Everyone should learn another language. I feel like a hypocrite in saying so, as I do not speak any other languages beyond English particularly well. And by ‘not particularly well’ I mean it’s laughable. As someone who has lived abroad in a few different countries for a reasonable amount of time, I should’ve been able to have some basic conversations.
I’ve come up with all the excuses. The first one of when I was younger and in school, about how I won’t need to learn another language. While true, it’s not a necessity, but makes this SO MUCH easier. Other excuses about how taking a language in school when I know I’m not very good will bring down my grades. Which, it did, BUT I should’ve either A. worked harder at it, or B. took language studies outside of school.
Once I graduated, I moved to South Korea. I took a Korean lesson here and there, learned how to read hangul (the Korean alphabet), and got by just fine.
But here’s the thing, we should do more than just get by. I wish I was able to communicate more clearly and make more local friends. This was true in Korea, was true in France, and will likely be true for anywhere else I decide to live where I don’t speak the local language.
So now, it’s just time to pick one and buckle down.
It’s hard to practice without having someone willing to teach you who speaks the language you wish to learn, or already living in that country. And even if you do find a tutor, it also involves shelling out a lot of money.
Enter: Language Learning Apps
There are so many out there for various languages and they all have different strengths and weaknesses. The app that is best for you will be different than others depending on your needs and background knowledge.
If you’re learning a language where the base alphabet is different from your own, start there. Learn what the letters or symbols are and the sounds they make.
Otherwise, you’ll need something to learn vocabulary and practice pronunciation. This is covered by most language learning apps. Some are gamified and fun and you may or may not learn something. Some are rote memorization. Others are listening and repeating. And some cover all of the above. Determining your needs will determine the app that’s for you.
Presently, I’m working on learning Spanish. I have an understanding of their alphabet and the sounds made and a base vocabulary knowledge. I want to learn how to pronounce things properly (like saying pero [but] and perro [dog] correctly) and recognizing what other people are saying.
The App: Speechling
Their focus is on getting their students to actually speak the language. No reading, no memorizing, just speaking. You know, the thing you actually need to do when visiting foreign countries.
How Speechling Works
When you first sign up, you choose the language you want to learn and the language you want to see translations in (if any). Then, you decide what you want to learn. They have their core curriculum, conversations, and phrasebook. Their core curriculum is levelled as beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The conversation section is meant to “apply your skills” by answering questions and describing pictures. FInally, the phrasebook lets you choose your topics. This section I found to be the most useful as I could choose what areas I wanted to focus on.
Next, phrases are read out to you. You repeat them (or answer if you chose the conversation section). You do this a few times until your daily goal is met (as chosen by you), or you decide to change topics or stop altogether.
Within 24 hours, your recordings will be reviewed by your coach. They will either be marked as “Good Job”, “Needs Work”, “No Feedback” (coach has yet to review), or “Rerecorded”. Those marked as needs worked will have a personal, verbal response to your recording. This includes the correct pronunciation which is slowed down and emphasized to mark where work needs to be done.
This is all done in the Audio Journal tab. It is clearly laid out and colour-coded making it simple to see what you’ve done overall, what you’ve done well, and where more practice is needed.
Listen, Repeat & Record
Describe the Image
Nearly all of Speechling is speaking based.
Their main course follows the model of listen-speak-(listen-speak). Listening to the first time, speaking what you’ve heard — and doing so as many times as you want until you’re happy with the recording. Then you either have it right, or it needs some work. You listen again to the slower and personalized correction, then you speak the phrase; this time, hopefully, correctly.
Other sections are also speaking based, such as the conversation and picture description. You’re answering, in your target language. You are describing in your target language. One of my favourite things about Speechling is that you are exclusively using the target language. No choosing what it means in your native tongue, no listening to your native tongue and translating, you are ONLY using the target language.
As a language teacher myself, this is very important. As many of you know, I teach English online with VIPKid. I teach to Chinese students. I speak absolutely zero Chinese. The whole class is conducted in the target language, English. This forces the student to use the target language. This is also what differentiates Speechling from many other free language learning apps out there. It makes you actually use the language you want to learn.
The only part of Speechling that is not speaking in the target language is the dictation section. Here, you are writing in the target language. This is for practicing listening to native speakers and identifying what they are saying. Which, should you want to have a conversation in the target language, you’ll need to know how to do.
The one downfall is that it is not addictive enough, particularly for those that are young or have short attention-spans. I feel it would benefit from a having a game or more competitive component to give users a reason to come back. This product is great for those committed to learning and that want to work on their pronunciation, but lacks the “addicting” factor.
Speechling: Final Thoughts
If I were to give it a rating, I’d say a 4 out of 5. The interface is user-friendly and it is easy to get started right away. I like that it is available across a variety of devices and that you can log in with Facebook. This way you can practice wherever you are when you have the time.
I find it to be a great complement to language learning, though not necessarily a standalone product. It’s great for pronunciation and practice but could use more for true beginners and vocabulary acquisition. I love that you get reviewed by a coach that is a native speaker and not some robot that deems what you said “correct enough” to pass the level or question. That personalization really is a nice touch.
With the free plan, users can get up to 35 of these coaching sessions per month. You choose what phrases you want coaching on, submit them, and you’ll get your feedback. The premium plan is $19.99 per month. Which, for an app, seems a little pricey. When compared to personal tutoring services, it’s a great deal. This also comes with the audio journal (pictured above) to save your forever progress, and unlimited coaching sessions. You can try it out first, with their 7-day free trial.
Speechling is for you if:
- You’re looking to improve your speaking
- You have a basic understanding of the target language vocabulary
- You are self-motivated
- You want personalized results from a real human