Language is about communication and it makes sense that there are language learning apps that offer a social aspect. Being able to chat with someone in your target language is the best way to improve fluency and confidence. Your language partner will also introduce you to new words and phrases and teach you more about their culture along the way.
Some entrepreneurs have come up with innovative and exciting ways of connecting members of the language learning community including learners and tutors.
If you want to take your foreign language abilities beyond ‘two beers please’, and make new friends along the way, PhraseMates could be just the ticket (Do you know how to translate ‘just the ticket’ into your chosen second language?)
PhraseMates is a constantly growing encyclopedia of phrases in English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Farsi and Khuzdul.
Not only is the list of phrases growing, but the available languages is expanding too.
Users can teach each other new phrases and add them to the list for others to enjoy. If you discover some phrases you love, you can add them to your favourites list for quick access.
Whilst you will discover an abundance of useful phrases, you are also likely to find some highly entertaining idiomatic ones. This is the kind of stuff that you just don’t learn through formal training. On the other hand, it’s the way the locals talk. Learn a few choice phrases and you’ll find yourself a hit with the natives!
More of a language exchange website/app, Speaky hosts a huge database of users interested in helping each other learn their respective languages. You can filter other users by language, age range, gender and so on. In the messenger window, a rather nifty editing function lets you make corrections to your conversation partners’ sentences.
Although Speaky itself does not offer any language teaching, it is an excellent resource for those students who have reached the intermediate stage of learning a language and need exposure to natural conversation with native speakers.
With an emphasis on making language acquisition fun, Duolingo gamifies the learning experience. As you complete tasks, you progress through levels, winning points and currency that can be exchanged for things like lessons in idioms and more.
Unlike other apps that let you make friends with people you’ve never met before, Duolingo only offers the facility to connect with people you already know. If you have a competitive nature, this is useful, as you can compare your progress with that of your friends.
Another pure language exchange site, Tandem connects language learners with one another. In some ways though, it is better than similar sites because users can actually post topics for discussion. This is great for narrowing down your list of ‘friends’. If someone says they want to talk about cricket and you’d rather discuss crochet, you can save a bit of time.
For learners looking for tuition, Tandem also provides an extensive tutor list. Although there is a fee, which varies depending on the length of the lessons, this is a fantastic facility for learners who want to perfect their language or perhaps learn specific vocabulary for business or certain hobbies.
The focus of italki is on hooking up learners with tutors. The site’s huge database of teachers means that users can choose between a range of languages, prices, schedules, and teaching styles. You also have the option of professional or informal tutors. The professional ones are certified and, as you would expect, users have to pay for their services. Alternatively, informal tutors teach for pleasure. Whilst they may well be good at teaching, they have no teaching qualifications.
Apart from the tutors, there is also an active community of language learners, so you have several learning options depending on your needs.
The human touch
The social side of these apps is crucial to language acquisition. Whilst digital technologies offer incredible benefits to language learners, it must be remembered that people learn foreign languages so that they can talk to other people. This is one reason why classes continue to thrive. People can take part in role play, obtain clarification on on points of grammar, and put their online lessons into practice in a friendly and supportive group.