Best practices for language learning

Language learning apps have come a long way since their inception. Once viewed as nothing more than educational games or half-baked tools for picking up conversation snippets in a new language, these apps are now very effective resources that can provide a solid foundation for someone new to language learning.

While apps like Duolingo, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone are an excellent way to build a foundation in language learning, combining them with travel has emerged as a fun and effective way to increase your learning potential and achieve fluency in your target language in less time.

lay the foundation

Language learning applications can be instrumental in laying the foundation for language acquisition. Programs like Pimsleur and Babbel are ideal for memorizing vocabulary, as well as simple grammatical structures. By turning learning into a semi-game, these apps tend to make memorizing fun and easy. In short, you are more likely to retain information if you enjoy your time in the learning process.

This is not just a hunch. In a groundbreaking study by Shawn Loewen, a professor of linguistics at Michigan State University, using a language-learning app for just 10 minutes a day improved both the vocabulary and grammar skills of each participant. Yes, every participant.

However, this scale only considers rote memorization of new words. Even more impressive, 59% of participants improved their oral proficiency in the new language as well, disproving the long-held view that language learning apps do not help with conversational speaking skills. This number was even higher among participants who used the app for more than 10 minutes a day.

Bottom line? Language learning apps are academically proven to be effective and can help lay a solid foundation before actually diving into a new language. However, the key is consistency in using the language software, as well as taking the next step – real-world use.

practice, practice, practice

Using language learning apps can be effective for language learning, but when combined with real-world practice, your ability to learn the language will improve dramatically. This was the conclusion of Sean Lewin, a professor of linguistics who leads the Michigan State study cited above, “If you’re going to use an app, do. But it’s also good to have opportunities where you can interact.”
Talking to yourself out loud and typing the answers into your phone is one thing, but connecting with real people will help strengthen your speaking skills and give you insight into the way indigenous people speak their language.

Communicating with indigenous people in your target language is a highly proficient practice method. Language applications can provide a good base, but as Loewen says, “It is very difficult to take that knowledge and translate it into the ability to use language — to speak it, understand what you hear, and respond in an appropriate way.”

immersion effect

In addition to using the app and practicing speaking skills with native speakers, immersion has been proven to be the single most effective way to increase the retention rate of your new language. According to research by the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA), immersion can bring benefits such as “academic achievement, language development and literacy…and cognitive skills.”

In other words, the fastest way ever to learn a new language is to have your feet up against the proverbial fire. Of course, complete immersion without any basis for understanding the language is a recipe for frustration, confusion, and eventually smoking cessation.

Language Learning + Travel Apps

So how can you get the most out of learning a new language? Simple – you travel while still using your app. This combines the elements of all three effective means of language acquisition: basic skills acquired through application use, practice, and immersion.

My hypothesis is that this ternary combination is really the most effective way to pick up a second or third language quickly, without creating frustration. You can benefit from formal education through the application, consistent practice, and the benefits of immersion as you can listen and speak on a daily basis.

Plus, it’s just fun to travel, so there’s an added bonus as well. If your target language is German, what better way to learn than by immersing yourself in the language while traveling around Bavaria for a month?


Language apps are a powerful learning tool that, when combined with real-world experiences, can dramatically improve your language learning abilities and help you achieve fluency in your target language faster. While using apps alone can help you learn the basics of a new language, the most effective way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the culture while using your language software at the same time.

Featured image: Jeremy Bezinger, Unsplash.

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