Language learning apps: Babbel, Busuu & Duolingo

Second language: Improved prospects

In Africa, recent improvements in wireless communication infrastructure and the widespread use of mobile phones have helped the growing population to gain access to the Internet and smartphone applications. These improvements have enabled students, employees and companies to participate in the global online community.

Against this background, mobile phones are used for many everyday situations including educational applications for personal development. The devices are perfectly adapted to the needs of students in emerging markets and countries. For students of English or French who wish to improve their vocabulary and grammar, smart phones represent a very cost-effective solution. Their popularity is on the increase for English courses, from South Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania to Nigeria and Ghana. Similarly, French is useful if you live in (or work with) the French speaking communities centred in countries in the Greater Maghreb area of northwest Africa.

Students and employees in Africa and emerging markets can now chose and download a smartphone app to complement their studies in various subjects at school, college or university as well as private lessons or tuition. A mobile application is ideal for those trying out new words and sentences, without typical concerns about feeling self-conscious or making mistakes in front of other class members. Vocabulary includes various topics such as home, work, travel, food, families, social expressions and other important language areas. Many students who learn in this way find that with their enhanced knowledge and fluency, their job prospects improve.

So, given that mobiles are becoming so popular, how do we choose the best smartphone language learning app to make the most productive use of our time?

Portability of language learning apps: little and often

With new languages, regular practice is important; the maxim ‘little and often' works well. Smartphone language learning apps are one of the latest developments to help with the acquisition of new skills, marking a distinct change from the past where lessons were traditionally focused in a relatively formal classroom environment. Although formal teaching continues to play an important part in the educative system, modern technology means that students can now also take advantage of fresh methods to support their course objectives, using an interesting and exciting interface. An app on your phone is very portable and can be used wherever you go and whenever you want, even if you have only a few minutes spare to use productively to revise while waiting or travelling.

Listening skills are also easy to develop with e-learning; the new word or phrase can be repeated without human irritation. This neutral environment helps to make it easy to memorise and practise new words. Such mobile applications for smart phones and tablet PCs use well-established educational and vocabulary acquisition principles. Firstly, a subject item is introduced and new material is presented; then, the student learns the new word by repeating it. Another advantage is that e-learning and mobile assisted language learning (MALL) are available twenty-four hours a day, at the time and in the place of your choice – without any need to travel to where the class is held.

Several experts advise that second languages learning needs regular effort and practice over time. With a tablet or mobile application, each course section or individual lesson can be repeated once or as many times as you wish, simply and without fuss. Additionally, monthly subscriptions are also very affordable for almost everyone with a smartphone - especially when compared to travelling expenses (and time) in addition to tuition fees. Pricing varies, depending on the agreed duration of the contract.

 

 

Comparison of language learning apps

Here, we compare three different applications, with a summary of their main features.

Babbel.com
Babbel is free to try, with a small monthly fee applicable later. It is aimed at all levels from A1 (elementary) through to B2 (upper intermediate), making it suitable for starters and those progressing towards more advanced levels. Easy to handle and use, Babbel offers numerous lessons from its very ample resource bank. There is some degree of self-estimation of skills for the student, although no example sentences for context. These, however, could be checked in an online dictionary or other resource.


Busuu.com
Also aimed at student levels A1 through to B2, this app is free to try with a moderate monthly cost. This app has example sentences and many starter levels, with a large online community. However, there are fewer lessons than the more complete babbel.com, and also no repeat function.

Duolingo.com
Duolingo is free of charge and designed for groups of students, as it facilitates interactive communication. There is no paid content so the level and accuracy cannot always be ensured; it is therefore not as well suited for those studying at intermediate and more advanced levels.

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