languages, language learning

The pros and cons of language learning apps

As we enter September and the new academic year begins, thoughts begin to turn to study again. And if you’re looking for a new challenge, then what better one than to learn a new language. With today’s world becoming more closely connected due to our online activity, being able to speak another language is more valuable than ever for business as well as leisure time.

Today, there are a range of language learning apps available to teach you these desired skills, but how effective are they? eSense Translations looks and some of the most popular ones and weighs up the pros and cons of learning a language in this way.


Pros of language learning apps


Most are free!

eSense Translations has looked at a number of these apps, including Duolingo, HelloTalk and Mindsnacks (1st lesson only), and one of the most appealing aspects of many of these apps is that they are free. Some, for example Duolingo, do not even have ads popping up on your screen during your session. This is great if you are considering learning a language and just want to trial it first without any commitment.



Learning a language has never been so easy or convenient. The key to successful language learning is regular practice and with the array of language learning apps now available, you no longer have to wait for your weekly class to reinforce your skills, your language tutor is available right there with you whenever you have five minutes to spare.



Most of the language apps offer a large range of different languages to choose from, opening up the opportunity to learn the more unusual languages that sometimes aren’t offered as evening classes in colleges.


Making language learning fun!

A lot of the language learning apps have put the learning tasks into a game format to motivate and encourage participation. You can earn points or stars, lose lives and move up through levels as you attain certain skills. The apps also usually offer a tracking facility, so you can evaluate your progress and be motivated by your achievements.

Language learning apps, such as HelloTalk, have an alternative way of learning by connecting you directly with native speakers. This style of app works in a similar way to WhatsApp, but with some additional cool features to assist with your language learning. You can communicate via voice, text or camera share, practising your language skills and getting the native speaking to correct your contact. You are even able to draw things that you are would like to find the translation for and ask for a text/audio version of the word in your target language. Connecting with native speakers in this way gives a more real feel to language learning without the worry of making mistakes.




Lack of human input

One of the main criticisms of the language apps is the use of computer generated sentences with some of the language learning apps to test your knowledge. Once you get past the basic vocabulary, the sentences which they require you to translate can become quite abstract and not at all relevant for everyday use.

Furthermore, by having your work assessed by a machine means that the approach is not very flexible. As language learners know, there is more than one-way to construct a sentence without it being incorrect. As machines, language learning apps can only accept what they deem to be the ‘right’ answer.

When connecting with a native speaker via a language learning app, this disadvantage disappears and you can make your language learning journey personalised to your required needs.


Practical problems

As with many programs and apps that are still in their infancy of development, some of these language learning apps have been criticised for their technical aspects, i.e. being slow and unresponsiveness. Some can have a tendency to crash and also drain your battery life relatively quickly. It is likely however that these shortcomings will be rectified as the apps become more sophisticated.




Using language learning apps is a great, fun way to get your language learning started. The game formats of apps, such as Duolingo, are helpful for new learners, who are looking to pick up some basic vocabulary. eSense Translations would then recommend using a messaging-style app, such as HelloTalk, to practise and reinforce what you have learnt in a more real-to-life setting.

If you are looking to learn a language as a hobby or for getting by whilst travelling, using apps is a good option. It is a convenient, easy to access way of learning and gives you the opportunity to practice regularly. Once you have achieved a certain level of proficiency and perhaps want to advance your skill further, then studying at a more in-depth level on a course would be necessary.

If you are fluent in a second language and have experience in interpreting or translation work, eSense Translations would love to hear from you. Just visit our recruitment page for further details.


By Lorna Paice



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