Where do smartphone apps fall in then?
I think that there are some genuinely great apps out there now but that they work best as an adjunct rather than as your only learning tools. The weakest part about most apps is that while they may help your vocabulary and reading, you often end up neglecting listening and speaking skills which, as we all know, are the most important in "real life". This is merely due to the fact that the robotic DuoLingo voice is just not speaking with the same cadence, speed, and animation as your boyfriend's eccentric Roman friend Marco after one Spritz too many...Then you might cite the speaking portions of these apps but again, essentially they are testing your regurgitation skills in an elementary "repeat after me" way. This could prove effective if everytime you had to talk to a native speaker, you could have an earpiece in your ear and repeat what it told you to say. Ok, I spoke too soon because apparently this real-time language translation earpiece is actually a thing in the not-so-distant-future!
However, for the here-and-now, my advice is not to rely too heavily on these apps and instead practice speaking with a language exchange buddy, your boyfriend/girlfriend (if they happen to be native speakers of your target language which 90% of the time is the reason you're even reading this article in the first place right?!), or pay a private tutor. In regards to tuning your ear, this might seem ridiculously nerdy but a method I use to "test" myself is to actually do sample examples online where you're provided with the audio file and the listening comprehension questions.
For Italian learners, you can check out the sample exams on the Accademia Italiana di Lingua site.
Finally, I do want to put in my two cents for my favourite app of the moment, I've literally just discovered it as of yesterday and have been "playing" with it non-stop. It's called CLOZEMASTER and tries to take the banal "the pen is on the table" - type sentence formations and instead teaches you a language through the "cloze" method, where words are missing from real-life context and based on that context, you are tasked with figuring out (and thusforth learning) the missing word. There are a variety of different ways to play which include having multiple choice options or just typing the word, as well as the choice of listening to the sentence read aloud (again, creepy robotic voice here) before filling in the space. If you don't like to be attached to your smartphone all day, you can also play online on your desktop and it looks like the screenshot below.
I had to update this post to include this screenshot of a very valid context example with a *gasp* swear word! I have to applaude the Clozemaster concept though because this sentence is completely valid and you'd have to be living under a stone in Italy to not have heard this phrase or a variant of it! Standing ovation Clozemaster! Click right here to try Clozemaster (<-- my referral link), it's totally free unless you want to subscribe to the PRO Version (which I haven't tried yet but so far I'm loving the free version!).
Which apps do you use on your phone to learn a language? Let me know in the comments section or on Facebook!
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