The latest on travel, languages and culture by EF Education First
Menu

Why an app isn’t enough to master a language

Why an app isn’t enough to master a language

In an age when we’re permanently glued to our phones, there is an app for pretty much everything – even learning a new language! And, as the true value of speaking multiple languages is increasingly understood (think: great job and travel opportunities), language-learning apps have become a popular choice for aspiring bilinguals.

App-learning certainly has its advantages. There’s the opportunity for learning through gamification, for example. By creating games around necessary tasks like memorizing vocabulary or using grammar correctly, apps can make learning can feel less like a chore and more like fun. Because who doesn’t love bright colours, goofy gimmicks and chirpy celebration sounds?

They are also at your fingertips – literally. Most of us will barely even go to the bathroom without taking our phones. This means you’re hardly required to change your habits. Without the need to go to class, you simply switch from sitting on the sofa scrolling through Instagram to sitting on the sofa learning basic phrases in French or Spanish.

Apps are great place to start—but not to finish

When it comes to learning to read and understanding text, especially if the language uses a different alphabet to your own, these apps can help you hit the ground running. They’ve been tried and tested. If you regularly put the time in with an app, you’ll almost certainly see your understanding of your chosen language’s lexicon, syntax and grammar improve. (Which is hard not to do, with their near-constant notification reminders.)

But can an app really, and I mean really, make you fluent in another language?

Well, no.

Fluency is rooted in culture and immersion

Now, I’m not saying that these two learning styles can’t co-exist. They can both have a valuable place in your learning journey. Using a language-learning app can help you kick-start and practise your reading and writing skills. Which are essential: the very foundations for your learning. But being an active part of a conversation in another language means taking your skills to the next level – a level that’s essential to master if you want to become fluent. Even with voice-recognition games and algorithms designed to personalise your learning experience, apps can’t teach you to react to the unpredictability of real-life situations beyond those simulated in the digital lessons.

So, once you and your tired thumbs have got the basics covered, it’s time to find your passport! It’s the experience of learning abroad, living with native speakers and truly navigating everyday life in another language, that’ll most help you achieve fluency.

When it comes to building life-long language skills, it’s clear that language immersion leads to especially effective learning. And as you don’t actually get language immersion by using an app, the best way to get this is to take language classes – international-style.

Practicing in situ has its perks

The logic here is pretty simple. By studying abroad, you get a far better grasp of the language in context by also gaining a deeper understanding of the culture. When you’re completely immersed in the language, you’re forced to practice your budding linguistic abilities at all times and in every situation: chatting at home with your host family; using public transport to get to class; even choosing or purchasing goods on your weekly groceries shop. These real conversations help you to describe situations, your feelings and opinions in greater depth, and also to respond quickly and effectively in meaningful conversations.

1. You’ll meet new people abroad

By signing up for an international course, You’re surrounded by friendly people with the same learning goals who will face the same challenges as you, making them the perfect study buddies, practice partners and supportive friends. Plus, in group-learning experiences, you’ll be able to learn from your classmates’ mistakes as well as your own.

2. There are endless conversation partners

By interacting with native speakers from different generations and regions, you’ll practice conversation with varied accents, cultural experiences, making you a more effective communicator in the long term. It also gives you the best shot at perfecting your accent. When you’re completely surrounded by the language, you’ll soon develop a keen ear for it!

3. Casual chats will take you beyond the books

Language evolves at breakneck speed, too. Apps can’t teach you the latest colloquialisms or slang. Nor will it demonstrate the correct inflexions and delivery required to give it the intended meaning. (Apps aren’t not known for their sarcasm or comedic timing!) But you know what will? Kicking it with your peers in real life. And that’ll sure as heck make better memories.

There are many factors that go into learning a language, getting a firmer grasp on the grammar and vocab is only the first step. Putting down your phone and talking to the people around you will carry you through to fluency. Because really, do we need any more screen-time, anyway?

Tackle a new language abroadLearn more

Share this article

Latest articles from Language learning