only for the learner intent on a long-term, successful learning outcome, who also doesn't take oneself too serious. (app includes Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Mexican Spanish with many more languages from their website)

4. Mango Languages is also a great all-around app. However it is important to note, the Mango for Libraries android app (version 1.2, July 8, 2013) seems to have some app start-up problems which may or may not have been fixed in the July 30, 2013 update. So you might have some glitches. If you can get access to this app through a public library or a personal subscription, you’ll be pleased. (allows offline use and almost all languages are available)

-Craig Boman, Applications Support Specialist and Katy Kelly, Communications and Outreach Librarian

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