Can you really learn a language with an app? Study says…

Have you tried learning a new language with one of those language apps? Does it work? Are you more proficient in that language?

People have apparently been asking the question of how effective language learning applications are, now that more and more people are using them. These apps include Duolingo and Babbel, and they are e-learning platofroms that allow users to study a new language from anywhere at any time, and may offer paid and free options.

If you’re wondering whether they’ll actually help you learn a new language, Shawn Loewen, the director of the Second Language Studies program at Michigan State University, set out to find the answer to this.

Loewen, and graduate student, Daniel Isbell, conducted a study using Babbel to see if it really could teach a new language.

“Despite the fact that millions globally are already using language learning apps, there is a lack of published research on their impact on speaking skills,” Loewen said. “There are virtually no other studies that have investigated mobile language learning apps in a quasi-experimental way. Therefore, this robust and methodologically rigorous study makes an important contribution to the field.”

In the study, participants used Babbel for 12 weeks to learn Spanish. At the beginning of the 12 weeks, the subjects took a pre-test to assess their existing oral proficiency, vocabulary and grammar in Spanish. At the end of the 12 weeks, the 54 students who completed all study requirements took the test again to see how much they had learned.

Nearly everyone who completed the requirements improved in their Spanish language knowledge and oral proficiency after 12 weeks of using Babbel.

“On the whole, learners in this study increased their oral proficiency, as measured by an improvement on a well-established and valid speaking test, the Oral Proficiency Interview,” Loewen said. “These results establish that using Babbel can facilitate the development of oral communication skills and not just grammar and vocabulary acquisition, as a previous study had demonstrated.”

Fifty-nine per cent of participants improved oral proficiency by at least one sublevel on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages proficiency scale. And, as one might expect, the more time one spent with the app, the better they got. Among users who studied at least six hours, 69% increased at least one sublevel, and that rose to 75% for those who studied for at least 15 hours. Thirty-six per cent of those who started the study quit before the end.

The key takeaway is this: if you want to learn something, you have to stick with it and put in the necessary effort.

Research has found that fluency in more than one language may improve multitasking ability, creativity, and problem solving. Proficiency in a second language may also improve your chances of being hired and earning potential.

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