Language learning apps in the New York Times

by panglott

Some of the new language learning apps have been covered in the New York Times over the past few years; here are some links to the overviews/discussions there.

  • The Web Way to Learn a Language: 2010 overview of consumer language learning technology, including RosettaStone.com, TellMeMore.com, Livemocha.com, Babbel.com, bbc.com/languages, other sites such as Learn German, japanese-online.com and learn-korean.net, and apps such as Lonely Planet Phrasebooks, Oxford Translator Travel Pro, World Nomads, and Ultralingua Translation Dictionary.
  • On Language: Chunking: Ben Zimmer in 2010 discusses lexical chunks in language pedagogy: ‘Ritualized moments of everyday communication — greeting someone, answering a telephone call, wishing someone a happy birthday — are full of these canned phrases that we learn to perform with rote precision at an early age. Words work as social lubricants in such situations, and a language learner like Blake is primarily getting a handle on the pragmatics of set phrases in English, or how they create concrete effects in real-life interactions. The abstract rules of sentence structure are secondary. …In recent decades, the study of language acquisition and instruction has increasingly focused on “chunking”: how children learn language not so much on a word-by-word basis but in larger “lexical chunks” or meaningful strings of words that are committed to memory. Chunks may consist of fixed idioms or conventional speech routines, but they can also simply be combinations of words that appear together frequently, in patterns that are known as “collocations.”’
  • Powerful Tools for Learning a Language, or Several: 2012 endorsement of the Babbel (and Busuu) apps: “The different language apps are all similar, and they’re free on iOS and Android. You can set up a free account to keep track of your learning, and this will let you try the full fee-carrying online program.”
  • A Start-Up Bets on Human Translators Over Machines: A 2012 profile on the launch of Duolingo.
  • Translation Service Enlists Web Users to Do the Work: Another 2012 profile of Duolingo looks deeper into the technology.
  • Room for Debate: Is Learning a Language Other Than English Worthwhile? : A 2012 debate
  • 10 Paths to a More Fluent Vacation: 2012 overview of some language learning resources, from the cheap (bbc.co.uk/languages, Coffee Break Spanish and Coffee Break French, DigitalDialects.com, French in Action, LearnaLanguage.com, LivingLanguage.com, and Livemocha.com) to the expensive (Pimsleur.com, RosettaStone.com, and Transparent.com).
  • Measuring the Success of Online Education: 2013—”Duolingo, a free Web-based language learning system that grew out of a Carnegie Mellon University research project, is not an example of a traditional MOOC. However, the system, which now teaches German, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and English, has roughly one million users and about 100,000 people spend time on the site daily. The firm’s business is based on the possibility of using students to translate documents in a crowd-sourced fashion. Seventy-five percent of the students are outside of United States, and Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Luis von Ahn notes that the foreign students are significantly more motivated and have a higher completion rate than their American counterparts. The firm, which was founded by Dr. von Ahn and his students, commissioned a study of the effectiveness of the language training system that indicates that students may learn languages more quickly online…”
  • Inventive, Cheaper Tools for Learning a Language: 2014 overview of Chineasy, Duolingo, Lingua.ly (which focuses on the news), and Mango Premiere (which uses feature films), as well as Anki, Forvo.com, and Rosetta Stone’s travel app. Forvo.com is pronouncing dictionary with user-generated pronunciations.
  • Spanish as a Second Language, With the Accent on Fun: Duolingo, Busuu and Other Apps Teach Languages on Phones: 2014 overview of Spanish-learning apps for iOS and Android from MindSnacks, Duolingo, Busuu, and SpeakTribe, as well as Cat Spanish.
  • The Benefits of Failing at French: 2014 discussion of cognitive improvement from studying French but not learning it well enough to converse with a three-year-old “…after a year of intense study, including at least two hours a day with Rosetta Stone, Fluenz and other self-instruction software, Meetup groups, an intensive weekend class and a steady diet of French movies, television and radio, followed by what I’d hoped would be the coup de grâce: two weeks of immersion at one of the top language schools in France. …to reassure myself that nothing was amiss, just before tackling French I took a cognitive assessment called CNS Vital Signs, recommended by a psychologist friend. The results were anything but reassuring: I scored below average for my age group in nearly all of the categories, notably landing in the bottom 10th percentile on the composite memory test and in the lowest 5 percent on the visual memory test. …After a year of struggling with the language, I retook the cognitive assessment, and the results shocked me. My scores had skyrocketed, placing me above average in seven of 10 categories, and average in the other three. My verbal memory score leapt from the bottom half to the 88th — the 88th! — percentile and my visual memory test shot from the bottom 5th percentile to the 50th. Studying a language had been like drinking from a mental fountain of youth.”
  • Learning a New Language: Challenges and Joys: 2014 letters to the editor in response.

Czech is a lesser-studied language, and almost none of these tools have resources for the language: Not LiveMocha, Babbel, Busuu, Lingua.ly, Rosetta Stone, MindSnacks, SpeakTribe, or Learnalanguage.com. Duolingo Czech for English speakers is in the incubator headed toward beta release. Forvo.com and Mango Languages support Czech, and DigitalDialects has basic material in Flash. Italki is a means of connecting with language teachers. It looks like Mondly Languages is attempting to compete with Duolingo and Rosetta Stone ( Tumblr, YT ), with many more languages.

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