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Is Using an App Really the Best Way to Learn a New Language?

"Dictionaries" (CC BY 2.0) by Tim Green aka atoach

Among the many aspects of life that have been transformed by the internet, learning a new language is often one that goes relatively overlooked. But anyone who has considered trying to master one, whether for work, travel, or simply pleasure, will find that they now have many more options than ever before.

Gone are the days of having to sit in a classroom if you want to learn through practicing speaking the target language with an experienced teacher. Instead, it’s now possible to take lessons at a time to suit you with an online teacher who can quickly get to understand what you want to get from the lessons and tailor them to suit your learning style.

But, despite this service being easily available, many would-be language learners choose to use an automated app instead, with a large number being available online today. Naturally, the appeal of this is the flexibility, especially as internet connectivity is on the rise throughout the Philippines bringing these services to within the reach of many more people than before.

It also fits in with aspirations in the field of higher education in which one of the stated aims has been to use technology to create more resilient teaching environments which will be less liable to be disrupted by external events.

Online Learning from Home

“Online Learning from Home” (Public Domain) by dailycollegian

Of course, these will also work in favor of actually having a physical teacher online, not just to make language learning apps more reliable and accessible. That said, many people do rely on the latter and there has already been some research carried out to look into the subject.

Most of the most popular apps use a so-called “freemium” model which allows a certain level of access for no charge. But students wanting a greater level of support will need to opt for a monthly or annual subscription that will provide a more detailed service. In practice, this means that to make the service truly worthwhile, it will need to be paid for.

More to the point is the kind of teaching that is delivered by these automated apps. Their very nature means that grammar and vocabulary questions are asked using a multiple-choice technique. On giving an incorrect answer, the correct one is usually given, leaving the learner to deduce for themselves where they went wrong.

As so much about language learning is about context, this isn’t particularly useful without having a teacher on hand to explain why the correct answer is the option that should have been chosen. Given that language is all about communication, it also makes more sense to learn it via speaking with and listening to another person. This is why something as simple as watching an English-language film with a highly-regarded script could also be more useful than using an app.

So, it all adds up to the fact that you may be able to learn some useful phrases via a language learning app. But there’s really no substitute for taking the more personal approach if you really want to gain an in-depth understanding.

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