Language learning has come a long way since the days of ploughing through a pile of cassette tapes of the ‘repeat-after-me’ variety. For one, it is getting more interactive – and we are not just talking after-work conversational French classes. By interactive, we mean that we can now go online and connect to people all over the world who are also learning a language.
In this article, we look at today’s language-learning technology landscape to see what is happening now and where the future might lie.
Mobile fun: Lots of love for language-learning apps
Language-learning apps are huge, and no doubt you have experimented with a few yourself. Famous names include Duolingo and Babbel, and a typical language-learning app offers a range of grammar-developing, vocabulary-building and comprehension-testing exercises of varying degrees of complexity. They evolve the experience of using the book-based or audio solutions of old, choosing instead to break down the language-learning experience into bite-size pieces that you can dip in and out of, depending on your schedule.
Language-learning apps are evolving all the time, finding ways to be more intuitive with every upgrade. However, the basic premise has seemed to be the same for a while now – take tried-and-tested strategies for language learning, and shift them into the digital app-based space. So what does the future look like for language-learning apps?
One interesting app that is worth mentioning is the relatively new HelloTalk, which is effectively a language-learning messaging service that connects you to native speakers of your target language – who also want to learn your mother tongue. This app fills the gap for language learners looking to practice their conversational skills, as it gives users the chance to try out their growing skills in a closed, test-free environment – while getting to share a bit of their own language and culture in return.
If apps continue to evolve in ways that connect learners across the globe, this could shape the future of app-based language learning – and connect people and cultures in truly rewarding ways through technology.
Creation station: Make your own learning platform
Innovative teachers can initiate truly experimental ideas in the classroom if they only have the will (and the time and ability) to do so. Resourceful Spanish language teacher Jesualdo Martinez Molina is one such teacher – he crafted his own language-learning website for his students, filled with resources and language-learning support tools.
By drawing on a range of linked learning tools (such as Duolingo, video-making tool Powtoon, and coding and storytelling tool Scratch), he was able to create a website that inspired the kids in his classes to connect, tell stories and enjoy a little healthy competition via game-playing – all while developing their language skills. He even helped the children in his classes to connect to other children learning languages around the world – from neighbouring Europe via the eTwinning platform to Spanish-speaking countries in America.
With a little imagination, some technical prowess and a willingness to do the required homework, the possibilities are endless for language-learning teachers and students of any age.
Gamification: Connect with others to put the fun into language learning
Games are not just for kids. The success of the Fitbit (and the associated competitive step-counting, not to mention the awards and badges you can achieve on the way), as well as the all-ages entertainment provided by Pokémon GO, suggests that we are all comfortable using our phones and other devices to connect to others and learn a little something about ourselves and the world around us on the way.
Games can be an excellent tool for language learning, and Duolingo has been successfully utilising gamification in its language-learning approach for a while – using motivational badges and awards to encourage users, as well as competitive leaderboards. Plenty of experimental apps are popping up in this space to encourage play-motivated learners, so there may be more advances to come from gamification if this trend continues.
We need to talk: Natural conversation advances
The oft-cited issue with learning a language using technology is that there are limits to how conversational your learning can get with a digital solution. While apps like HelloTalk introduce the opportunity to practice via messaging, there is a lot to be said for sitting opposite someone in a relaxed environment and enjoying an organic conversation.
There is always a place for a one-on-one, in-depth and conversational way of learning. It is often the reward at the end of the tunnel for the language learner (to throw in some more gamification!): it is the moment where they get to really appreciate the value of the language they have learned and the way it has changed their lives. After all, when we imagine how we could practically use our language skills, we might visualise ourselves chatting to a business associate, evaluating the menu in a restaurant, planning a family holiday, debating the latest political drama or sporting event with a friend – in short, we imagine ourselves living our lives fully and doing all the things we do every day, just in a different language.
Artificial intelligence is another fast-evolving feature of digital language-learning apps and solutions, as it helps to adapt your learning journey according to your strengths and weaknesses – in much the same way as virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri are always learning more about your needs.
Digital solutions can, do and will increasingly offer ways to recreate the personal nature of conversation. Language-learning technologies are evolving all the time, and you can guarantee that behind the scenes the ability for computers to comprehend our languages in their intricacy is growing too. Who knows what progress we might see in the year ahead in the field of digitally created yet ‘natural’ conversations?
Pick and mix: Choose the best approach for you
Language learning is a personal experience, and everyone likes to do things a little differently – and certain tools and strategies work better for some people than others. However, with so many options for integrating technology into your language-learning experience, we are sure you can find a solution that complements and enhances your learning experience. Whether fun and games will help you to stay on track or you like the challenge of testing your vocabulary with apps like Memrise, we are sure that mobile and digital learning will play a part in your language-learning journey.
Here at Simon & Simon, we aim to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to advanced learning technologies, and we are already integrating mobile and other digital solutions into our bespoke training programmes. To find out more about the range of language-learning courses and training strategies we provide, including our blended learning solution, Speexx, contact us today.