With an abundance of language-learning methods on the market, it can be hard to know what works — and what doesn’t. Here are the essential features to consider when choosing language-learning software — for yourself, your family, or even your organization.
1. Practical content driven by authentic experiences. The phrases you learn should be from authentic, real-life conversations and created by native speakers — with local expressions and on-the-street insights. Learning to read ancient German literature won’t help you navigate the streets of Berlin.
2. Tailored lessons based on real-life needs. Random sentences put together for the sole purpose of communicating sentence structure won’t help you start a real conversation with a native speaker. Find language software that delivers lessons with practical content for navigating everyday situations. Learning to say “I am a horse”? Not helpful.
3. Pronunciation help from native speakers, not robots. Look for an audio experience that helps you pick up on the intonation of a language and gives you the opportunity to practice your pronunciation alongside. A language program that offers the phonetics for each word or phrase and allows you to hear the pronunciation spoken at a conversational pace as well as a slower pace, is a huge plus!
4. Critical-thinking tools create independent communicators. The whole point of learning another language is so that it becomes a natural second way of communicating. The right tools will help you start to naturally think in that language and intuitively speak your own phrases and sentences.
5. Active participation builds confidence. Speaking in another language for the first time can be intimidating. But the more you practice, the more confident you’ll be! So look for a language program that encourages you to repeat new words and phrases out loud — so you won’t second-guess yourself when the time comes for a real conversation.
6. Free doesn’t mean quality. Courses without dedicated teaching professionals are basically bad translation tools. Choose content that’s created by experienced linguists and language teachers — they’re conscious of how people learn and acquire language, and develop effective programs based on this knowledge. Plus, free generally involves ads which mean more distractions to keep you from actually learning.
7. Functionality is just as important as content. Make sure you can travel with it. Do you need an internet connection to learn? Does this program work on all your devices? Does it remove the ‘if only’ and other excuses between you and learning? Language learners on mobile phones “feel a greater sense of freedom of time and place, so that they can take advantage of spare time to learn a second language when and where they are.”
8. Don’t be limited to a single language. Did you know that if you can get the hang of Spanish, you have a pretty strong foundation for learning Italian, French, German, and Portuguese? Basically, getting proficient in another language will help you master additional languages. Give yourself the gift of the world and use a language as a springboard to explore even more countries and cultures. The wanderlust list is neverending.
9. Cultural context matters. No matter your reason for learning a language, just learning vocab won’t cut it. To really learn a language, you need to know when and how to use certain words and expressions. For example, in Mandarin Chinese, if you want to say ‘hello,’ you actually use the phrase 你好 ‘nǐ hǎo,’ which literally means ‘you good.’ Understanding cultural nuances helps you use new phrases correctly.
10. Learning another language alongside your native language is more efficient. Language software that teaches a phrase by showing it in your native language and your target language (the language that you’re learning) at the same time, allows you to learn more effectively through comparing and contrasting the two different language structures. This direct approach gives you insight into the conversational patterns that frequently come up in natural conversations.
11. Effectively integrates with your organization. I have a future post on language-learning choices for your org in the works, but I’ll leave you with a sneak peek: make sure you choose software that helps you engage your teams, ensuring that they actually utilize the software. The right language partner wants to build community among your teams and encourage key individuals to get involved.
While there are many other features of language resources that can be helpful for learners (like progress tracking, reviews, and quizzes), programs that nail the features listed above will give you a more efficient and effective learning experience. Learn more about how Mango Languages’ methodology works, or create a free profile (or log in) to see it in action — in over 70 languages.
Which features are most important to you in a language-learning resource? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!