Kruiser’s (Almost) Daily Distraction: My Recent Experiences With Language Learning Apps

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Throughout my life, I’ve flirted with learning a second language. Growing up in the Southwest, one usually learns enough Spanish get in trouble. I keep promising myself that I will become fluent one day. If I do, I may disappear to a beach in Mexico to work remotely and fish for a year.

I’ve always wanted to learn Polish too. My paternal grandparents were first generation Americans and spoke Polish to each other often at home. When I was very young, I would spend a lot of time with them, and I picked up a lot of the language. Unfortunately, we moved away from them when I was four and it all went “POOF!” rather quickly.

For years I tried to learn Polish from books that were available at the time, but it was a slog. I never did warm up to the textbook approach. Most of the alternatives were focused on learning Polish phrases for travel, which I didn’t need.

It is a whole new world when it comes to language learning here in 2023, however. There are a variety of apps and multimedia tools that do deep dives into a host of languages. I’ve been studying Polish in earnest lately, despite the fact that it is both brutal to learn and that people of my “seasoned” age aren’t supposed to be able to pick up a new language very well, if at all.

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While I have made some orthopedic concessions to age, I refuse to let it claim my mind, so study I will.

The three programs/apps that I’ve been using the most are Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and Pimsleur. I’m going to do a quick review of each, as well as mention a few multimedia aids that I’ve found helpful. This isn’t going to be a pros/cons format, because I’ve found from talking to friends who are studying other languages that one person’s “pro” might be another’s “con.”

Here we go.

Duolingo.

Duolingo has become hugely popular in recent years. It’s the only app that I’m reviewing here that has a free version.

I tried it out a few years ago and wasn’t impressed at the time. Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time with it and it’s won me over. In the beginning, some visual teaching is employed. Things get tougher in a hurry as one progresses. I’m at a stage now where it’s almost all listening exercises and full sentence translations. Honestly, I don’t think Duolingo adequately prepared me for the latter. It felt like I was thrown into a pool after only a couple of swimming lessons.

I’m sticking with it because still feel that I’m learning a lot.

Duolingo contains a competition element that many people get hooked on. Each week, you’re placed in a “league” named after a different gem. The people in the league are in your region but not necessarily studying the same language. The more exercises you do, the more points you get. If you finish in the Top 7 in the league at the end of the week, you get promoted to the next one.

This friendly, anonymous competition helped get me enthusiastic about Duolingo when I gave it a second chance. Not surprisingly, the higher you go, the stiffer the competition, and it seems like everyone else in your league is unemployed and does nothing but Duolingo lessons all day.

Here’s one of those pro/con things that I mentioned: if you turn on your phone’s Duolingo notifications, the app will positively nag you. I find this helpful, but I know many people who’ve found it a reason to turn off their notifications rather quickly into their Duolingo journey.

My only big gripe about Duolingo is that the speakers are occasionally unclear in the listening exercises. It doesn’t happen with enough frequency to put me off of using it, though.

Duolingo offers a paid premium version that removes the ads and offers some helpful additional learning tools. It comes to a little over $80 when billed annually.

Rosetta Stone.

Rosetta Stone uses a “dynamic immersion” approach that almost always revolves around a visual component. You’re given a general description of each lesson, but there’s not much direction after that. I found this problematic at first, but then appreciated what the program was doing once I began using it consistently.

You’re constantly being shown real life scenarios and choosing a description from some provided options, providing your own description, or learning how to pronounce a focus word from the scene. You’ll be using your computer mic a lot.

Occasionally, there are audio downloads, and stories that you first listen to, then read aloud so the software can “grade” you. That threw a curve at me the first time, but I now enjoy the reading/speaking combo practice.

Visual learners will love Rosetta Stone. I find that looking at the picture, then having to figure out what to say in response is a great way for me to pick things up.

The repetition when teaching new words or concepts is just enough to be helpful without making it boring.

Rosetta Stone isn’t cheap, but I swear it’s been on sale since the pandemic.

Pimsleur.

Pimsleur is a language learning program that’s been around since the early 1960s. It’s a primarily audio approach that I like for one big reason: it keeps you on your toes.

At the beginning of each lesson, you’re given a conversation to listen to. You then learn what the conversation means by practicing it in a few ways.

The instructor will take new words you’re supposed to focus on and break them down, having you repeat each part. Then you’ll be prompted to say the entire word before using it in a sentence. Just when you’re getting comfortable with the repetition, the instructor will ask how you say something you either heard earlier in the lesson or a in a previous lesson.

You’re also not given a lot of time to respond, which I think is a real plus. Yeah, you get the answer quickly, but I take some pride in not having to wait for it.

I get my Pimsleur courses through my Audible subscription. The Pimsleur site says that it’s $14.95/month after a one-week free trial.

This wasn’t meant to be exhaustive. I just wanted to provide a little info for people who are curious about language learning in the internet age.

Mixing these three is the best approach for me so far because I never get bored. If I temporarily grow weary of one, I concentrate on the other two for a while.

What I like the most is when something I’ve spent a lot of time learning with one program then pops up on another. Everything clicks and the overlap is great review.

I’ve also been watching “Easy Polish” videos on YouTube. There’s an entire “Easy” language series on YouTube. I haven’t explored how many different languages there are.  The videos I watch are all in Polish, with English and Polish subtitles. I switch between which one I’m paying attention to. I’ve learned some interesting and helpful grammar tips from these videos.

Spotify offers podcasts for foreign language learners. The Polish ones I’ve listened to are spoken slowly and easy to follow.

As with learning anything new, consistency is the key. I wasn’t very consistent in the past when using just one approach. Mixing everything up has made it fun and easier to stick with.

A hearty “Powodzenia!” to anyone who’s about to try a new language.

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