How can an alligator in your bedroom help you learn a language?
Is there really anything a robot companion can do to get you to improve?
And, more importantly, is all this worth paying for?
It’s based around a combination of daily lessons focused on games and translations into your language, a chatbot and unique augmented reality features.
But is it worth the hype? We delve into the main features in this Mondly review and then take a look at what the program does well—as well as what needs improvement.
An Honest Review of Mondly: Tech as Learning Aid or Gimmick?
The Key Principles of Mondly
Like many other language apps you can carry in your pocket, Mondly places an emphasis on short but frequent lessons. It prepares a “daily lesson” for you, with sentences and new vocabulary that you can learn in your target language. Everything you learn is then recapped at the end of the class, and you can go back and review it at a later point.
What’s more, you get daily reminders as notifications. You can set these to appear at a time convenient to you. So, if you prefer to learn first thing in the morning, you can ask the app to remind you at 7 a.m.; on the other hand, if you want to do some studying on your lunch break at work, set it to 1 p.m.
As you continue your language learning journey, Mondly keeps you informed of how well you’ve been maintaining your daily study regimen.
Translation into your L1
Unlike methods of learning which focus purely on the target language, Mondly encourages you to learn to translate between your mother tongue or a language you already speak well and the language you want to learn.
This is done through a mixture of typing, speaking and choosing words from a list. You can also hear the words spoken in your target language so that you start to associate the written word with the spoken one.
In practice, this means that it’s a little bit easier to get into learning than it otherwise would be. Mondly prides itself on having a large number of options for the base language, and you’ll find yourself processing the information well, especially at the early stages.
Variety of learning methods
We all know that learning a new language can feel like a bit of a slog at times. That’s why mixing it up is important!
Mondly’s model combines daily lessons tailored for you with a “pathway” through the various topics and levels involved in learning a new language. This is combined with innovative features such as the augmented reality lessons and a chatbot.
We’ll go into more detail about each of these below, but the beauty of Mondly is in their combination. You’re never using the exact same method all the time, so you won’t get bored!
The way Mondly gets you to keep up your language practice is by providing you with daily lessons. Each day, you’ll get a notification reminding you that your lesson is available.
Through “game-like” exercises, you’re introduced to new vocabulary and relevant phrases for a given topic. For instance, you might have a daily lesson about travel, in which case you’ll learn the words for “airport,” “passport” and a way of saying “I am here on business.” At the end of the lesson, you’re reminded of the new words and phrases you learned in that session.
For those who have used an app like Duolingo, these daily lessons look very familiar. In fact, the format and style of the lessons are almost exactly the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s a format that works. But what makes Mondly more unique? That’s where the other features come in.
The language learning chatbot is designed to emulate a conversation, giving you a chance to put the language you’re learning into practice.
The app gives you a virtual interlocutor and you’re invited to respond to conversational prompts, such as a general greeting or a restaurant role-play. Mondly suggests some responses to these, but it’ll also accept other correct replies.
Although the conversations themselves are far from realistic, the speech-to-text functionality in Mondly is pretty good, allowing for this to be enjoyable rather than a chore. At first, you can just go with the suggested responses, but it’s nice to try and think about what else you could say, too!
This function is a big selling point for Mondly. Using augmented reality technology, you can generate a CGI teacher in your office, living room or wherever!
Your teacher will speak to you in your language, before conjuring objects to teach you about them. The first lesson is about animals, and she makes a big impression by appearing to create a lion out of thin air.
Some elements of this feature aren’t bad. While just giving you the names of animals and the like is nothing groundbreaking, you can approach them and see vocabulary, for example, for different body parts and related vocabulary with a visual aid.
This means you can learn the word for “nose” while seeing it on the nose of a lion. I first checked out Mondly a while ago, and I still remember that il becco is “beak” in Italian thanks to a cute computer-generated chicken!
Having said that, the augmented reality in Mondly, unfortunately, feels more like a gimmick than an effective learning tool. The lessons can’t really be halted and resumed at will, making them less effective if you’re pushed for time.
Meanwhile, the robotic voice and smooth features of your new lecturer make the whole experience quite uncanny!
The Pros of Mondly
There are definitely a few things going on in Mondly that make it worthy of some investigation if you’re keen to use your smartphone to help you learn.
Innovative features to keep you interested
Language learning software is an increasingly competitive field, so even when it doesn’t quite hit the mark, it’s good to see the developers of Mondly being somewhat innovative in their features.
There’s a certain “wow” factor to the augmented reality and a real bonus that it works in every language, while the chat features and effective speech-to-text software make for a varied and engaging experience.
By completing lessons in Mondly, you earn points. These affect your place on a leaderboard, both against all other users in the world and any of your friends who you may have on the app.
A bit of competitive spirit helps get things going, so there’s nothing like sitting below your colleague in the table to motivate you to do a few more lessons!
A large array of source and target languages
Mondly boasts 33 languages, all of which can be used as either source or target languages. That means it’s just as easy to be a French speaker learning Afrikaans as it is to be a Mandarin speaker learning Italian.
Some of the languages could do with further development—for example, the alphabet switching when you’re learning Arabic isn’t perfect and causes some of the options to jump around in translation exercises—but this is a real strength, especially for people who are frustrated by the number of tools that focus too much on using English as a base.
The Cons of Mondly
Having said all of that, Mondly has some drawbacks that are quite disappointing as you try to push on in your learning.
Lack of differentiation between levels
A huge drawback of Mondly is that it’s too heavily aimed at lower levels. When you first sign up, you’re asked what level you already have in the language. I had a go at Italian (in which I’m around an upper-intermediate level) and Arabic (at which I’m a complete beginner) but the classes and materials were exactly the same!
Mondly might be a good way to get an entry into a new level, but it’s not as good a platform as the likes of FluentU, which use authentic materials aimed at all different levels.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. It makes authentic material approachable whether you’re a complete beginner or an advanced student.
For those looking to deepen their understanding and usage of a language they already somewhat know, Mondly is far from ideal. By pairing Mondly with more robust language learning programs like FluentU, you can increase your learning scope and apply newly learned information to authentic context.
It has a monthly fee
While there’s a free version that allows you to try some features, the amount you can use is extremely limited. You can access some daily lessons but only the first conversation of the chatbot and the first set of vocabulary lessons. Packages start from $9.99 per month, and this gives you access only to a single language.
This is a bit limiting, especially when you consider that other programs, like FluentU, allow you to access all the languages they offer under one umbrella subscription.
Some features feel contrived
While I appreciate Mondly’s attempts at innovation, the result is often something that feels a long way from natural. The conversations in the chatbot are stilted, while the augmented reality function really just replays set pieces in a way that captures your interest at first but loses its impact as the novelty fades.
There are plenty of programs that use tech to improve your experience, but do it in a balanced and natural way. FluentU, for instance, uses interactive subtitles, video-enhanced flashcards and adaptive quizzes that take your prior learning into account to create a personalized learning experience.
Innovative technology is an excellent way to maintain learner interest and motivation. If you’re taken in by the cool tech of Mondly, then enjoy! If you’d rather have something more authentic and natural, you might want to look elsewhere.
We hope you’ve learned everything you want to know about the program in our Mondly review!
While Mondly makes some interesting moves in the field of language learning, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the good parts are rehashed from existing platforms and the areas in which they’ve tried to innovate still need some work.
It’s worth downloading the free version and, if the features strike your fancy, have a go. However, with the price still far from cheap for a product like this, it has a way to go before catching up to some of the leaders in the area.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.