Learn­ing lan­guages with a tap

From bite-sized ses­sions to gam­ing for­mats, learn­ing lan­guages on­line has be­come a con­ve­nient, fun-filled ex­er­cise.

Gadgets and Gizmos (India) - - CONTENTS - BY NIDHI SIN­GAL @nid­hisin­gal

Free apps and web­sites for learn­ing lan­guages

Ash­wani Gupta, an engi­neer­ing grad­u­ate, held an edge over his peers at the time of cam­pus re­cruit­ment. Dur­ing his daily com­mute, Gupta used to learn Ger­man us­ing an An­droid app called Duolingo and his lan­guage skill earned him a po­si­tion with a lead­ing Ger­man firm. In a con­nected, mul­ti­cul­tural world, speak­ing a for­eign lan­guage or two has a dis­tinct ad­van­tage as we tend to travel more, work glob­ally and of­ten in­ter­act with over­seas peo­ple. But is it re­ally worth in­vest­ing the time and the money? There is no need to trou­ble your­self as there are nu­mer­ous smart­phone apps and on­line tools that can trans­late speeches on the spot. On the other hand, global citizens have al­ways found it re­ward­ing “to know things”, es­pe­cially as lan­guages con­nect peo­ple with cul­tures. Sev­eral apps on Ap­ple and An­droid de­vices can help you learn any pop­u­lar or ex­otic lan­guage – from Ger­man, French and Spanish to Ja­panese and Man­darin Chi­nese – and smart learn­ers like Gupta are too keen to grab the op­por­tu­nity.

This has led to a boom in on­estop on­line lan­guage ser­vices across the globe, with the likes of Duolingo, Mem­rise, Rosetta Stone, Live Lin­gua, Spe­exx, Babbel, Busuu and many more chang­ing how lan­guages are Now iN the sec­oNd stage of de­vel­op­meNt, veN­dors iN­volved iN oN­liNe laN­guage learN­iNg are em­bed­diNg aN­a­lyt­ics to eN­sure ap­pro­pri­ate coN­teNt aNd cus­tomised learN­iNg ex­pe­ri­eNce learnt at in­di­vid­ual and cor­po­rate skilling lev­els. At times, the rapidly spread­ing pop cul­ture on YouTube also drives the growth. Take, for in­stance, the K-pop craze (Korean pop mu­sic and drama) and how it has at­tracted thou­sands of stu­dents in the US, Canada, Thai­land and Malaysia. In­vestors, too, are quick to iden­tify the new op­por­tu­nity as the on­line lan­guage learn­ing mar­ket is es­ti­mated to grow at a CAGR of 18.97 per cent dur­ing 2017-2021, ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search firm Tech­navio. As per its re­port, most ven­dors ini­tially fo­cussed on con­vert­ing tra­di­tional con­tent into dig­i­tal for­mat. Now in the next stage of de­vel­op­ment, they are em­bed­ding an­a­lyt­ics to en­sure ap­pro­pri­ate con­tent and cus­tomised learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

It is, there­fore, hardly sur­pris­ing that the likes of Kleiner Perkins,

Google Cap­i­tal, Ash­ton Kutcher and Tim Fer­riss have al­ready in­vested in Duolingo (the com­pany is val­ued at $700 mil­lion ). The Pitts­burgh-head­quar­tered start-up has built one of the most pop­u­lar lan­guage-learn­ing plat­forms based on a freemium model and serves up more than 70 cour­ses in 31 lan­guages to 200 mil­lion-plus global users via its app and web­site. In­stead of tra­di­tional learn­ing tech­niques, it of­fers 5-20 minute bite-sized learn­ing ses­sions us­ing graph­ics, voice and other tools.

The com­pany has de­signed lan­guage learn­ing as a re­ward­ing game, and at a later stage, a user can com­pete with friends, get points, level up and earn vir­tual cur­rency to spend on bonus items while learn­ing. You also get prac­tice ses­sions and here the chat­bot comes handy. For off­line ac­cess to classes and an ad-free expe- ri­ence, pay a monthly sub­scrip­tion and opt for Duolingo Plus.

Lon­don-based Mem­rise is an­other pop­u­lar plat­form that can help you learn a whole bunch of lan­guages such as Ja­panese, Spanish (Mex­ico), Korean, French, Ger­man, Chi­nese (sim­pli­fied), Ital­ian and more. Just reg­is­ter on the app and choose your level ( begin­ner or skilled), and you will be good to go. While it teaches ba­sic words and their pro­nun­ci­a­tions for free, the paid ver­sion (a dis­counted price of ` 395 for the first year) of­fers more fea­tures such as help from na­tive speak­ers via video ses­sions, con­ver­sa­tions with chat­bots and un­der­stand­ing gram­mat­i­cal nu­ances. Mem­rise pro­vides more than 150 cour­ses across 25 lan­guages and uses flash­cards as mem­ory aids.

In­ci­den­tally, there are plenty of YouTube videos that teach lan­guage ba­sics and also of­fer full cour­ses. But th­ese apps (and their web­sites) are more in­ter­ac­tive and of­ten press na­tive speak­ers into ser­vice to help you.

Hel­loTalk is one such plat­form that puts to­gether global part­ners to en­sure ease of learn­ing. For in­stance, I se­lected English as my na­tive lan­guage and wanted to learn Ja­panese. The app im­me­di­ately fetched a list of users who are flu­ent in Ja­panese and cur­rently learn­ing English. When you con­nect, chat and ex­change notes, your lan­guage skills are bound to im­prove.

Tan­dem is a sim­i­lar app that en­ables users to learn from and prac­tise with peo­ple across the globe. The app re­quests you to cre­ate a pro­file and asks three ba­sic ques­tions to find the best ‘lan­guage ex­change part­ners’ for you. It also gives an op­tion to se­lect the age group and the gen­der of the community mem­bers with whom you wish to in­ter­act.

Fi­nally, there is Busuu, a Lon­don­based firm that teaches lan­guages via its app and also awards cer­tifi­cates from McGraw-Hill Education when you fin­ish your course. It sup­ports as many as 12 lan­guages with cour­ses rang­ing from begin­ner to ad­vanced lev­els and fo­cusses on vo­cab­u­lary and con­ver­sa­tion builders. Such con­ver­sa­tion records are of­ten re­viewed and cor­rected by na­tive speak­ers. The free ver­sion of the app only pro­vides flash­cards for learn­ing but the sub­scrip­tion model, cost­ing ` 275 a month, gives ac­cess to off­line mode, gram­mar and vo­cab­u­lary lessons and an of­fi­cial cer­tifi­cate. When I used it for learn­ing Ja­panese, it came up with a list of pop­u­lar Ja­panese phrases, their pro­nun­ci­a­tion de­tails and spe­cial char­ac­ter pho­net­ics. That is, in­deed, very thor­ough and me­thod­i­cal when it comes to help­ing out be­gin­ners.

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