Language Learning in a Mobile World

With the advent of mobile technology and user apps, technology companies and users are increasingly invested in finding ways to incorporate everyday learning seamlessly into their daily routine. Learning a foreign language is one of the many areas where mobile apps are fast growing. The high demand for different languages and learning methods are the driving force to push mobile language learning apps into the consumer market. We will look into a few of these apps to understand what makes them good learning tools and how they work as friendly and accurate learning platforms for users.

When designing an app that is meant to teach, developers needed to understand how a learning environment works that can cater to different types of learners with various learning styles. According to Robert Godwin-Jones in Emerging Technologies: Mobile Apps for Language Learning, developers looked towards how foreign language teachers and educators teach in a physical classroom, and incorporated functions that mimic the same learning concepts used in a physical classroom setting. For instance, similar to a classroom, the apps contain phrase books, dictionaries, audio and visual tools to help users have a familiar anchor when learning with the apps.

   duolingo screen shot

One example of a popular foreign language learning app is Duolingo. Users can easily download the app, register for an account or use an existing social media account, and select which languages to learn. Although, Duolingo doesn’t have a wide selection of languages, it does have many of the popular ones, like German, French, and Spanish. In designing an app that can meet novice users’ needs and expectations, Duolingo uses not only memorization and grammar rules, but also tests users’ abilities to translate, write, and vocalize the new language they are learning. The interface provides users the ability to recreate an environment similar to a traditional classroom setting. The app also allows users to enter into a gaming mode where they are tested on speed and accuracy. In an added benefit for those who wish to challenge their language skills, Duolingo also has a website where learners can also connect with native speakers to understand the nuances of the language. Best of all it is free.


Another similar app is Babbel, which like Duolingo, allows users to learn by starting with small simple phrases and gradually progressing to more challenging concepts. While the language selection is more comprehensive, Babbel does come with a monthly subscription starting at $11. What’s different is that Babbel includes a pronunciation scale that allows users to gauge whether or not they are saying the words and phrases correctly. According to user reviews on Tech Forum, many argue that Babbel doesn’t offer a very comprehensive coverage of a language, but is good for travelers who need a quick and handy tool to navigate a trip in a foreign country. 


Drawing from language educators and study-abroad foreign language programs, the most comprehensive way of learning a language is complete immersion. Perhaps the only software and web service that can match that is Rosetta Stone, where learners are taught to only think and engage with the new language. The driving principle behind Rosetta Stone is eliminating the process of mentally translating from the user’s native language to the new language. By creating an environment where users are encouraged to use intuition and context clues to learn a new language, Rosetta Stone has been successful in creating the complete immersion experience that native speakers have.

While language learning apps have not yet reached the potential to replace a standard learning curriculum, they are very handy in getting started and also brushing up on the basics. Using a mobile platform that is user friendly and easy to access, many of these apps have taken cues from teachers and educators to create an environment that’s familiar and instructive that also caters to individual user needs.