Learn and Speak languages with native speakers

How the use of apps and voice tools has improved the way we study languages

How can apps help us to learn foreign languages

by Racheal Smith

Learning anything in today’s world is not limited to the four walls of a classroom. Technology extends learning of every subject to wherever the curious question and explore.  In language teaching, technology has nothing short of revolutionised study.  It no longer needs to be a case of learning lists of verbs from a piece of paper, repeating them to the mirror.  Technology makes learning languages real and live and accessible anywhere in the globe.
Let’s start with the humble video app on your smart phone.  Imagine being able to video and replay conversations held in your target language.  You could even record yourself, making sure of your pronunciation and grammar by revisiting what you have learnt and improve upon any weaknesses. But, with video, you can also make the learning of language fun.  You can encourage students to put together news reports in the native language or you can get them to come up with an ad or a music video – all in the target language.  The act of creativity gives students to have fun whilst learning, which is much better than just trying to sit and remember verb forms!

language tools

Watching foreign-language films on tablets and computers is also an excellent way for students to immerse themselves in language.  The best teachers run extra-curricular film clubs for those wanting to learn languages from modern culture.
You don’t have to video yourself to be able to practice and then reflect on your language ability.  You can use the voice record tool on a smart phone to record key phrases and listen to these again and again.  You could even get a native speaker to say key phrases that you can then use as a revision tool – straight from your phone or tablet.

However, the study of languages is about reading and writing, as well as speaking and listening.  Therefore, there is a role for apps like Facebook and Twitter. They have a massive part to play in language learning.  It is now incredibly easy for teachers to set up real-life interactions in the target language – in a forum where the student feels most confident to interaction.  Learners of languages can also join groups or follow people who they have a specific interest in.  This makes learning that much more relevant and interesting.

If you are worried about using social media with students, it may be that you opt for the straight forward use of email or messenger.  This allows you to connect two people, one a native speaker and one a learner and contain the interactions the two people have.  Social Media may present a lot of opportunities but also a lot of distractions that some teachers find difficult – as well as potential safeguarding issues of unrestricted access to a global audience.

Skype is another app that can help with language learning.  There is the chance to connect with native speakers, to share your screen so you can show supporting text and share instant chat.  Some say learning via an app like Skype is easier than being taught in person, as the anonymity and or distance of being hidden behind a screen makes it safer to speak and try new vocabulary or grammar structures.
Skype is a useful tool not only for having cheap phone sex in a foreign language, but also because the person you connect with can actually live in the country of the language you are trying to learn, and so boost your chances of improving the accent.  It is fine learning from a proficient language teacher but listening to the accents, dialect and idiolect of a native speaker gives you the chance to learn what it is really like to communicate in that language.

There are language learning apps that take over the role of the teacher completely.  They offer exercises and encourage responses – even oral responses that the tablet or phone can listen to and comment on.  These apps can be accessed anywhere by anyone, making it easier than ever to learn a new language. 
There are also translation apps and in-ear technology that allows you to speak into your device and have what you said turned into the target language.  Google Translate is the obvious example of this but there are others.  Translation of voice spoken communication can also be immediately transcribe into written text.  There seems to be huge problems with this technology when it first arrived – as if the person’s accent was too difficult to hear by the computer or smart phone – then the translation was likely inaccurate.  However, creative teachers can use the potential mistranslation of these apps as a learning experience in itself – exploring why they grammar or vocabulary choice is wrong and then presenting the accurate translation.

language learning apps

Language teaching has come a long way from the pen, paper, thesaurus and dictionary of the say and repeat classroom.  Technology has made language learning more exciting – obviously – like in many subjects.  It helps to make the strategies employed more varied and helps the teacher personalise the experience of language learning.  However, there are times when you may want to step away from technology because it is not the most effective way of learning.  This is where a skilful teacher understands that the tech is a tool and not a means of teaching by itself.

Technology is more effective for language teaching more than any other subject because of the need to interact in language learning. It is better to interact with people who are native speakers of the target language and technology facilitates this connection.  This is what is so exciting about technology and languages – the globe becomes much smaller and it is easy enough now to speak to someone in China then it is to speak to your partner in a classroom.  Technology also provides realistic texts and scenarios that students would need when learning a language.

Overall, technology in language learning has clearly been a massive bonus.  It has increased the independence of students and made it exciting again.  The best teachers will still only use it when it helps – but this is a lot of the time!