Learning a language in English schools is the unspoken shambles of our curriculum. Before age 11 languages aren’t compulsory, so apart from a few appearances from someone in the year below’s mum teaching Itsy Bitsy Spider, your education remains blinkered by Anglocentrism. At secondary school, most students are force-fed Spanish or French lessons that prioritise passing an exam over immersing yourself in a cultural experience.
Learning another language feels futile when English is seen as the default language of the Western world, dominating music, television and film – even if you visit a majority of countries they’ll speak to you in your mother tongue rather than theirs. But what if you need urgent medical attention and can’t communicate what’s wrong? What if you have a food allergy and need to tell a waiter? Even if you simply want to get through daily life in another country, you need to know the basics. Learning a language after school can seem daunting, but I’ve compiled a list of the best apps to help you get started.
Probably the most famous and popular of them all, Duolingo sits collecting dust on most people’s phones after they convince themselves their ‘New Year New Me’ involves learning a language. Its popularity stems from the fact that all its essential content is free – this covers reading, speaking and listening in a variety of topics from furniture to flirting. It sends you useful daily reminders to keep up your learning, but if you want to learn the actual mechanics of a language, such as why something is wrong, then this might not be for you as its focus is memory and regurgitation rather than the fine details of grammar.
2. Rosetta Stone
Duolingo’s expensive sister is often avoided due to her high prices, but realistically you do get more for your money. The subscription varies from £9-£13 a month and the lessons are taught in 10 minute chunks where you watch an interactive powerpoint that improves your reading, listening and speaking; they even have accent technology that analyses your specific pronunciation and compares it to native speakers to calculate how you can improve. It also comes with some really unique features like a built-in phrasebook containing useful vocab from ordering food to buying a ticket from a bus driver, as well as mini audiobooks that you can read along with in your chosen language.
This app is the key player when it comes to learning vocabulary, which is conveniently also its only completely free feature. Unless you upgrade to access grammar and listening skills, then this app isn’t going to make you fluent, but their selection of keywords are challenging and politically aware, including topics like the Cold War and citizenship.
Similarly to Memrise, Quizlet’s big focus is on learning vocab. The app puts your keywords into online flashcards, providing a personalised tool that you can revise with; there’s also interactive matching games to learn your terms is a fun way. Quizlets can be shared with friends, so if you’re going on holiday together you can ensure you’re all learning how to ask the barman for more sangria. Again, this won’t give you a full understanding of a language, but if you only want to know the basics, it’s great.
I know you shouldn’t pick favourite children, but Babbel would be my frontrunner. You can choose loads of different levels from newcomer to refresher, so it doesn’t matter if you’re starting from the beginning or trying to reclaim a forgotten GCSE, as well as having specialised courses for business vocab and job interviews. The subscription is slightly cheaper than Rosetta varying between £6-£13 per month, but what I love most about Babbel is you’re properly taught the rules of a language rather than just remembering phrases. It tells you what grammar rules exist and why, which helps you learn from your mistakes.
Ultimately, there’s so many tools on the app store these days, it seems a shame to stay stuck in the British expectation that everyone will speak English. What’s the harm in learning a few new phrases for your next holiday? Let’s break the mould and make more of an effort to open our minds to other languages.
Feature Image Credit: olilynch from Pixabay
Last modified: 26th November 2019