How Mobile Devices Can Redefine Language Learning


As adults we often think back to the days in which we sat in hot, stuffy foreign language classrooms with droning teachers, given no choice but to recite Spanish or French vocabulary in rote, eyes glazed over and drool pooling on the desk.

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This experience has left many adults – including myself a few years ago – in a state of aversion towards the very thought of taking up a new language learning project.

It’s not mandatory? Why bother…”

As the only real foreign language exposure many of us in this country receive is in the zombie-like state of required course work; the thought of doing it all over again makes us want to hide in the closet, rocking back and forth with our arms around our knees.


Fortunately; language learning doesn’t have to be like that anymore.

The little supercomputer you keep in your pocket can offer you untold opportunity to learn a language and it’s a shame that we often see that many traditional classroom settings are not doing more to integrate mobile and computer technology into their curricula.

As adults we’re always busy. We’ve got work, children, relationships and still need to find time for leisure. Making time to learn a language is our biggest challenge and serves as one of the most prominent reasons why adults never seem to get started.

Mobile technology allows us to take language learning with us wherever we go. Our smart phones, eReaders, MP3 Players and tablets provide us with an opportunity that many of those who wrote the rule books on language learning 50 years ago didn’t have.

Rather than fearing technology and the changes it could bring to our education – both formal and casual/personal – we should be embracing the capabilities of our overpriced gadgets.

We paid an arm, a kidney and a firstborn child for the latest functionality and that 3 gigabyte/month family data package we only use 35% of. If you’re a language learner, you’d better be taking advantage!

There are a few essentials any language learner looking to go mobile needs to have:

A dictionary. Basic, lightweight dictionaries exist for nearly every major world language you can think of, and an emerging number of languages you probably can’t think of, most of which are entirely free. Depending on your preferences you can all but do away with conventional paper dictionaries. Many mobile dictionary apps also come with built in audio that accompanies the words you’re searching.

Memrise. If you’re not using this yet, you really need to start. Memrise won’t likely teach you a language all on its own, but it’s one of the best free resources out there for vocabulary expansion and getting your feet wet with new languages, including some endangered ones.

Check out this more detailed review to learn why I absolutely recommend this program for everyone – even if you don’t own a mobile device.

If possible, you should add alternative language keyboards to your devices. I have mine set up currently to switch between Russian Cyrillic and English. On most devices there’s a little button that instantly switches between the two.

I actually find it easier to use my iPhone to type anything I need to send in Russian than it is to use keyboard sites like this. Not sure how to switch keyboards? Check out these guides: Android, iOS.

A fully charged battery! Car chargers are good since MP3 players and smart phones can stream podcasts, foreign language music, or even audio programs such as Pimsleur while you drive. Depending on what you’re using though, some language apps can drain your battery.

A flashcard app. Lately we’ve reviewed a few different flashcard mobile and web apps including Vocab Ninja, and Lingrid. Among others; such as Anki, a flashcard app is a great way to cram in a little extra study time between tasks, on your break, when you’re sitting in your car in a grocery store parking lot waiting for your spouse, or in bed before you go to sleep.

You can even access Skype via your smartphone or tablet. The ability to speak to people anywhere in the world, from anywhere (with a signal or Wifi) in the world gives those of us wishing to connect with one another the opportunity to do so on an unprecedented level.

I know that a lot of people are still, even now, holding out on buying smart phones. They’re expensive, they seem to dominate the minds and time of many people.

I’ll be first to admit that I’m completely and hopelessly addicted to my phone. I take it out of my pocket habitually and check LATG social media pages and email even when I know I checked it five minutes prior.

If you’re determined to avoid smart phones that’s your prerogative. There are still plenty off effective ways to learn a language. However, if you’re on the fence about purchasing a smart phone or tablet, or already own a mobile device, I can assure you that as a language enthusiast you will not be disappointed – at least when it comes to language learning.

What other apps, podcasts or audio systems do you use to study your languages? And how have mobile devices impacted your language learning experiences?

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