Did you know that your smartphone has more computing power than the computers NASA is going to use to put men on Mars?
Now, I’m not saying that you should get some rocket fuel and land a command module on Mars or something.
I’m suggesting that we ask the question, “What else could your phone do?”
I mean, besides capturing cool Snapchat videos and stuff.
It doesn’t just outshine NASA computers, it has totally replaced and outdated the old school language laboratory. In a way, your phone can offer you a complete language lab.
What used to be a whole room in the ’60s and ’70s, and one only found in top schools and universities at that, you now have in your hands. Yep, with your phone you can download language lab applications that will teach you French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and more.
You can do this for the low, low price of $0, or at a price so low they might as well give it all away. But such are our times, and the temptation from all sides can be too great. In fact, who hasn’t experienced episodes of app gluttony, downloading every free app in sight? Yeah, you know what I mean.
So, before I give you five amazing apps to download, I’m going to give you some bonus tips for getting started with using them.
How to Make the Most Out of Those Apps on Your Phone
1. The 2-Minute Routine
A common excuse for not even beginning with a language app is, “I just don’t have time for it right now.”
Maybe you were enthralled by the reviews and so you downloaded it. But you just can’t bring yourself to begin. The reason is we too often think that we need to invest a troubling amount of time in order to use an app effectively and explore all its features.
The truth is that apps are designed so that you can use them and sign out of them very easily. You don’t need to block even a half hour for that. You just need two minutes. (And who doesn’t have two minutes?)
The key here is dividing your learning time into manageable chunks so they don’t look so formidable. Hey, you can eat a whole elephant if you do it one bite at a time. It will take you a little bit longer, sure, but in time you’ll finish the whole thing! In the same manner, a whole language can be acquired using your phone to practice just a few words at a time.
You’re standing in line at a coffee shop. Boom! Get a quick glance of the app. You’re waiting for a movie to load. Boom! You’re sitting on the toilet. Boom! You play half a game of Hangman in Italian. You don’t need anything longer than two minutes.
But you have to be consistent. That means you need to do this every day. And you have to actively look for opportunities to break out the app of your choice.
Two minutes. That’s not an unreasonable imposition on your brain, is it? It’s doable. It’s easy. It’s so pithy and painless. It’s these things that are key. “It’s so easy, I think I’m gonna do it.”
But you’ll notice that, over time, you’re spending longer and longer periods using the app. You not only get good at the lessons, you’re beginning to be good at the language.
So, start small. Always start small.
2. Tap Before You Nap
When you get to bed, do you immediately go into coma mode and sleep? No, right? You’ve usually still got a few more minutes in the tank (considerably more for some). So why not use this time for language learning? And why not get into those apps that don’t get enough quality time during the day?
It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out affair, just tap a few pages, see what it’s all about and play some games. Don’t think of it as, “Okay, I’m learning a new language here. Time to be serious. Time to go into beast mode on this thing.”
Nope. If you’re thinking that, then maybe that’s why you’ve always found a reason to skip those apps you downloaded.
Just have fun with! Don’t worry about scores or stars or brownie points, even if the app strongly advertises them and tries to entice you with them. Don’t even think of trying to finish the whole course before you sleep. Don’t even try. It’s thinking like this that cools down your motivation.
Combined with the previous tip, this tip can really help you get a lot going in two weeks. Imagine the difference between 30 minutes and 0 minutes learning time. Imagine how much better with the language you’re going to be in two weeks with just two minutes and simply by tapping before sleeping?
3. Celebrate the Little Achievements
You want to increase your motivation? Celebrate your little achievements with the app. You finished a game? Got majority of the answers correct in a little quiz? Don’t shrug it off as if it’s nothing. Celebrate it!
Celebrate milestones, even if they’re mini-milestones. You were consistent with the 2-minute routine this week? Reward yourself with a Rom-Com or a Dr. Who episode.
And this is important, you always have to remember, you always have to keep this in your head that you’re doing this as a reward for your efforts with the app. There’s no motivation or sense of achievement felt when as you’re watching the chick flick or eating your cake you’re thinking, “I could’ve done this even without getting into that thing.” Fail.
You have to associate or anchor the app with the beautiful and rewarding things in your life so that the next time you crave for an indulgent slice of blueberry cheesecake, you feel an unexplained need to drop everything and spend a few minutes with the language lab app. (Wink! Wink!)
4. Limit Your Downloads to 2-3
Okay, just because it’s cheap or free doesn’t mean you have to download it. Otherwise you risk overloading your memory, slowing down everything and eating up your data plan way too fast. That’s why I’ve filtered the best language lab apps for you here so you can limit your downloads.
Remember: Downloading is different from actually using the app. Just because it’s there in your phone doesn’t mean it’s doing you any good. It could be gathering digital dust. You could even forget that it’s there in the first place.
So limit your downloads to 2-3 apps at a time. Two is just plenty, three is the limit. Beyond that, you’re going to end up spreading yourself too thinly. If you discipline yourself and limit the downloads, the whole language learning landscape doesn’t look so confusing and insurmountable.
Don’t worry, all the apps will still be there when you’re done with a set. You’ll get your hands on some new ones later. But for now, stick with three.
This is again about utilizing manageable chunks when learning a new language.
5. Play the Apps Against Each Other
Okay, so now you got the 2-3 apps. What to do? What to do?
You play the apps against each other!
To avoid app fatigue, alternate your use of 2-3 apps. You can set your own schedule for this. Maybe this week you’ll explore app #1, and then next week you take on app #2. Or, you can do it every other day. The schedule depends on you, but the important thing to remember is that you don’t overuse the language lab app to the point of you getting sick of it.
So if you think you need a new set of colors or icons, or a different kind of game or a different kind of media, then it’s time to make the switch.
Let’s say you’re sick of audio. Then go to FluentU and pay attention to the videos and interactive learning games for a while.
By playing the apps against each other, you’ll not only avoid app fatigue, you’ll also be able to appreciate the strengths of each language lab app. Perhaps you like this one because it has a better interface, but you like this other one because it has really clear examples, etc.
When you’re able to move back and forth, you’ll know where to look when you have a language learning pang. Let’s say you feel like you’re in the the mood for vocabulary lessons. After you’ve explored all your apps, you’ll know which one is best for vocabulary day.
Playing the apps against each other and picking out their best features ensures that your learning is consistent and on the up and up. You rarely have those days when nothing seems to be clicking because you know just the perfect app for your needs.
Okay, now that we’ve got that covered, I’m going to give you five language lab apps that should be sitting in your phone in the next few minutes.
5 Language Lab Apps That Harness the Power of Modern Science and Technology
Language Nut is what you get when you have passionate language teachers develop a language lab app.
Although Language Nut was originally designed as an in-class material to help teachers and their students, individual learners can enjoy their awesome graphics and fun lessons and games. The lessons come in topically-arranged categories and you’ll get lessons like: Me & My Family, Numbers & Time, Animals, Environment, Food, Music, School, Town and more.
You’ll also have stories and grammar lessons. Language Nut has games that improve speaking, listening, reading and even writing. If you love Tic Tac Toe, they have an educational version of that too!
It’s very hard not to get hooked on this app, and it transports a real, live language class directly to your phone. You’ll feel like you’re seated in a language learning lab at a college or university!
Videos are very effective tools in learning language. FluentU knows this, and the team behind this program went and did something extraordinary to videos.
Mind you, they’ve got you, the language learner, in mind while working their video magic!
They take an ordinary clip, say, a nursery song about numbers, and then make it completely approachable for every level of language learners.
FluentU embeds interactive transcripts in the videos that inevitably turn them into mini language lessons. So, not only are you following the transcript and the nursery rhyme, but each time you don’t understand a word on the transcript you can simply tap on it to look it up. You’re given the 411 on that word. Boom! Learned.
After watching a clip, FluentU’s Learn Mode feature provides a vocabulary review by quizzing you on specific words and phrases presented in the video through a variety of dynamic activities. You can even see how every word is used in other authentic video clips across the site.
FluentU houses the largest collection of language learning videos, interviews, newscasts, movie trailers, you name it. They’re not only interesting, inspiring and informative videos, but the authentic clips often showcase the culture involved. What more could you ask for?
There are curated videos for every level of learner, and you can set your language level at the beginning so the app can automatically figure out which videos are best for you. Cool!
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or from the Google Play store to access material on your Android and iOS devices.
Language Lab (McGraw-Hill)
McGraw-Hill’s Language Lab App contains hundreds of flashcards, exercises and even audio recordings used to support the bestselling books of the company. In the French language program, for example, the app houses the collected flashcards and exercises from books like: “Easy French Reader,” “Complete French All-In-One,” “Complete French Grammar,” “French Reading and Comprehension,” etc.
But just because the app content is based on textbooks doesn’t mean that you have to buy the books in order to take advantage of this.
The interface is elegantly simple and true to its flashcard roots. After selecting your target language, you’re led to different sets of flashcards to choose from. Once you tap, you’ll be shown the first word. If you see the words le fromage, for example, you’ll need to verbally (or just silently) guess the translation written on the other side. Once you’ve given your answer, click and the card will be flipped, revealing the answer (cheese).
Now, this app operates on “Honesty Is the Best Policy,” and you’ll have to tap “Got It” if you got the correct answer and “Missed It” if not. If you miss an item, it’ll remain on the deck and will soon return to test you. The test will continue until you click “Got It” on all the cards.
If you see someone on the train discretely whispering “Cheese…” while looking down at their phone, they’re probably doing one of Language Lab’s exercises.
How ‘bout feeding your brain with an award-winning app loved by millions? Because that’s what their tagline says you’ll find here.
Mindsnacks is a game-based language learning app that proposes countless hours of edutainment for its users. Its features games like “Slider,” where you help a penguin from sliding into the ocean by putting together letters, words or phrases in the correct order. In the game “Belly,” you help a frog get his lunch by tapping on the correct image that represents the word or phrase given.
The Mindsnacks App is perfect for the absolute beginners up to intermediate learners trying to firm up on previous knowledge. There are about 1000 vocabulary words and phrases spread out over 50 lessons.
And just to up the ante, the app features quests where you can collect achievements and level up your avatar. (You begin as an egg.) So you can be apprised of your performance, your profile reflects how good you’re doing in the quests and games, detailing stats about your speed and accuracy.
So if gaming is your game, Mindsnacks is the name.
Rosetta Stone Language Course
The real-life “Rosetta Stone” was a large chunk of stone discovered in Rosetta, Egypt in 1799 by French soldiers trying to rebuild a fort. It contained translated writings in both Egyptian and Greek, using three different scripts.
Today’s Rosetta Stone learning program is one of the most established language learning companies offering courses not only in major languages but even Farsi, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Turkish. The lineup of Rosetta Stone courses includes: Rosetta Course, Totale Companion, Totale Studio, Rosetta Stone (Travel App) and Rosetta Stone (Kids’ Lingo Letter Sounds).
I saved the Rosetta for last, not only because of its hefty price, but because, out of all the other products, this one probably requires the most investment in time. So, this app is probably the one where you could put to good use the tips I dished out earlier.
The course has similar material and activities that the other apps have (typing exercises, listening exercises, matching exercises), but this one probably has more content than any other. That said, you won’t finish a Rosetta Course over the weekend, or before getting the latte you ordered. Rosetta is a long-term companion, it isn’t a language fling.
It also stands out in that Rosetta Stone courses don’t use anything save the target language. So, no English on this side of the app world. They also don’t explain points of grammar—you have to figure it all out by immersion and context. The difference between the Spanish la and el? You’ll have to figure it out on the fly, or learn intuitively by repetition.
So why is the program included here?
Because if you do the exercises, if you commit yourself to the course, if you get into the trenches and tango with the language, the Rosetta Stone app will work! Simple as that. The course will reward you with a new language if you get your heart into it.
So, there you go. Five apps for your phone, tablet or computer. Take your sweet time enjoying and savoring them. Don’t worry, don’t hurry, everything will be fine. You’ll get there.
And don’t forget the five tips I’ve given in the opening of this post. They’re not only good for learning a new language, they’ll work for many other areas of your life.
And to celebrate that you’ve finished reading this post, why don’t you go get yourself a bowl of ice cream?
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.