Here's How Well Language-Learning Apps Work

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Maybe you have extra-fond memories of high school French, or maybe you're just so stir-crazy, all you want is a faraway vacation. We've all got our reasons for wanting to learn a foreign language, but if you're out of a school setting, your options are more limited than when you were a kid. Luckily, the internet is always willing to step in, and you can pick up new language skills pretty much anywhere.


One prime site for language-learning (or just brushing up) is Babbel, a paid subscription service offering 15-minute and under lessons in over a dozen languages. The company offers tiered program structure, but its initial lessons in each language are free and its entry-level subscription is about $7 a month. Linguists at Michigan State University wanted to find out how effective Babbel model is — and whether students actually retained useful communication skills.

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As it happens, students who stuck with learning Spanish on the app over 12 weeks showed significantly greater proficiency; those who studied longer did better overall. That said, a full 36 percent of the study participants did quit the app. "However convenient and effective a language learning app may be," according to a press release, "what might be most important is that learners stick with it and put in the necessary time to make progress."


So if you're trying to choose between Babbel or Duolingo or another model entirely, get a feel for the reputation of the lessons and then dive right in. Whatever you pay, you'll get out as much as you put in.