homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

The Limitations of Language Apps

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2019

For the NY Times, Eric Ravenscraft writes about the limitations of language apps like Duolingo in teaching you how to speak a foreign language.

After I accumulated a Duolingo streak in excess of 500 days — a feat that, thanks to the app’s notoriously insistent reminders, has now come to define my self-worth — I found myself in a better place to judge just how much an app alone can really teach you. The short answer is that you can definitely learn some things from an app, but if you want to become fluent in a language — or even conversational — they won’t be enough.

The CEFR is a standard for describing how proficient people are at language, with levels progression from Basic (A1 & A2) to Independent (B1 & B2) to Proficient (C1 & C2).

Level B1 starts to introduce more complex ideas like explaining their opinions, dreams, and ambitions, or handling complex tasks while traveling. Level B2 expects speakers to be able to speak with native speakers of a language without straining, and have complex technical discussions related to their field of expertise. These two levels make up the Independent stage.

Apps have trouble getting people past the B1 stage. Reading this I thought, aha, this is an opportunity for the internet to connect native speakers from around the world with language learners. I got all excited thinking about how to build something to facilitate this when I remembered that, duh, the internet is mature enough that someone has already built this. Tandem is one such service; they’ve got an app that allows students to video chat their way to fluency with native speaking tutors. Other sites that help connect you with native speakers are Verbling and Italki, and HelloTalk.

Has anyone tried a service like this? Is video conversation a worthy substitute for in-person conversational language learning?