Tag Archives: foreign language

The Best Apps for Learning Spanish

by Jonathan Laxamana

learn spanish iPad app

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The two main questions you probably ask yourself when considering buying a new app are What does the app do? and Is the app worth the cost? When buying an app to learn Spanish, however, two more important questions should be added: Who is the app for? and How old is that learner?  With these questions in mind, we searched the App Store and chose the best iPad apps for Spanish learners of all ages and experience levels.

For Beginning Readers

Rosetta Stone has a series of apps that help new readers learn English and Spanish at the same time. These apps combine English reading skills with Spanish speaking skills so that children and other beginners can improve literacy on multiple levels while playing colorful, engaging games. You might expect a steep price tag—especially since Rosetta Stone software remains one of the most expensive language programs—but Rosetta Stone Kids apps are free!

For Independent Learners

Mindsnacks has done a great job of creating a game-based app for independent learners. It takes the immersion method to the next level by adding quests, challenges, and achievements to game-based instruction to keep learners motivated. The Spanish version features nine minigames that teach more than 1000 words and phrases. At $4.99, the app is a little pricy, but the games are fun and effective enough to be worth the cost. You can also download a free trial lesson before buying it.

For Adults

Living Language is another big name in the language game. Their Spanish app takes an entire language course and distills it into manageable lessons. This app gives the most formal instruction, helping learners understand the rules of the language in addition to recognizing basic words and phrases. The Living Language app is a lot less flashy than most game-based apps, but it does include some games and other exercises. The cost—$3.99 for one level of instruction, or $9.99 for all three—puts it on the expensive side, but for an app that mimics the instruction of a college-level course without the cost of tuition, it’s more than reasonable.

Best Overall

Of all the languages apps explored, Duolingo is by far the best. An immersion-based app, Duolingo uses games as the primary method of instruction. What sets it apart from the pack is that it includes opportunities to improve reading, speaking, listening, and writing skills. Unlike other language apps that focus on language recognition, Duolingo teaches you how to generate words, phrases, and sentences in your new language. Its website is also a helpful tool; it encourages collaboration and competition with other active learners through message boards, translation activities, and head-to-head duals. The website also syncs with its app, so you can pick up exactly where you left off no matter what device you’re using. Some of the vocabulary might not be appropriate for younger students—for example, one of the sentences I was asked to translate was “El oso bebe cerveza”—but for older kids, teens, and adults, this fun, engaging app cannot be beat. The best part? Duolingo is absolutely free!

Jonathan bioJonathan Laxamana is Technology Manager of Green Light Professional Development. He has more than ten years of experience in producing educational software products, video, web-based content, and mobile apps. He writes about new hardware and software, troubleshooting tips, and everything iPad. 

3 Must-Haves for Interactive Ebooks

by Luz Chavez

Interactive ebooks on iPad

Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Trying to practice fluency in a bustling hallway with kids whose ages have yet to reach double digits takes skill. And an iPad. The iPad mini is my hook, a way to keep the kids engaged and give them something to look forward to in our next session.

Choosing the iPad was easy. The kids were already intrigued with my iPhone and Macbook, two tools I used to time their read-alouds and calculate and track their CWPM. What wasn’t easy was finding the right apps worth gobbling a slice of my 16 gigs. As a fluency tutor in a dual language school, I need a variety of ebooks in Spanish and English (preferably both) for second and third graders. The App store has hundreds of them. So to guide me through the haystack, I needed to come up with some strict criteria:

3 Must-Haves for Any Interactive Ebook

1. Storytelling trumps interactivity.

If you wouldn’t read the story in print form, don’t waste time downloading the app. Students need to be engaged because they are reading a compelling story, not poking their way through a shnazzy app.

2. Interactivity has a purpose.

Interactivity either moves the story forward or plays a subtle role in piquing readers’ curiosity without distracting them. That’s a fine line to walk. Think of a good interactive reading app as a digital pop-up book. Creative pop-ups blend in with the story and enhance readers’ comprehension of the story.

3. Students can choose to read aloud or listen to the story.

Having this choice allows you to use the app with a wider range of readers. For example, while more fluent readers can jump in and answer comprehension questions, less fluent readers can hear the story several times before attempting to read it on their own. Watch out for apps that use automated voices; choppy robotic voices are exactly what we don’t want kids to model! Also, find apps with built-in read alouds that highlight the words as they’re read aloud. Having the option to record is a feature kids love!


My Favorite Interactive Ebooks

The pickier you are about sticking to these criteria, the more delighted you’ll be when you find some real gems. Check out a few of mine:

1. Who Stole the Moon? This award-winning app includes 17 languages, a must-have for any teacher with a diverse EL population. The engaging story, vibrant illustrations, and subtle intuitive interactivity make this ebook my all-time fave.

2. The Adventures of Peter Pan This ebook includes 7 languages and has a built-in movie that can be turned on and off, words that are highlighted as they’re read aloud, pop-up images that illustrate vocabulary and characters, and even a font tool that lets you select the font most comfortable for the reader. The developer Chocolapps has a variety of books in a similar format available in multiple languages.

3. The Dog and His Reflection This is another award-winning app based on a popular Aesop fable and includes interactivity that enhances the story. It’s only available in English, but this lovely app is still high on my list. Anything by developer Mindshapes is a winner.

Check out these ebooks and let me know what you think! Share some of your faves as well!

Luz Chavez is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.