We invited Nick Jaworski, a language center director and blogger, to give us some insight on what he looks for in a language learning app for his daughter.
As a father working extremely hard to raise my daughter in Mandarin and, since I am not a native speaker myself, I am always looking for great apps to give her additional, varied exposure to the language. I’ve also worked as a specialist in early childhood language acquisition and am constantly trying out new programs and products. I can tell you that finding a quality language learning app is really difficult and I do not make recommendations lightly.
There are a number of elements to look for in a quality language learning app for kids. Here are my top 5:
1) Fun – It’s got to be fun. We learn most when we enjoy doing something, so make sure any app you download is more than flash card style drilling and repetition. There needs to be a game element.
2) Extensive Repetition – This actually combines with the fun criteria above. The real key to language learning is extensive repetition in numerous settings. But, repetition is boring in and of itself, so you need to find ways to make that repetition new and interesting through variation and increased challenge. This is why I love apps that have numerous games within the game to keep the fun alive and help my daughter get the repetition she needs.
3) Spiraling Structure – A great app starts simple and builds in complexity. Gus on the Go does a great job of teaching the children the vocabulary first, then it moves on to fun memory games, and, then, even better, it builds in review and complexity by adding previously learned vocabulary into later games. Too many games out there just focus on one category per game, but this doesn’t help children review or keep the challenge level high enough to maintain interest and progress.
4) Immersion – Ok, this is actually my number one. The game should be 100% in the target language. I can’t tell you how many otherwise great apps I’ve downloaded that use English all over the place. The more exposure and practice a child gets in the target language, the better. So if I want my daughter playing a game for 20 minutes, I want that 20 minutes to be spent all in Mandarin.
5) Intuitive – Going along with the immersion and spiraling structure, anybody should be able to pick up the game and immediately start both learning and playing. Think about most video games you’ve played in your life. They don’t come with instructions. You learn how to play by playing. Great game apps will do the same, so you don’t need the English. As a parent who doesn’t speak the language, you should be able to pick up the app and learn by using it just as your child does. If you can’t figure out the language being taught in the app without resorting to a dictionary, then your children won’t be able to either.
My favorite language learning apps
Feed Me – Great all around app in many languages.
Mindsnacks – I particularly like how this app has games tailored to a particular language. It’s not just the same game with different translations.
2Kids Chinese – One of my absolute favorite apps for intermediate level Mandarin speakers
Mandarin Madness – Does a nice job of building character recognition.
And, of course, I happily recommend Gus on the Go to all families I encounter on a language learning journey with their children. Thanks so much to the creators and we are eagerly awaiting the next one!
Nick Jaworski has been in the field of language teaching and early childhood education for over 10 years. He has trained teachers internationally in six different countries and helped build foreign language schools in Turkey, China, and now the US. His expertise lies in helping schools build multicultural teams, design and deliver extremely effective language learning programming, and establish clear communication channels in today’s quickly evolving technological landscape. He and his wife are currently working to raise their daughter to be quadri-lingual in Chinese, Turkish, English, and Spanish. He feels there is simply no greater gift that you can give to your child than the gift of language, and very much enjoys helping other families on their multilingual journeys. You can follow their multilingual journey on Nick’s blog Where are We Going, Dad? Nick is also currently the Digital Community Builder for Circle Social Inc.