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What Is the Best Way to Learn a Language? Apps Vs. Traditional Lessons Vs. Online Classes

Apps can seemingly do anything nowadays, from ordering poutine to staying connected on social media. You can do all this with a swipe of your thumb! With these technological advances of the 21st Century, learning new languages has become more accessible than ever, especially because you can do it anywhere and at your convenience.

Traditionally, we've learned languages by taking in-person lessons in what has typically been a classroom setting. In contrast, with the accessibility of apps and other mobile learning tools, such as video conferencing, learning a new language is no longer confined to a brick-and-mortar setting. However, this also raises a new question. What is the best way to learn a language: using an app, online video classes, or in-person lessons?

All three methods have similarities and differences, as well as pros and cons. Language learning can sometimes be challenging, particularly if you don’t know where to start. In addition, learning styles and preferences can vary from person to person. For example, some students are visual learners, whereas others prefer listening to lectures or audiobooks. Finding what works well for you is integral to the language learning process.

Here is an in-depth look at the benefits of each approach.

Benefits of Learning Through an App

Learning a language through an app is highly accessible. With data plans and the availability of free WiFi in many places, learners can keep up with lessons on their mobile devices or laptops. Some apps even offer offline lessons, allowing learners to continue studying without an internet connection. The portability of apps allows even the busiest people to find time amid their schedules to participate at their leisure.

In some locations, learning a less familiar language via in-person classes may be difficult due to a lack of available classes in your city. However, there are numerous languages to choose from on many apps. A quick search on Apple’s App Store for terms such as "learn language" or "learn language free" nets users many results. Users can then try out an app, and if it doesn’t suit their needs, they can easily find another one. In a traditional learning environment, the options are more limited.

Learning a language through an app is comparatively affordable, making it a reasonably good option for those with less financial resources. Many apps are free with advertisements, while some have a subscription fee. For example, Duolingo, one of the most popular language-learning apps, has both a free option and a premium plan. In both cases, the course material is the same, but the premium option, Super Duolingo, is ad-free, offers unlimited repetition of exercises, and allows users to review their mistakes.

Another difference is that traditional classes have a course outline to follow and a time constraint for completion. Quite often, missing one class is detrimental to future lessons. However, with language learning apps, you can set your own goals and do assignments at your own pace, offering students flexibility.

Some language learning apps, such as Duolingo, have a speaking practice component: you can talk into your device's microphone as Duolingo’s AI grades how accurate your pronunciation is. A 2020 article by John Fotheringham criticizes Duolingo for relying too much on translation and indirect learning and not providing enough authentic human interaction. However, he also grants that Duolingo, and apps like it, have some value in the language learning process. That said, it certainly has its limits.

Although making mistakes and learning from them is essential to the learning process, learners may feel shy participating in a classroom surrounded by their peers. Using an app allows new learners to practice speaking without fear of judgment.

Benefits of Traditional Learning

A traditional, in-person language learning environment has traits that apps cannot reproduce. For example, body language helps provide clarity and context, which creates a more immersive educational setting. Additionally, when you ask a teacher a question, they can answer you immediately. Speaking with classmates and practicing listening comprehension can also be incredibly helpful, facilitating an environment wherein students can improve faster. In contrast, apps don’t offer many face-to-face speaking opportunities. Other advantages to learning in a classroom are that you can gain an understanding of certain concepts through your peers' stories, anecdotes, and real-life experiences.

Regarding costs, a common misconception is that conventional language learning is always expensive. However, in some locations many resources are available for free or at a low cost. For example, some public libraries may host free language classes that you can attend. There are also meet-up groups and other get-togethers for people who want to learn a specific language. That said, it is true that in-person classes are generally much more expensive than the alternatives.

Online Classes

Online classes are one of the newer methods of language learning. It combines many of the positive aspects of both in-person courses and app learning. Online lessons are highly flexible, and teachers can customize coursework for their students’ respective needs. For example, if a student has some degree of proficiency in speaking and listening, the instructor can spend more time with them on reading and writing.

In addition, online classes are generally much more affordable than in-person learning, largely because travel-time is eliminated with the former. With in-person learning, coordinating a time for your lessons may be difficult, especially with factors such as finding a location and navigating individual schedules. Online learning with a teacher alleviates these problems because scheduling appointments is easier without time-consuming commutes between home and school.

As an added benefit, some language learning schools, such as ours, Lingobility, offer supplemental learning modules similar to what apps provide. These modules take place on a cloud-based platform, and you can use them to practice when you’re not with your teacher. They also help reduce the costs of online learning even further.

Moreover, online technology can be incredibly helpful in the learning process. For both the student and the teacher to have their respective computers at their fingertips makes for a more efficient learning process. For example, if a student can’t remember how to say a word in their target language, the student can immediately look it up with Google Translate or Linguee. The teacher can also easily share their screen to demonstrate a point to the student. While this degree of technological access is possible in an in-person setting (and is thankfully more and more common), it’s less frequently relied upon compared to during online sessions.

Final Verdict

What, then, is our final verdict for the best way to learn a new language or improve upon one you already know? Online classes are our choice, hands down. It’s a hybrid format offering the best aspects of both traditional in-person learning and app learning.

Online classes combine technological advances with the unique benefits of working with a teacher in real-time. These can also be asynchronous, synthesizing both a) self-directed learning via app-like modules and b) custom feedback from a teacher.

Because Lingobility is entirely online, it has allowed us to specialize in this format. We use visual tools, such as interactive online whiteboards, to help our students progress faster. Our well trained, enthusiastic teachers each have different specialties, so we can match you with one who is just right for your needs.

In addition, scheduling an appointment with us is easy! Without needing to travel between locations, our teachers can easily find a time to set up a video class with you. Give us a call today at 514-518-5338 to try a few classes. Or, for more information, email us here.

We look forward to helping you discover how effective and fun online learning can be.

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