It has been a while since I’ve been able to write a proper review of a truly awesome language learning app so I’m really exited to show you my review of FlashAcademy.
This new application draws on most of my favorite features from a number of existing applications, plus one truly amazing new feature that I have yet to see anywhere else.
FlashAcademy (one word), is a relatively new mobile app for both iOS and Android mobile platforms by UK startup FlashSticks.
I’ve written about FlashSticks in the past. Their flagship product is a set of language learning sticky notes with words in whichever language your target language. These sticky notes include a phonetic pronunciation of each word as well as a mobile app that allows you to scan those notes and have them pronounced by native speakers. Read the review for more.
Sure, you could make them yourself, but FlashSticks also comes with a mobile app that can further help you learn the pronunciation and retain your vocabulary.
It’s a very simplistic process but one that is, for its price, worth investing in.
FlashAcademy takes FlashSticks to a whole new level. This really nifty app combines the goodness of apps such as Memrise, Duolingo and Mindsnacks together into a rather comprehensive and entertaining learning system.
This review of FlashAcademy focuses on the “premium” version of the app. There is a free version offered as well, but its features are extremely limited and probably not worth their own section.
The features of FlashAcademy
FlashAcademy has two primary functions. One is a language learning course not unlike other learning programs such as Duolingo and Memrise. They present you with a series of words that you then match with their corresponding English counterparts.
The course offers more than just matching however. As each lesson progresses, users are offered an increasingly difficult series of questions that culminate in a series of actual conversations between speakers. Users much navigate the conversation in order to glean the meaning and then answer a question based on the content.
I absolutely love this function, and sadly it isn’t super common among language learning apps. It gives real application to vocabulary rather than throwing lone words or simple phrases at the learner with no context.
Unfortunately, FlashAcademy doesn’t offer more of these mini lessons. It would be cool to see more than one conversation per “lesson”.
Listening and pronunciation
Pronunciation practice is really simple with FlashAcademy.
Every single word is accompanied by both an audio and video recording so you can both hear the word’s proper, native pronunciation, as well as a short video of the actual speaker.
Sometimes this is beneficial to learners uncertain of where their mouth should be.
You laugh, but it’s a thing!
The real fun starts when the lessons are over, though. Each time you finish a lesson you are prompted to play a series of fast paced games that are not only helpful but surprisingly fun.
If you’re familiar with the iOS app Mindsnacks, you’re probably already familiar with this gamification style.
The games work like this:
There are 6 different “games” that follow one another at a rapid rate. These games consist of the following:
- Memory – that game you probably played as a child where you flip the cards over to find matching pairs.
- Flashcard Whack-a-mole. – Speaks for itself.
- Pinwheel – The dial spins and you have to stop it on the word that corresponds to the question.
- Word scroll – a series of words travel quickly down the screen. It’s basically true or false. You select the “correct” word every time it pops up.
- Word search – similar to its namesake. Drag your finger across the board to select the letters in the word you seek.
- Balloon matching – a series of blue and orange balloons floats up your screen. Blue balloons have English words, orange balloons have words in the target language. Pop them together to succeed.
But that’s not all. This series of games moves rapidly and the speed and difficulty with which each game appears and moves increases as your score increases. After two or three rounds, the game becomes shockingly difficult – even with fairly easy vocabulary.
And of course, the whole damn thing is timed.
The game really gets into your head and becomes surprisingly addictive. It can actually get your heart rate up due to mild frustration. Not that I’d suggest it as a legit form of cardio. I just found it more exciting than I expected.
This might seriously be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen a language app do and is part of the reason that this review of FlashAcademy is so freakin’ positive.
FlashAcademy comes equipped with object recognition and identification software that actually uses your camera to take images of objects – pretty much any object – and identify it and translate it into one of a bazillion different languages.
And they really outdid themselves on the recognition capabilities. This thing can tell you a surprising amount of information about pretty much anything.
Check this out:
Yes, those are actually pictures of things in my apartment. And yes, I use a pretentiously fancy mouse.
The thing is, those are translations into Maltese and freaking Kazakh. And those are just a drop in the bucket. It even knew the brand of the mouse I use. It can identify a lampshade as being fabric or rice paper. (I know, I tried it).
FlashAcademy’s recognition software allows you to check out items in everything from Lesotho to Haitian Creole to Uzbek, Mongol, Malay and even British Sign Language!
Maybe I just haven’t been looking in the right place, but the company that got its start making money selling prefabricated sticky notes has officially transcended into foreign language labeling godhood.
But there’s always a downside
As with all things, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. I’m by no means saying FlashAcademy is bad, but there are still things that could be improved.
The free version
Unfortunately, this isn’t even really worth your time, so I haven’t even mentioned it. The free version of the app offers virtually nothing when compared to the paid versions, making it relatively unimportant and less than noteworthy.
Unfortunately it’s a little bit pricey. At $8.99 USD per month it’s certainly not the cheapest subscription out there. The price decreases with 3, 6 or 12 month packages, and is ultimately not the most unreasonable price to pay if you can afford it – unfortunately, many of us younger, poorer folks might have a hard time justifying the price tag.
The 12 month package does include a pack of FlashSticks mailed to your door, though!
On the bright side, however, when you subscribe you will not be limited to only one language. The price grants you access to any of the language courses offered, so you can study Italian, French and Spanish for the same price. This isn’t a common practice among language apps. Usually you have to pay again for each language.
The language offerings
Right now, there are only three languages being offered for actual courses. While the array of photo translations is staggering, the actual courses you can take is currently limited to French, Spanish and Italian.
I have been informed that German is right around the corner though, and I have every reason to believe that they will be rolling out additional languages as they can, so I have high hopes.
But for the time being, if you’re not interested in one of the available languages, you may have difficulty justifying the price. You would still have access to the visual translator, but that’s about it.
No speaking or social components
One of the most important things a language program in the 21st century can do is help connect users with other users. While yes, FlashAcademy comes with a scoreboard that you can use to track friends who use the app as well, it doesn’t actually offer any means of interacting with speakers.
And that’s okay, really. It doesn’t advertise itself otherwise. I only mention it because if you’re looking for something like that, this isn’t the product for you.
Some features are overly simplistic
I really like the strategies FlashAcademy uses to teach and ensnare learners. Unfortunately, some of the lessons seem almost comically simple. I personally think they should be slightly more in-depth, or allow learners a little bit more leeway and customization.
I wish that there was a little bit more flexibility when it comes to skipping around each unit. And I would like to be able to see an overview of the words or phrases in each lesson and category. I say this because many – if not most – of us learners are not starting our new language from the absolute bottom.
Most of us already know the basics, the hellos, the goodbyes, the yeses and the nos. It would be nice to know which lessons could be skipped, or in the spirit of Duolingo, tested out of.
In general though, I’m really impressed and can’t complain too much. I’m nitpicking here and still stand by this as a solid product.
When you start a new unit in one of your courses you will have to download the content for that unit. In and of itself, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means you’ll have access to your course even if you lack a data plan and wifi. It also means that you won’t have to deal with a slow connection.
However, since it doesn’t give you a choice in this,ds it also means that your phone’s storage is going to fill up fast. My own phone doesn’t have a super huge storage capacity. If you tend to keep lots of pictures and music and other apps with high space requirements, this could prove a little bit cumbersome.
To recap really quickly, let’s go over the pros and cons of FlashAcademy
- Solid, well structured language lessons.
- Awesome series of games that keep you interested.
- Leader board for you to compete with your friends
- High quality audio and video pronunciations for every word
- Offers dozens of really interesting little language facts on loading screens.
- The camera translator is pretty much the coolest thing ever.
- Breathtaking variety of translator languages available.
- Points based system adds to user motivation
- Well scripted and extremely easy to use.
- Units can be downloaded to your device for use offline.
- Image scanner also compatible with FlashSticks sticky notes.
- 12 month subscription comes with a free pack of FlashSticks cards.
- Kind of pricey. at $8.99 per month. (6.76 pounds, 8,06 euro). Reduced price for packages of 3, 6, 12 months.
- The free version offers essential no features whatsoever.
- Limited language course selection. (French, Italian, Spanish). More to come though!
- Still a few minor tweaks that need to be sorted out. Not a huge concern, the team is active and enthusiastic about their product.
- Some features, such as the word scrambling in each lesson, are a little bit too simple.
- Lessons require download. This fills up storage space quickly on smaller drives.
As can probably be seen, FlashAcademy’s pros greatly outweigh its cons, and despite the not-so-amazing price tag, I’d still call this app a solid investment and a cost effective means of learning – especially if you’re learning Spanish, Italian or French.
When I was first asked to do a review of FlashAcademy, I have to admit, I was a little bit skeptical.
Most new language learning apps these days rarely offer any real new features that haven’t already been done to death a thousand times.
FlashAcademy’s lessons are not too unlike other big programs, such as Memrise, Duolingo or Mindsnacks, but it does work, it is fun and engaging, and above all – that image translator is seriously awesome.
You can also check out FlashAcademy at their own website located here.
Have you used FlashAcademy? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment!
**Update 9.9.16** FlashAcademy has officially released German as one of their available courses! Check it out.
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