With new language apps, you too can be a polyglot

Kylie Yamada, Feature Editor

For years, language-learning was an area of study only conducted in classrooms and with the help of expensive programs like Rosetta Stone. Today, however, anyone can learn simple vocabulary with a click of a button.
Students may choose to learn a new language for a variety of reasons: for school, for fun or as a way to reconnect with their culture.

“I’m learning Spanish, Portuguese and French because they’re easier to learn after four years of Spanish, and my family is from Brazil and I’m determined to speak it,” senior Vanessa Moraes said. “[New languages] can really help with language barriers and even employment.”

One of the most popular apps for learning a new language is Duolingo, which is focused on supplying language knowledge in the form of vocabulary lessons with short grammar rules included. A user can begin with either a placement test or with Basics 1, an introduction to simple words such as “girl.”

Bilingual users of Duolingo can contribute to new language courses which are “hatching,” or incomplete. Eventually, a course can reach beta testing and then be released to the public at large.

“Duolingo works because it really stresses on the conversation aspect of languages,” senior Ashley Ricafrente said. “It’s also open to any level of fluency. You could be a complete beginner or somewhat fluent and the lessons will adjust to your fluency through tests.”

One weakness of Duolingo is its limited range of languages offered. Many widely spoken languages which use a non-Latin script, including Bengali and Korean, are still in development due to both software restrictions and a lack of user contributions. In that aspect, Memrise offers a strong competition for Duolingo.

Memrise follows a similar format as Duolingo, but with a stronger community of user-submitted content. In addition to the 25 languages officially offered by the app, users can upload vocabulary sets for additional languages, including Tagalog, Choctaw, and Klingon.

Memrise and Duolingo each follow a trend in apps: the “gamification” of education. Both apps offer rewards for maintaining a streak of daily use of the apps. Memrise gives the user a slight point bonus; Duolingo gives extra “lingots” which can be used as points to purchase smaller lessons such as flirting.

HelloTalk follows a different model than Memrise and Duolingo. Instead, it functions as a social media chatroom where language learners can meet with native speakers of their “target language,” the language they are studying.

Part of the intention behind HelloTalk is to immerse users in their target language in an imitation of traveling to a foreign country and speaking to native speakers there. Immersion is believed to be one of the most effective methods for achieving fluency, because it allows students to receive criticism from a native speaker.

“I memorized lyrics, I’d spit them back out, and I would just try to chat with native speakers, once a week, once a month,” TEDxTeen speaker Timothy Doner said at his presentation in 2014. “I’ve got that, incrementally, I started to understand a lot more.”

Doner, at age 21 is considered one of the youngest “polyglots,” a person who speaks five or more languages, ever. In his 2014 TedxTeen talk “Breaking the Language Barrier,” he discusses how language learning can be beneficial, helpful and fun for all involved — no matter how young.