New Scientist: article on technology & language learning

This week’s (28th October) New Scientist magazine explores at length, and very positively in my view, the question “Apps now promise to fast-track your route to fluency, but can you really learn a new language on your commute?”. The editorial (“Deconstructing Babel”) also takes up this theme.
(You need a sub for anything more than a paragraph unfortunately though the New Scientist is widely available in libraries & shops in the UK.)

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Oh, it needs a subscription which I can’t really get at the moment and I’m very interested in this topic (as a teacher myself). Maybe some kind soul would find the time to write in a few words what the article says about learning via apps and what’s its general attitude?
I have some friends who are trying to learn via apps, and I can see that it’s a very good supplement to lessons/serious self-study, but it’s really not very useful when used on its own. Apps and resources like memrise or quizlet are perfect for learning some separate parts of grammar or vocabulary (irregular verbs etc), though.


I often find that the way apps teach you doesn’t give you the skills to actually use and speak a language. Its great for learning vocab and spelling etc, but they never seem to actually teach you how to create sentences etc. Maybe its just the apps i’ve been using.


Not sure if it’s still the same, but at one time, New Scientist articles became publicly viewable after they had been online to subscribers only for a period of time (e.g. a few months). So keep the link handy and it might become all-readable at some point.

There’s also this problem: you can’t be really sure whether you can trust the app or not. A new textbook published by Cambridge or Oxford University Press, or Heinle etc takes about 2 years to write and it has to be checked and assessed several times to be sure that the information there is accurate and up-to-date. With apps (especially those where information is created by users, like memrise), you can never be quite sure. I’ve had a look at one of the sets of Russian words and I was quite annoyed, as I found out that the expressions were mostly quite awkward (no native speaker would say something like that) or simply wrong. Any native speaker who would hear such “pidgin Russian” would find it very incorrect or, in the worst case, even insulting. So when using these services, you either have to create the sets yourself or have a native/fluent speaker to check on the available sets, which is not always possible.

Thanks, @mikeellwood, I’ll keep an eye on it. I’m reading an interesting paper on using mobile technologies for teaching English at the moment, it’s a topic that’s very interesting, I think, since we can’t stop the technologies, we must learn how to use them to our advantage:)