Can you become fluent using language learning apps?

Duolingo, Memrise, Busuu… With so many language learning apps available, learning a language can seem as simple as the click of a button to download the app, but are these apps truly effective ways to become fluent? Well yes… and no… The truth is, although they can be an effective way to improve your skills in a language and are great at encouraging you to continue studying, the apps on their own are not enough to master a language.

The Benefits of Apps

For someone who wants to start learning a language, apps are a good gateway or beginning of the journey to learn the language. It is convenient, as you can easily download it, and you can access it at all times on your phone. Because of how simple it is and since most of them are free, it is less of a commitment than signing up for a class or learning in a traditional way. This means that it is great at getting people started and interested in learning the language. 

Apps are also great at making the learning experience seem fun and exciting. For instance, on apps like Duolingo you can try to complete a course everyday to keep your streak alive, which can be an addicting game as you want to see how long you can get your streak to be, while it also encourages consistency. This is possible because the work and studying required for these apps is not extensive which motivates the user to continue using it because they are learning a language while having a lot of fun. 

So, these apps truly do a great job of balancing enjoyment with practice, repetition, and learning, focusing on vocabulary and grammar of a language. But you generally can’t rely on these apps alone to learn a language because for most people it’s simply not enough to retain the language.

The Problem with Apps

The main problem with these language learning apps is that people don’t retain what they’re learning from them. Some will spend hours completing these courses but are unable to put what they learned together and form a sentence in the language. A large part of this is because the apps are not immersive enough.

To learn a language you need immersion, you need to be surrounded by the language and culture whether that means being in a country that speaks the language or more realistically in a class or tutoring session with people that speak the language. When you’re in these environments you absorb the language more naturally and when you are confused or curious you are able to ask questions to people who understand the language which you cannot do with the apps.

The other issue is that with apps you are not practising speaking or conversational skills which is key to learning any language. Although it can seem intimidating, engaging in conversations with people is one of the best ways to learn a language and it is essential to becoming fluent. You can study countless hours and read everything there is to know about a language’s vocabulary and grammar, but if you aren’t comfortable speaking the language and never try to have a conversation it is nearly impossible to become fluent. At the end of the day most people learn a language so that they can speak it, so if you’re only practising reading and writing, it will be hard to achieve your goal of being able to communicate with others in the language.

Finally, as I mentioned before these apps are a great starting point for a lot of people to get the ball rolling but they can’t really help you master a language because they are not deep and thorough enough. They do a good enough job teaching the basics but when it gets to the more advanced levels, a traditional class with a teacher is more effective. Certain things are explained much easier and clearer when studied in a classroom.

How should you learn a language then?

So now you’re probably confused because I’ve told you apps are useful but are also not the right way to learn a language… So how should you learn a language then?

Apps are good as a complementary resource for what you’re already learning in class or to prepare you for a class that you will take, but it is not a resource that should be depended on for fluency.

The best way to learn is in a class or with a tutor. It may seem like more work, but if you’re interested in the language, classes can be a lot of fun. Being in a class with students who want to learn the same language can be a fun experience where you meet great friends, truly practice your conversation skills, and learn to speak with confidence. Also, having a great teacher who can clearly explain the language and answer any of your questions along the way will help you learn so much faster than an app. We offer French classes here at Le Petit Écolier, and our students see massive improvements from taking our classes!

It can seem intimidating to take a class, but the first step is always the hardest. Once you decide to take the class, you’ll be on your way to learning the language. But it is still a good idea to use apps too, especially in combination with classes, this will boost your learning speed even more. You can use the apps before or after your classes to keep your knowledge sharp, and to maintain what you’re learning in class.

So, keep those apps installed and if you’re ready to translate your dream of fluency in French into a reality, make sure to sign up for one of our classes!