Apps and Gadgets for Language Learning: Do they Really Work?

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Tech and gadgets and apps for kids.  Oh my! We’ve got 10 hot favorites to share.  Are they all they’re cracked up to be? You decide.

The scoop on language apps and gadgets

Parents, we know you’ve seen them all, thousands of apps and websites claiming to deliver language learning results.  With all the options, it seems like it should be a breeze to learn 10 languages by the end of the year. Yet, we all know that learning a language with technology isn’t a magic trick.  

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wanted to cut through the fluff and understand this: what are the best kid-friendly language learning technologies, and how can they help my child get the results we want?  The best way to approach this question is to understand what apps and gadgets are good at, and also where they’re limited. We’ve got you covered. Read on.

Much of the hype about language learning apps and tech is warranted.  They’ve truly created capabilities that just weren’t possible a couple of decades ago. For starters, using tech at home adds an engaging dimension to your immersive home dual language environment — remember that article?  

Secondly, many language technologies allow for a personalized, adjustable learning pace, letting the child review and repeat as many times as needed for mastery.  Let’s not forget, of course, the much needed boost to motivation that comes from the gamification found in language learning technologies. 

And if that weren’t enough, apps and gadgets bring access to places we never thought we could before.  Since culture is a big part of true language learning, picture yourself and your child instantly transporting to Ecuador to check out the Galapagos. It’s all possible now with FREE technologies such as Google Expeditions – a bit hit in our afterschool programs!

But wait, do gadgets really work for language learning?

As with anything, language learning technology has its limits.  An obvious drawback is the lack of face-to-face interaction. Language learning is inherently a process filled with human connection.  Relying solely on machines results in strange things like the “freezing phenomenon,”  when a learner scores all 100s on the app but freezes up in a real conversation. 

There’s also the issue of commitment.  Language apps have poor retention rates. Why? As great as it is to get points, the true reward comes from – you guessed it – feeling successful in an actual interaction.  No matter how good they are, apps just can’t give you that.

What you can do now – Our Top 10 Tools List

There’s still plenty of good news when it comes to apps and gadgets for language learning.  To help narrow things down, we’ve grouped some awesome tools into 3 main categories: live interactive, self-paced and virtual/augmented reality.  
Best of all, most are FREE!  Which will your child try?
  • Live interactive tools - Live interactive tools are the closest you'll come to face-to-face interaction, as they allow real-time interaction with a human. Check out these live interactive tools below.
    • Tandem Language Exchange -- One of the best free platforms for live authentic language practice online. User can record his/her voice to send and receive messages with a conversation partner. We recommend adult supervision for teens using this platform. (Type: app, Ages: 16 to adult, Level: All)
    • Rockalingua - for kids -- Rockalingua’s site is full of interactive games, videos and worksheets with cartoons for engaging learning. A paid subscription is required for the resources. However, free live online courses are available to all. (Type: website, Grades: K-5, Level: Beginner and Intermediate)
    • Spanish Express Live -- All the effectiveness of a live Spanish class with none of the hassle of commuting. Spanish Express Live is a highly interactive experience featuring breakout rooms, live instructor feedback, all in a small group online learning environment. A great way to build real fluency. (Type: website/live group class, Ages: 16 to adult, Level: All)
  • Self-paced tools - Self-paced tools include e-books, gamified apps and more. They're great in that they allow learners to select topics and advance at the pace that best fits their needs.
    • Stories by Gus on the Go -- Fun storybook app featuring classic stories in Spanish. You can read and listen along while viewing the characters in action (Type: app, Grades: PreK-5, Level: Beginner)
    • Duolingo -- This program that has gained tremendous popularity implements learning real life words, phrases and grammar. This is done with fun images and prizes to keep your momentum going. (Type: App, Ages: 4 to adult, Level: All)
    • Yabla -- Yabla is known for bringing users videos of native Spanish speakers across diverse cultural settings. Users also enjoy the in-video quizzes, clickable captions and games. (Type: website/video platform, Ages: 13 to adult)
    • Learn Spanish by MindSnacks -- Mindsnacks Spanish app offers your child nine engaging games designed to build vocabulary, boost conversation skills and prevent you from becoming a flashcard flipping zombie. (Type: app, Grades: K-5, Level: Beginner & Intermediate)
    • Spanish-games.net -- An impressive array of interactive Spanish practice games your child will enjoy (and learn from) for hours! (Type: website, Grades: K-8, Level: All)
  • Virtual/Augmented reality tools - Imagine being transported to another world. Or, what about having virtual objects overlay real ones? VR/AR is an emerging tech area that’s not only fun for play but also for cultural exposure and language learning!
    • Google Expeditions -- (A Brilliant Bilingual afterschool club favorite!) Travel across the world to experience an immersive setting right at your fingertips. Google Expeditions is a great way to introduce the authentic cultural environments that surround Spanish-speaking countries to your child. (Type: app, Ages: All, Level: All, Equipment needed: smart phone & headset - they're more afforable than you think!)
    • Defuse! Puzzle Cube -- Your teen will love this one! This mind bending puzzle cube game is one of the many examples of how your child can change his/her phone’s language settings to Spanish to enjoy a fresh gaming experience AND level up her language skills. Great practice under pressure. (Type: app; Ages 13 to adult, Add’l equipment needed: Merge Cube)
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