by Jonathan Laxamana
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.
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.
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 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.