If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter (or maybe even if you don’t) you’ll know that we recently released a new update for our app, uTalk. And we’re really, really excited about it; not only does it now work on iPads, it’s got 130 languages included and it looks gorgeous. So I thought I’d give you a quick guided tour, so you can see what all the fuss is about.
Choose your language
Once you’ve download the app, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that it’s got loads of languages. From French, Spanish and German, through to Lao, Kachchi and Cebuano, we’ve got them all (and if we don’t have the one you want, we probably soon will – let us know what you’re waiting for in the comments).
The best bit is if you’re just curious and want to hear what a language sounds like, it won’t cost you a penny, because uTalk gives you a Starter Words section in all 130 languages completely free.
These Starter Words include the essentials that you’ll need when you first arrive in a new country – ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘help’ (hopefully you won’t need that one, but it’s always a useful word to know!) among others.
There’s also a selection of games to help you remember these key words, so you’re totally prepared before you step off the plane.
If you’re anything like me, though, once you’ve learnt a few words you won’t want to stop. So uTalk gives you the chance to learn more, with the Essentials and Premium upgrades.
The Premium will unlock 1,200 words and phrases across 35 categories for the language you choose – and that’s when it gets really fun. The app’s got everything from food and drink and travelling, to adjectives and numbers up to ten million. You can order a beer, ask someone to dance and check you’re on the right train (again – useful).
How it works
Ok, let’s get down to business. You’re going to France for a few days, and you want to learn some French before you go. How should you use uTalk?
First, choose your topic. Then, start with the Practice; this is where you learn the vocabulary. You can listen as many times as you like, slow it down, even have a go yourself with the recording button. Each word or phrase has a corresponding picture, which will help you remember it later, and they’ve all been translated and recorded by native speakers.
Then it’s time for the games. Start with the easy game, because it’s – well, the easiest. You’ll be shown some randomly selected pictures and hear one of the words you’ve just learnt. Choose the correct picture to carry on and start scoring points.
Then work your way up through the games, which get gradually more difficult. Be warned, they’re very addictive, so you may miss your stop because you’re concentrating so hard. And you might get some funny looks when you play the recording game on the train. I speak from experience on both of these things…
Hidden throughout the app are 48 achievements. No, I won’t tell you what they are – but every now and again you’ll see a message pop up that says ‘World Tour Destination Unlocked’, and then at the end of that game, you can go and see where you’re heading off to.
Tap on the destination and watch your plane take off. To see how many destinations you’ve collected (and how many you still have to find) touch the grid icon at the bottom of the screen.
Of course this is all well and good, if you have time to sit and learn the language before you leave home. But what if you don’t?
No worries – just take uTalk with you, and any time you need a word, type it into the search box. (I used this feature myself when I went to Italy a few months ago and it saved me more than once.)
So what do you think? If you’re ready to give it a try, you can download uTalk from the App Store for free right now (no camping out required!). And we love customer feedback, so please do tell us what you think of the new design and features.
Most importantly, we really hope you enjoy using the new uTalk as much as we enjoy telling people about it 🙂
Everyone’s always talking about how useful it is to speak another language – and they’re right, for so many reasons. There’s lots of advice too on how to get started and how to stay motivated when it gets tough. But the first question any aspiring language learner should ask themselves is, ‘Which language do I want to learn?’
Sometimes this is easy, because you’re moving to another country, or you’ve met a new partner who speaks a particular language. Even if this means you end up learning a language most people would consider unusual, to you it has a purpose and that makes it anything but obscure.
But what if you’ve just decided you want to learn a language, because you’ve heard that people with a second language earn more, or that learning a language makes you cleverer, and don’t have a particular one in mind?
At EuroTalk, we offer nearly 140 different world languages. It’s a pretty daunting selection to be greeted with when you’ve just Googled ‘I want to learn a language’ and stumbled on to our homepage, or downloaded the uTalk app. And that doesn’t even come close to the total number of languages spoken in the world. So how is anyone meant to choose one to learn? Do you just close your eyes and point at one?
Well no, we don’t recommend that approach; you could end up with something really fun that way, but at the same time, learning a random language just for the sake of it, when there’s very little chance you’ll ever get a chance to speak it, seems a shame. Half the fun of learning a language is getting to share it with other people.
So here are our recommended criteria for choosing a language:
Number of speakers
Generally, a language with more speakers is going to be more useful to you, because you’re going to have more opportunities to speak it. According to Ethnologue, the top five most spoken languages in the world are Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic, with a total of 2.4 billion speakers between them, so knowing one of these languages is going to guarantee you lots of people to talk to.
On the other hand, it depends on your reasons for wanting to learn a language. If it’s to make friends all over the world, one of these five languages will stand you in good stead. But if it’s to improve your employment prospects, bear in mind that you might face more competition if you’ve chosen a popular language. I studied Spanish at university, which is in great demand with employers. But so did lots of other students. We’ve got five people who speak Spanish at EuroTalk – two of them are native speakers (there are less than twenty of us in total, to put that in context) so it’s rare for me to be called on to use my language skills. Something like Portuguese or Japanese, which are still in the top ten in Ethnologue’s list, might offer fewer opportunities but when one comes along, you’re probably not going to face as many rivals for the job.
Where it’s spoken
Another important factor. Firstly, you don’t want to learn a language that’s spoken in a country you never intend to go to, or in which you’ve no interest. Secondly, some languages, like French, Arabic or English, are spoken in many different countries. So if you’re going travelling and want a language you’ll be able to use in more than one place, one of these will be more useful to you. But if travel’s not top of your agenda, this might not be such a big consideration.
Similarity to other languages
Most world languages are organised in families, which means they come from the same root as the other languages in that family. This means often, although you may only speak one language, you can probably at least make yourself understood in another. Hindi and Urdu, for example, are mutually intelligible, as are Czech and Slovak. If you know Spanish, you can make a reasonably decent attempt at Portuguese or Italian, and although you might make a few mistakes, chances are you’ll be understood. I’m not suggesting you should go around speaking the wrong language at people, but if you do make an honest slip-up, or just can’t think of the right word, you’ll probably be ok. I’m fairly sure I spoke quite a bit of Spanish when I was in Italy earlier this year, but everyone seemed to understand what I was getting at.
Some languages, though, don’t have any close neighbours, or indeed any neighbours at all. Basque, for example, is what’s known as a language isolate, as is Korean. This means they don’t belong to a family, but stand alone, so if you’ve chosen one of these languages, it’s worth remembering that it won’t help you with any others.
Partly, this is to do with your travel interests. If you’ve a particular interest in Russia, for example, we’d recommend you learn Russian. But even if you’re not particularly interested in travelling, there are other things to consider. Are you a fan of opera? Maybe give Italian a go. Anime? Japanese. Star Trek? Klingon.
Or maybe you’ve got a particular interest in endangered languages, in which case you might want to learn Cornish or Sardinian, not necessarily for the wealth of communication opportunities it offers, but to help save a valuable world language from extinction.
You know yourself better than anyone. How motivated do you feel? Is this just a passing whim that you’re likely to give up the moment it gets difficult, or are you prepared to stick at it? The fact is, some languages are harder than others, and this is different for everyone, depending on your native language. For Europeans, Dutch is considered quite an easy language to learn, while Mandarin Chinese is very difficult. But someone living in Japan may find Chinese much easier to learn than any European language.
So if you’re living in Europe and intending to learn Mandarin, you’ll need to be pretty dedicated. And if you know you don’t have it in you, it might be better to try something else rather than face disappointment when it doesn’t work out. Nobody’s bad at all languages – you just need to find the right one for you.
If you’re still undecided, and in need of some inspiration, take our quiz – it’s not at all scientific, but might give you some ideas!
If you have any other tips or suggestions for readers trying to choose a language, please share them in the comments.