With an abundance of language-learning resources and apps on the market, it can be difficult to know what actually works. Here are the essential features to consider when choosing language-learning software — for yourself, your family, your classroom or organization.
1. Is the content ideal for practical use?
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. A good language program will deliver chapters and lessons tailored around those needs, with vocabulary and structures you can actually use in those contexts.
2. Is the course content based on real-life scenarios?
Random sentences put together for the sole purpose of communicating sentence structure won’t help you start a real conversation. A sound program needs to consistently teach relevant language with phrases that help you help yourself, otherwise it takes too long to get functionally fluent in another language. Find language software that delivers lessons with practical content for navigating everyday situations. Learning to say “I am a horse”? Not helpful.
3. Is the audio clear and recorded by native speakers?
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 that of a native speaker. 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 — a huge plus!
4. Does the methodology encourage thinking in the target language?
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. Does the course offer speaking practice?
Speaking in another language for the first time can be intimidating. But the more you practice, the more confident you’ll be. 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. Does efficacy match the price?
Programs that aren't based on second language acquisition research and the pedagogy experience of language experts tend to be less effective in providing a well-rounded approach to language learning. Choose content with proven methodology that’s been created by experienced linguists and language teachers. Also, while good language learning systems don't have to cost a lot, free apps aren't always the way to go either. Sometimes free apps include ads, which means that there are more distractions that keep you from actually learning.
7. Is the course on-the-go ready?
Make sure the app is dead-zone proof. Do you need 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. Is the learning centered around you?
Not all learners learn the same way. A language system that adapts to your learning behaviors is a bonus that could boost your rate of acquisition and help you better retain what you learned. Generally these methods of personalization come in the form of spaced repetition algorithms (SRS) that deliver dynamic review sequences in response to the user's learning pace. Personalization can also mean the learning platform provides a variety of different types of learning exercises.
9. Do the courses provide cultural context?
No matter your reason for learning a language, just learning vocabulary won’t cut it. To really learn a language, you need to know when and how to use certain words and expressions. Understanding cultural nuances helps you use what you learned in the right situations, without offending someone or risking embarrassment.
10. Do the courses teach you based on your native language?
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. Does the program integrate with your organization?
Choose software with seamless implementation so you can quickly transition to familiarizing your learners with the platform, ensuring that they are engaged and actually using the software. The right language partner wants to build community among your teams, classrooms, and staff.
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!