Your Language Learning Journey
5 aspects of the Language Learning Journey and 6 free language learning applications
Don’t you think that learning a new language is tough? Research has shown that our ability to learn a new language declines as we age and only 4% of people who start a language course through a school reach basic fluency after 3 years. That’s right. The other 96% either dropped out or failed to get to even basic fluency.
However, there are countless language learning applications at our disposal to help us in our language learning journey. Some applications cover a broader scope of learning, while some applications focus on some parts of our language learning journey. With the use of algorithms and AI, these applications can single out certain words or sentences that we usually make mistakes in, which helps us in our learning and revision.
Learning a language is a journey and we sometimes require more than one application or platform to help us achieve our desired fluency in that language. Understanding how each application works is important for us to decide which can efficiently aid us in this journey. But how do you know which application would be the most useful for you and your learning?
In this article, you’ll learn about the five main aspects to learning new vocabulary and how six free language learning applications can help us for the various parts. I will also be including the features of each application in this article, so it’ll be easier for you to decide which application is the most suitable for you!
1. Vocabulary Acquisition
Vocabulary Acquisition is the first, and most obvious, step to learning a new language. Since this is the forefront of language learning, most (if not all) apps should provide us with this feature to learn new words.
For instance, Anki, a free and open-sourced flashcard application, allows us to create our own card decks or download from their “Public Decks”, where there are countless words for us to learn from.
Another example is Duolingo, which is one of the more popular language learning applications. It categorises words based on different themes such as food, hobbies and clothes.
2. Vocabulary Definitions
What’s the point of learning new words if we don’t understand the meaning of it? After learning the word itself, we obviously want to know the definition of that word. Similar to Vocabulary Acquisition, most apps should provide the meanings of each word they introduce to us.
Rosetta Stone uses flashcards which increases the effectiveness of our learning. It allows us to tap on sentences that we want translated, which makes it easier for us to learn the meaning of that particular sentence.
On the other hand, Anki (being an open-sourced application) does not always provide the meanings of the words - it is dependent on whether the creator included the definitions in their card decks.
This brings me back to my point about how some applications focus on specific parts of language learning. Anki doesn’t have features that can help us with all 5 parts of learning, it is instead focused on vocabulary acquisition as well as vocabulary revision, which I will elaborate on in the later parts of this article.
3. Pronunciation of Words
Learning how to pronounce new words is important, especially if we’re learning a new language and are unfamiliar with how the locals pronounce it. Many of us learn a new language hoping to converse fluently with native speakers, so it is essential to know how each word or syllable is pronounced.
Many applications provide us with the feature to hear how a sentence or word sounds. Memrise, in this aspect, is unique as its sentences are spoken by native speakers, instead of the usual robotic-sounding pronunciations.
Busuu has a similar feature to Memrise, where users can help others by correcting their exercises. For instance, an English speaker can record their voice and correct an English learner’s sentence structure or grammar. This allows the English learner to learn from a native speaker, which is a better alternative to having a robot pronounce foreign words.
4. Test of Understanding
At this stage, we’re almost reaching the end of our vocabulary learning journey!
After learning a word’s definition and how to pronounce it, we would want to examine our understanding of this newly acquired word. Research has shown that frequent tests can boost our learning. Hence, doing short exercises can help us better recall and achieve a deeper understanding of the words we’ve learnt.
Duolingo is a perfect example of an application that tests our understanding of new words. Through the use of gamification, users can earn points and compete with each other to rise up the ranks. If you’re a competitive person, this can definitely motivate you to complete lessons every day in order to earn points.
The other applications, such as Rosetta Stone, Memrise and Busuu, all have features that test their users’ understanding of words or sentences.
5. Vocabulary Revision
Last but not least, there is the revision aspect of learning.
Do you find yourself saying, “But I just learnt this last week, why can’t I remember what it means?”, “I can’t remember how this word is spelled?!?!” or “I keep forgetting this word!!?!” If you answered yes to any of these, it means that you’ve not been revising your vocabulary as frequently as you need to.
Testing ourselves is crucial but revising our knowledge is just as important, if not even more so. Most applications that help with language revision use spaced repetition for its users to revise their vocabulary. The simplest way to do spaced repetition is using flashcards to revise information that you’ve learnt before. When you answer a card correctly, you leave that card in a pile that you’ll revisit less often than those that you’ve answered wrongly.
Of course, this is a tedious process when you have to create your own flashcards. Fret not! This is where language learning applications come in.
For example, you can make use of Anki’s “Create New Deck” feature to list down the vocabulary words that you’ve learnt, and revise them using the card decks. By indicating in the settings, you can decide whether you want to revise the cards at random or in the order that you added the cards.
Revisit is another application that helps with vocabulary revision. In fact, it mainly focuses on the revision aspect of language learning. On top of adding your own words to a vocabulary book for revision, you can customise your preferred revision time slots and it’ll send you a daily reminder at that time. Additionally, you’ll be able to see the definition of each word as you revise. This will definitely come in handy when you’re trying to revise a large vocabulary list and don’t know where to start.
In this article, I’ve talked about the 5 main aspects of language learning. Firstly, there is Vocabulary Acquisition, where we learn new words. Secondly, we understand the meanings of these words through Vocabulary Definitions. Thirdly, we learn how to pronounce these words. Fourthly, testing our understanding of the words we learn. Lastly, we revise our knowledge of these words to ensure that we actively remember them.
I’ve also mentioned six applications that can help in your language learning journey: Anki, Rosetta Stone, Memrise, Busuu, Duolingo and Revisit. Another thing to note about these applications is that Rosetta Stone and Busuu both provide very limited free lessons. If you’ve tried these applications and love their features, it would be a good investment to pay for their monthly subscription. If not, the four other applications are a good alternative for language learning or revising.
As mentioned in the article, some applications cover all 5 parts to language learning, while others focus on one or two aspects. Just because an application doesn’t help us with all 5 aspects, doesn’t make it a bad application. Instead, the usefulness of an application is dependent on your individual goals and what you aim to use it for.
Before you start downloading all the different language learning applications out there, first ask yourself: what will I use the application for?
If you’re a beginner who wants to start learning a language, it’ll be good to use an application that has at least the features for vocabulary acquisition, vocabulary definitions and pronunciation of words, such as Duolingo.
However, if you’re someone who is relatively familiar with the language and want an application that helps with vocabulary revision, then an application like Revisit can help you focus only on the revision aspect of vocabulary learning.