Can you learn a language on your smartphone?

Lady sitting down on her phone smiling

Planning your holiday abroad for this year? Learn the language too.

We carry our smartphones with us everywhere. Whether we’re on a long commute on public transport or standing in a queue, sitting in the doctors waiting room or simply sitting at home, our phones are never far from our grasp, so it goes without saying that most smartphone users are using their phones for more and more activities. iPhone’s screen time function can give us an accurate assessment of just how much and the figures can be quite shocking. According to recent research, the average smartphone user spends three hours and 15 minutes a day using their phone. Over the whole year that’s nearly 50 days!

Now, much of that time might be productive, such as checking emails or perhaps carrying out a bit of online banking, but it’s the rare smartphone user who doesn’t find themselves lost in a trawl through social media or wandering through endless repetitive news feeds. So the question is, how to make better, more productive use of those hours of screen-time? Now there are plenty of brain-stretching apps out there but what about something that actually equips you with a useful real-world skill? Well, this is where language learning apps come in, and it’s certainly a growth market, with products like Rosetta Stone, Memrise, Babbel and the smartphone market leader, Duolingo.

Duolingo

With over 300 million users worldwide, 25 million monthly users and online courses in over 30 languages, Duolingo is, without doubt, the most successful and popular language learning app. It’s available on both iPhone and Android it, of course, includes such popular and widely spoken languages like English, Spanish and French, but also more niche tongues. In fact for the imaginatively minded it also offers the fictional languages of Klingon and High Valerian, perhaps not that useful on your travels, learning these will certainly exercise your cognitive powers.

Duolingo

How does it work?

Duolingo itself claims that 34 hours on the app is the equivalent of a term-long college course, but what are the key features to its popularity and effectiveness? Firstly Duolingo works by gamifying the language learning process. Smartphone and computer users who have grown used to the game environment of challenge and reward will feel very at home in this interface. This process of point-scoring, or in Duolingo’s case crown collecting, encourages learners to progress further through the app’s learning tree, stimulating the sort of addictive behaviour that is seen in the gaming world only this time it’s a positive educational strategy.

Secondly, Duolingo also allows learners to progress at their own pace. Units can be tackled in small five minute chunks if time is pressing, but the structure also allows for in-depth marathon learning sessions, perfect for that long and delayed commute. Language learners can also repeat individual lessons or an entire unit if they feel they need more practice in an area, whilst at the same time, Duolingo allows advanced students to test out of their skills set or level if they can show the required proficiency.

So if your screen time is mounting up and you are finding it hard to account for where the time is gone, perhaps a language learning app might be for you.  You can find Duolingo in your smartphone’s app store.

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