The first thing you need to do before embarking on a trip to a foreign land is to start learning the language. This will not only impress the locals, but will also make your visit easier and more enjoyable. In this hectic era, however, you may be forgiven for not dedicating the time necessary for learning a new language. In such instances, one might rely on a translation app to help fill in the gaps in your knowledge. But are these apps really an alternative to learning the language?
Of course you will continue to learn a lot while you are abroad. Simply engaging in conversation and navigating the signs and menus will put your skills to the test and improve them in the process. You can use any spare time to enhance your language learning with apps like uTalk. It’s a handy way to learn 111 languages while you’re on the move.
If you are really stuck though, and haven’t managed to learn anything but a few basic phrases, then you may turn to a different kind of app. iOS, Android and Windows Phone all offer some great apps for translating speech in real time. It’s the sort of technology that was previously associated with science fiction, but now you can download it for free. The Google Translate app is one of the most popular real-time speech translation apps for Android and iOS, and it works in 50 languages. Skype also launched a real time translation option recently, and although it is probably the most advanced in terms of technology, it’s only available in two languages at present. Technology like this will inevitably change the way we think about global travel.
I have tested many of these apps and have found that they can be a godsend when you are searching for that one elusive word to help you get your point across. You can also try to convince a bewildered local to speak into the phone in the hopes that the voice recognition software and the translation software work well enough to produce a coherent sentence. Unfortunately such apps are still a long way from perfect, as factors such as regional dialects and background noise can seriously impact the quality of the translations.
There are also practical problems posed by using a translation app in a restaurant or train station. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear irritated grunts of derision from locals, especially if there is a queue behind you. That’s why far from being a substitute for language learning, these apps are at best a means to supplement a traveller’s existing language skills.
At first such groundbreaking technology seems as though it holds the revolutionary potential to knock down language barriers and make language learning redundant. But although the level of technology available now is far beyond what it was a decade ago, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. It takes a human mind to understand the nuances of language and intended meaning. These apps might be great for ordering food on holiday, but you can’t use them to have meaningful conversations or to translate literature. The day such apps finally make language learning redundant will be the same day that translation technology replaces professional translation services.
Author biog: Tom Rowsell is a writer and language enthusiast from East London. His fascination with language began while studying Old English literature at University.
Why do people give up on learning a language?
There are many answers to this question, of course. Recently, we’ve been running a survey (which you can still complete, if you have two minutes), about language learning, reasons for learning and things that might get in the way. According to the results so far, two of the top answers given to the above question are: lack of time, and lack of money.
As I know only too well, language classes, private tutors and language CDs or books can quickly become very expensive. Having recently decided to try and upgrade my schoolgirl French, I had a look round at languge tuition and was pretty depressed to see that I would struggle to afford even a few weeks of classes. But never fear, there are plenty of ways to learn even if you can’t afford to go back to school or buy expensive subscriptions.
So here’s my short guide to how you can learn a language on a budget. Happy learning!
There are a tonne of great resources to be found online without even paying a penny. Depending on your language, there are loads of websites for learning grammar, vocab and more. And you can often find really good sites for more advanced learners – I really love RFI for practising French (they have news reports in ‘easy’ French, with text transcriptions). For beginner to intermediate learners, busuu.com has a great programme for 12 languages, including grammar, reading, writing and vocab, and even allows you to chat with native speakers.
This probably only applies to intermediate to advanced learners, but it’s my favourite way to practise the languages I already speak. Try watching movies in your language, with English subtitles, or subtitles in the language. Or Google the online version of a newspaper in that language (if I’m feeling very motivated, I read lemonde.fr, spiegel.de or elmundo.es). The radio is also a great tool for language absorption. You can listen to radio in almost any language at tunein.com (and they have a great app for on-the-go listening). Even just listening to some music in another language gets you used to the sound.
I used to be obsessed with these when I was at school and uni. In my opinion, this is a great way to cram vocabulary. Either make your own with paper (write the foreign word on one side and the English word or a picture on the other) and test yourself or get a friend to test you. Or, even better, there are some free programs to do just that, which even remember which words you’re weaker on and bring them up more often until you get them right. I used to use this on the computer, but you can get flashcards in app form now too.
4. Find other people to speak to
Ok, I’ve got it easy here because we have a very international office and I’m never short of someone to annoy with my dodgy Spanish… But even if you’re not surrounded by native speakers, you might be able to track down a language partner using a website like totalingua.com that matches you up with an exchange partner. If no one lives in your area, you can always arrange a Skype chat instead of meeting face to face.
There are some amazing free or cheap apps to download on iPhone or Android. I’m using a combination of DuoLingo and uTalk to learn basic Italian. DuoLingo is free and gives you a good grounding in grammar and basic vocab, whilst uTalk features native speakers for all (70 and counting) languages, and has real audio for all the phrases and vocabulary, so I can pick up on the accent and pronounciation as well. I normally play a couple of the games on the bus to work, although I save the recording quizzes for the privacy of my room!
If you’re more of a paper and pencil type, then there are plenty of language-learning books on the market, and they’re mostly cheap to buy, or you can track some down second hand. I think there’s something to be said for having a paper dictionary if you’re a serious language learner (what if leo.de is down!?) – even if you just decorate your shelves with them to look intellectual (or is that just me?).
Have you got any more tips for people learning a language on a budget?
Next week: our guide to learning a language when you’re short of time. If you’ve got any particularly useful tips you’d like to see included, please let us know below!
As you may know, EuroTalk have been working for several years towards the goal of bringing the best possible education to one billion children in developing countries. This work is something we’re very passionate about, and so we’re excited to announce the birth of onebillion, a charitable organisation set up by Jamie and Andrew from EuroTalk to focus solely on making this vision a reality. EuroTalk are proud to support onebillion as they continue their vital work, and we’ll be bringing you regular updates and news on what they’ve been up to.
So for today’s post, it’s over to Alex for an update from Malawi:
Over here at onebillion, we’re working hard on producing the final six topics for Maths, age 4-6, writing and programming a practice app to accompany Maths, age 3-5 and planning a whole lot of new Learn to Read and Letters and Sounds material. We’re also making progress, slowly but surely, towards expanding our Masamu (maths) project throughout all 5,000 schools in Malawi!
So, what have we been up to in Malawi recently? Well, first and foremost, we’re in the process of looking for a second school in which to implement our Masamu intervention. This has been running successfully at Biwi school in Lilongwe for almost a year now and an independent study by the University of Nottingham has shown that using the apps for as little as eight weeks can drastically increase children’s level of maths knowledge. So Andrew and Jamie have spent a couple of days at Ngwenya school, also in Lilongwe, to assess its suitability as a second school for us to get working in. Ngwenya seems to be a well-organised school, and even has desks in its classrooms! However it is a huge school with 5,000 pupils in total – meaning it will pose some challenges in terms of scaling our current intervention.
Work is already under way to construct a new learning centre in the school, like the one we’ve been using at Biwi, where the children will have a dedicated space to come and work in, and there will be somewhere to store and charge the ipads.
Speaking of charging the devices, we’ve also been road-testing solar-powered charging to allow large quantities of iPads to be charged even in rural schools which may not have electricity. Biwi school has access to a power socket in the head teacher’s office, but this is restricted to just the one room, and even this is fairly uncommon in Malawian schools, so finding an alternative way to charge the devices was really important to us, and will continue to be as we look at scaling further afield in other parts of Africa.
Our solar charging stations have been working great so far, and are simple for the teachers to use.
We’ve also just implemented our brand-new battery-powered, low-cost printers at Biwi. These allow the children to immediately print their certificates which they win as they complete each topic within the Masamu apps. These are printed on a cheap and durable receipt-style paper, which is a simple and low-cost way for the children to see the results of their hard work, and the teachers to keep records of their achievements. This will work hand in hand with our new server version of the apps, which was the main purpose of Jamie and Andrew’s visit. It allows us to receive data from schools in Malawi almost instantly, keeping us up-to-date on which children have completed which topics, and their results. Hopefully we’ll start to receive data from the server within the next week or so, and will be able to see the apps being used in real time.
So it’s onwards and upwards in the onebillion office, and we’re really excited to see results coming in from Biwi school and to get our Masamu apps into Ngwenya school. We’re also hoping to get some new topics ready in Chichewa within the next couple of months, which will extend the current Masamu 4-6 app from twelve to eighteen topics!
If you’ve been on our Facebook or Twitter page recently, you may have noticed some of our photos from our recent trip to Malawi. Although some members of our office are convinced we went over there to buy beans for our new coffee machine, we were actually there to run an evaluation on the success of our maths apps in schools there. Myself, Jamie, Andrew and Nicola Pitchford from Nottingham University spent 10 days in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, testing around 400 Malawian kids at Biwi primary school on basic maths and motor skills, as well as asking them questions about their aspirations and how they feel about school life in general.
If you have never tried to register the names and details of hundreds of small children, and chase them all down to put the right coloured and named wristbands on each one, you might struggle to imagine the level of chaos that we experienced, with several kids coming back to try and get their photos taken twice, some losing or destroying their wristbands after just one day, and our complete inability to spell Malawian names!
However, somehow we managed this massive task, and got down to business putting the children into groups (a red group, who will use our maths apps for 8 weeks, a blue group who will use other fun, but non-maths, apps, and a pink group who will carry on with teaching as usual). After this, we began to assess the children, running our specially-designed evaluation app on groups of around 50 children at a time.
Thanks to Nicola’s amazing organisational skills and hard work from everyone, we managed to assess all the children who are part of the study in just three days, albeit with our stress levels a little higher at the end of several hours of using our rather basic knowledge of Chichewa to explain to kids how to use their shiny new ipads (or ‘gadgets’ as they call them!). The red group will now have 8 weeks to use the Masamu (maths) apps for a few hours each week, and we will be back to assess their progress in November!
We all had an amazing time in this beautiful country, and it was fantastic to see the level of interest that there is in our project. I was particularly happy to see how far some of the children got with the assessment tasks, and how hard some of them concentrated on getting the right answers, and trying out a range of new tasks that they would never normally be asked to do. There is clearly a lot of natural maths talent there, so we’re extremely excited to see the progress that they make with the extra teaching and support we are giving them during the study.
Make sure you check out our Flickr account for loads of pictures of the goings-on at Biwi school!