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Do Language-learning Apps Work – or Do You Need a Tutor?

App-based language learning has been on the rise for some time, but the coronavirus pandemic saw a surge in interest during lockdown. It is easy to understand the appeal, especially for people whose work lives were placed on hold due to the furlough scheme; learning a language is a great way to boost your career prospects, as well as keep your mind healthy and active.

However, learning with only an app to support you does have some limitations, most notably when it comes to developing and practising your conversational language skills. In this article, we explore why working with a language tutor has the edge on a technology-only approach.

Getting to know people is about more than words

When you start using your language skills in the real world, it helps to have some experience of using the language in an in-person scenario (even if that has to happen virtually right now). An app can tell you the words to say, but it may not always be able to help you understand why (and as anyone who has learnt English as a second language could tell you, there are plenty of irregular rules and baffling spellings to confuse even the brightest language learner). Every language has its own unique challenges, and a language tutor can help you unravel these.

When you learn a language, you are likely to have a personal or professional goal or reason for doing so, such as using the language to connect to new overseas colleagues or support an overseas move. Working with a tutor allows you to personalise your language-learning experience so that you can achieve your goal and build the personal and professional relationships that are important to you.

Everyone is different and brings something individual and personal to a relationship. A language tutor who knows and understands your needs can help your skills – and your personality – shine through as you build relationships that will stand the test of time and enhance your business prospects.

Understanding the local culture is integral to language learning

Learning a language is personally as well as professionally rewarding. It enhances your understanding of the lives of the people you work with, as well as the cultures they work within. Cross-cultural communication is easy to dismiss as a ‘nice to have’, but making mistakes that might offend or create confusion can cause considerable damage to personal and professional relationships. This is why we firmly believe that learning a language goes hand in hand with learning about the history and culture that surround each language.

Using an app may give you the tools you need to communicate effectively, but it lacks the personal and local touch – how to relax into everyday conversation, understand the way people talk in different cultures, and interpret local slang and colloquialisms. In the same way that we grow up aware of the UK’s many words for a bread roll, depending on where you live (breadcake, barm or batch? The list goes on), every culture will have its own idiosyncrasies that often vary by region too. Working with a language tutor provides a specific insight that goes beyond the literal interpretations of the words we use.

What about technology-based translation tools?

Technology is an increasingly large part of the translation market these days too. However, if language-learning apps struggle to deliver the real-world experience required to use a language in context, can translation technologies fare any better?

In much the same way as language-learning apps are unable to replicate the personal and relatable experience of a real-life conversation, translation technologies are limited because they may struggle to perceive the depth of meaning within an exchange of ideas – the context of the situation, for example, and perhaps even the subtext of the words. Emotion and nuance can be lost to a literal interpretation of the words that are said (imagine the confusion if you interpreted sarcasm literally, for example!). If you are going to use an interpreter, it would therefore make sense to engage a human being to support your business – though nothing compares to having your own personal understanding of what is being proposed and agreed.

While language-learning apps can help to support language learning, the personal touch allows you to apply the knowledge you acquire in real-world scenarios.

Using an app to learn a new language vs. learning one to one
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Using an app to learn a new language vs. learning one to one
Want to learn a new language but not sure how to start? This article from SpeakEng team might help you.
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SpeakEng Academy
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