Technology is permeating every field of discipline. For learning languages outside of the mother tongue, it proves useful in facilitating the acquisition of foreign languages to students. In fact, studies confirm that learning languages with the help of computer applications dramatically improves the students’ self-concept and motivation, helping them master basic skills for improved learning process engagement and student-centered learning (Stepp-Greany, 2002, cited in Kazanci & Okan, 2009). With the help of language learner apps for kids, for example, learners present active language processing, recall, and much improved thinking skills.
The class of language acquisition applications prove useful in helping students grapple with the new language basics. Their access to the language solutions is helped by their strong accessibility via Android or iOS applications. The platforms provide ample applications that help with online grammar and vocabulary lessons, capable of engaging low-to-intermediate students and beginners alike (Popielek et al, 2020).
This article aims to review various language learning applications, focusing on each product’s features, covered languages, and pricing plans. It will also zero in on the different purchasing factors you should consider before subscribing to one. With this article, it is hoped that parents and educators can find the most suitable language learning app for kids so that they can help their children or students achieve fluency at an optimal age. Who knows, these kids might even consider linguistics careers as their interest in learning new languages is cultivated through these apps.
In the United States, it is said that one in five Americans speak a language other than English in their homes. The need for skilled speakers of languages other than English has been studied and discussed for more than 50 years at various levels of government and the private sector (Center of Applied Linguistics, 2014).
Despite the perceived need, however, school systems across the Atlantic have experienced declines in enrollment for foreign languages. From 2013 to 2016, colleges across the United States cut 651 foreign language programs, with French the hardest hit, followed by Spanish, German, and Italian (de Montlaur, 2018). Meanwhile, in Europe, where the median of schools teaching a foreign language is at 92%, the United Kingdom reported declines of 30% to 50% in enrollments for General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) language courses since 2013 (Jeffreys, 2019). In contrast, the U.S. percentage of K-12 schools teaching a foreign language is 20% (Devlin, 2018).
English may be the most spoken language worldwide with 1268 million native speakers at the time of this writing (Duffin, 2020) but this is a small fraction if we take into account how many other languages there are. As such, in a world undergoing rapid globalization, knowing a language other than the native tongue provides an advantage. And science has already established that the best time for people to learn this skill is at a young age. An MIT study suggests it is nearly impossible for people to achieve proficiency similar to that of a native speaker unless they start learning a language by the age of 10. Fortunately, the same study reported that children remain very skilled at learning the grammar of a new language up to the age of 17 or 18 (Trafton, 2018).
The older methods of learning a new language relied mostly on traditional practices such as the Grammar Translation Method, the Direct Method, and the Audiolingual Method (Peace Corps, 1989). Advances in information technology helped revolutionize language learning. McFadden (2019) listed the factors as the digitization of text, multimedia materials, auto-correction, online and mobile learning, personalization options, gamification, and artificial intelligence.
With the arrival of modern technology, educators are given the responsibility to keep their methods of learning updated to respond to the needs of 21st-century students, whose needs, likes, and interests are shaped by the growing scale of technology. Giving students the experience and learning using the tools used in the real world, equips with the necessary knowledge and skills through meaningful technology-based instruction. In particular, the usage of educational apps for kids can have a positive impact on the motivation, engagement, and achievement of students in different educational settings, including primary, middle, and high school (Auquilla & Urgilès, 2017).
Designed for novice learners, Duolingo’s gamified approach includes instant scoreboards, virtual rewards, and level progression. Easily one of the fun educational sites for kids, the site claims that spending 34 hours on Duolingo is equal to one university semester of language courses. Through a series of exercises, divided into lessons and skills, this app’s goal is to teach vocabulary and grammar. Completing the goal is equivalent to achieving level 2 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), which means mastery of the basics of English where students can communicate simple, basic needs. One of its main features is the use of spaced repetition, in which the algorithms detect when a user needs to review words or chunks that may have faded from memory. Spaced repetition has proven to be very effective for acquiring vocabulary in particular since repetition is essential to acquire new skills (Munday, 2016).
Duolingo offers a free web-based foreign language course, with the caveat that the site is advertisement-driven. It is web-based and does not require any app downloads. The site will require an email account for log-ins and may collect private data from users, so parent or guardian supervision is necessary. Upgrading to Duolingo Plus at $6.99/month removes the ads and unlocks features not available in the free version.
Kids Learn Mandarin is designed to teach children four years old and above to speak, write, and read over 200 Mandarin Chinese words. The Kids Learn Mandarin full version features 12 lessons through playful and progressive games and activities. Each activity is designed to help children ages two to eight achieve mastery over key Chinese vocabulary while each lesson features a music video, Chinese character writing practice, and a sticker playground.
The first lesson, Numbers, is available for free upon downloading the app. The remaining 11 lessons can be purchased within the app and will cost $1.99 each. Purchasing the full pack at $12.99 offers substantial savings. Apart from Numbers, other lessons include Colors & Shapes, Animals, Fruit & Vegetables, Family & Occupation, Body Parts, Clothes, Toys & Transport, Sport & Hobbies, Things at Home, Eating & Drinking, and Nature & Outdoors.
Droplets is the kid version of the popular Drops series of language apps available for iOS and Android. The method applied here is heavy on visual learning, as all featured words are accompanied by strikingly colorful illustrations. Drops made sure that pronunciation is correct by featuring professional voice actors who are native speakers of the target language. In addition, an additional section is available for kids who want to learn letters in foreign alphabets. As part of the Language Drops family, Droplets can be accessed by children when their parents create a child account under their subscription. Multiple child accounts can be supported.
Droplets is part of the Drop Language family of software and can be accessed via a Drops account. A monthly subscription costs $8.49/month, while a prepaid annual subscription runs to $60.00. In addition, a lifetime, pay-once account can be purchased for $149.99. The app offers a seven-day trial (which is only good for five minutes use per day) but will require a credit card, which will pre-process a recurring annual subscription.
Pili Pop is a series of applications that are designed to help children aged 5 to 10 years in any level of learning. Pili Pop currently offers three separate apps that deal with separate languages: Pili Pop English, Pili Pop Français, and Pili Pop Español. The apps place emphasis on oral activities that enhance learning on the spoken aspect. They feature expression activities, during which the child must correctly pronounce words to receive rewards and progress through the gamified lesson. To keep children engaged, Pili Pop created a colorful universe around kid-friendly themes such as pirates, robots, aliens, and others taking center stage in over 200 fun activities.
Pili Pop offers three separate apps but provides a subscription fee that allows access to all three. Apart from the unlimited access, each account provides unlimited child accounts, access to multiple devices, and a monthly progress report. The length of the subscription corresponds to the lowered rates: $9.99/month for a monthly plan, $6.66/month for a 6-month subscription, and $4.99/month for a yearly subscription. For those who would like a trial, Pili Pop offers a free version that allows for the completion of 40 activities, with a subscription required to proceed further.
Little Pim follows the adventures of a cartoon panda as he journeys in 12 locations worldwide. Along the way, Pim introduces children to common words and phrases in 12 languages. Little Pim helps engage kids with its colorful imagery and deliberate slow pacing. Everyday activities such as eating, drinking, playing, and napping are also presented. Little Pim is a video series created to teach foreign languages to young children from infancy to age six and is based on the Entertainment Immersion Method designed by language teacher and filmmaker Julia Pimsleur Levine and neuroscientist, Dr. April Benasich (Regalla, 2015).
Little Pim is available online via user account log-in. A subscription is required to access all 12 language courses. The site offers a three-day free trial but will require a working credit card. A regular subscription is $4.99/month or $49.99 when availing of the annual subscription.
LingoDeer is an education app that teaches nine different languages through the use of fun, interactive games, and activities. The application instructs children to form sentences in their own words by following a structured course, learn the essential vocabulary and grammar from beginner to intermediate levels, and improve listening and pronunciation skills with HD recordings by native speakers. In addition, LingoDeer also teaches children to read and write in a unique foreign alphabet such as Korean or Japanese.
Subscribers simply need to log in with their email into either the website or the app to access the learning content but can learn languages at their own pace, even if it is for only 10 minutes per day. Lessons can also be saved offline for later work.
There’s a free seven-day trial, but afterward, it requires a subscription. LingoDeer opens all its courses and activities for a uniform subscription. The cost offerings include monthly rates of $11.99/month, Quarterly access for $29.99/3 months, annual access $79.99/year, and single-purchase lifetime access for $159.99.
Endless Spanish! is a Spanish language tutor not only designed as a foreign language course but also as an immersion course for native Spanish speakers. Using the assistance of colorful monsters, kids will get introduced to basic Spanish words and their context and usage. Activities include interactive word and sentence puzzles that respond to correct responses. Two audio modes are available: “Spanish Immersion” for native Spanish speakers and advanced learners, and “Spanish with English Translation” for native English speakers.
Endless Spanish is free to download on both Google Play and App Store. Only a portion of the letters will be available for the free version, and acquiring the complete set of word packs costs $11.99. The vendor also offers separate word packs at $5.99 each, which may be a better option for those who only intend to learn the basic lessons. Endless Spanish! content will require disk space and an active connection.
Jojo’s World is an iPhone/iPad series developed by Early Lingo based on the Total Immersion Method, which does not require translation. Currently offered in six languages, Jojo’s World is a fun game that also introduces children to a new language using sound and motion-based activities. Instead of the usual omnibus application, Jojo’s World is divided into six separate applications that deal with separate storylines. The adventure involves how the lead character Jojo discover new words and earn rewards in the process. At the end of each level, users must take on a quiz to test the new vocabulary to advance to the next level.
Jojo’s World offers separate applications for the different languages it covers. Each app costs $0.99 each and is only available on iPhone and iPad.
Mondly offers language instruction applications that are dependent on English as the medium for instruction. Thinking that a new language can be learned better by using the native language as a base, Mondly allows the teaching from any of their available languages. For their kid version, which can be used by children ages three or below, Mondly utilizes a digital flashcard system as the preferred method of teaching a new language. Each lesson consists mostly of kids hearing the name of a vocabulary word in both their native language and the new language and then asking them to match it to the correct picture.
A free version offers a single section that provides six lessons, one conversation, and one vocabulary section along with a Chatbot conversation. It also comes with a new lesson per day and weekly and monthly quizzes to test progress. Afterward, the app will require a subscription to move on to more lessons. Mondly offers Unlimited Access for $9.99/month and offers a discounted rate of $47.99 if an annual purchase is made.
Learn Languages With Amy is aimed at children ages 2 t0 7 and follows the adventures of Amy as she learns to spell and pronounce basic words that young children can relate to. The application features puzzles, memory games and quizzes using an animated interface that uses a subdued and relaxed color scheme, preventing learners from becoming overstimulated. The Dutch language comes with 20 themes that cover words used in common activities and situations, while the other languages offer 13.
The basic app is free to download but is limited to full activities for the Zoo theme and three activities for the others. Insights into the enrolled child’s progress are limited. A monthly $2.99 subscription unlocks all themes and provides full insights into progress. Subscription prices are lower when availing half a year ($14.49) or annual plans ($26.49).
With the wide selection of kids’ language learning applications, it can be overwhelming to decide which one to choose. As such, it is important to vet these products properly. Among the factors that you can consider are as follows:
Apart from the direct benefit of learning a new language and unlocking opportunities outside of the homeland, bilingual people tend to develop other skills. Fleming (2019) wrote that learning a second language improves all-around cognitive ability, sharpens soft skills, and increases mastery of the native tongue. Some studies also point out that being bilingual develops multitasking abilities and may even ward off the onset of dementia.
Among the many benefits of learning a new language are the following:
In today’s world where boundaries continue to get smaller, learning a second language is important in maintaining meaningful communications between societies and cultures. With over 7,000 languages used all over the world, being committed to the mother tongue makes a person miss out on lots of opportunities where objectives are met and issues are resolved through cross-cultural exchanges that often involve two or more languages.
With their mental faculties still in development, children are in a prime position to absorb information and learn foreign languages. At the same time, advances in technology have removed many of the obstacles that prevent the learning of foreign languages. The convenience and availability of mobile applications make it possible for kids to learn anytime, anywhere. Moreover, educators have access to more creative means of teaching such as the best Jeopardy Game maker tools, gamification software, and even any word cloud generator free of charge for kids’ wordplay.
As seen in the contrast between the U.S. and Europe on how children are exposed to foreign language studies, parental discretion might be needed to ensure that kids take advantage of the development window to learn a lingua franca outside their native tongues. The career benefits are already obvious in doing so, but adding a host of physical and mental benefits should help confirm the decision.