Free Language Apps Beware; Users Get What They Pay For

Learn a Language for Free? Well, Maybe Not …

There are many approaches to language learning, and yes – plenty of these are free. Duolingo is one such app. It boasts over 200 million active users and six billion exercises completed each month. And it’s free. Incredible, right?

But consider a moment – how many of those 200 million active users that rely on the free Duolingo app alone are speaking proficient French, German, Italian, Spanish …

Take a guess?

I’m going to say zero.

That’s right, “zero.”

Free and Modern: Duolingo

But not because people think Duolingo is a terrible app – it’s a great app. They Duolingo and love it. The interface is intuitive and playful. And because the information is broken up into small bite-sized chunks, it’s easy to pick up the app in a free moment and learn a new word.

Duolingo is certainly flexible – and adaptable as well.

When answer a word incorrectly within the app, the word will come up again in the course material until the user answers it correctly. Even then, previously learned material will periodically be presented with the idea that if the users is exposed to the word enough times, it will eventually make its way into their long-term memory.

It’s this repetition and adaptive nature of the app that distinguishes it from the competition. But is it enough? Will it get them to the point where they can purchase train tickets in France or order tapas in Spain?

DuoLingo emphasizes memorizing vocabulary words and testing the user’s knowledge by translating phrases from the user’s target language into English. But that alone will not help them get the skills they need to communicate in their target language. The words and expressions are often presented in decontextualized situations, so language learners can’t quite place the meaningful context in which they would use that word or phrase.

As well, Duolingo leaves few opportunities to say words and phrases aloud, further limiting the ways in which students can internalize the new information.

Although fun and entertaining, with DuoLingo, it’s impossible to learn a language to the point of being able to communicate with native speakers with the DuoLingo free app.

How About a Paid-Service, Will I Fare Better?

Okay, let’s say a buyer plunks money down and purchases an app. Can the user learn a language then? Let’s take a look at Pimsleur, a trusted language programthat uses the “listen and repeat” method.

Pimsleur is a premium language course, but does it fit the bill in terms of getting the student off and running towards the nearest European football game to practice their Spanish? Let’s see …

Unlike Duolingo which leans on the visual style of learning, the Pimsleur method emphasizes the audio style of learning. Phrases are spoken aloud while the student listens. Then, a narrator provides a bit of context and explanation in English, so the student can understand what is being said. Later, the student is then invited to listen to the phrase again and repeat. There isn’t any reading involved, it’s all about the audio learning style towards learning a new language.

So, if a person pays a bit of moola will Pimsleur get them to a proficient level in another language? Hmmm … not likely. Even if they are a bonified aural-learner (and even then, like everyone else they would be better served by incorporating a healthy mix of learning styles), Pimsleur will leave them wanting more to when learning a foreign language.

Look, Pimsleur is a fantastic resource. It allows the user to listen to native speakers converse and gives them opportunities to try to imitate their pronunciation. This is ideal, especially if they don’t have a lot of opportunity being around native speakers. The courses offer plenty of opportunity to practice their listening and translation skills, as they listen to the narrator, translate, and repeat back in the target language.

One of the common criticisms of Pimsleur is that the content is outdated, with conversations being repetitive and slightly boring. Although it’s easy for the beginner to get going on Pimsleur, the phrases the user picks up may not serve them very well once they try speaking the target language in the real world.

If Pimsleur is the person’s only tool to learning a language, then they are going to have quite a few gaps. The fact that they are listening to phrases and do not have an opportunity to read or write in the target language, makes it difficult to deduce the elements of grammar and sentence structure. In addition, Pimsleur won’t assist them with building their vocabulary.

Where does that leave the user?

The user may be able to speak a few phrases once they are “in the field” say, purchasing a croissant from a Parisian boulangerie, but they may not understand the cashier’s response if they say they’re out of croissants and they’ll have to settle for a pain au chocolat (that sweet treat is not a such a bad consolation, BTW) …

Free Duolingo vs. Premium Pimsleur?

Ultimately, both the free Duolingo and the premium Pimsleur have their plusses and minuses, but in and of themselves these resources will not get the user to the level of proficiency they desire, even if they would be happy to attain even the most rudimentary beginner level in their target language.

Listen to Pimsleur in the car on the way to work.

Review vocabulary with the free Duolingo app while waiting for espresso.

Whether the user chooses Pimsleur for its audio learning style or Duolingo for its more modern, convenient, and free method to reinforcing their vocabulary, both options make for great supplements in their language learning kit.

But when a person wants to get down to it and learn a language, I have another idea …

Optilingo: An All-In-One Language Course

Developed by a language activist who stumbled upon a secret recipe to learning a new language when he taught himself the exceedingly challenging, ancient language of Circassian, Optilingo language products offer a well-balanced mix of learning tools. Using the method founder Jonty Yamisha calls, “Guided Immersion,” students learn high frequency words and listen to essential universal phrases spoken by native speakers.

Because Jonty learned Circassian with little resource material to go on, he discovered and developed the Guided Immersion, a method that was 10-years in the making.

In his program, Jonty incorporates three systems of learning:

  • Visual: Associating vocabulary to images and reading text in both the target language and English to intuit grammar and sentence structure.
  • Audio: Listening to native speaker dialogues that are in-context and relevant to everyday, modern experiences.
  • Tactile: Writing words and phrases, as well as repeating words and phrases aloud.

This trifecta creates a well-rounded and active approach to learning a language in as little as 30-minutes a day, five-days a week.

Jonty isn’t a linguist expert or academic – he isn’t a corporate language mogul either; he’s simply a regular guy who was very motivated to learn his ethnic language before it vanished from the planet forever. And now, Jonty is motivated to give anyone the tools necessary to broaden their worldview and learn a new language with his easy-to-use program.If this sounds more interesting, check out OptiLingo to started learning a new language.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.