An increasing number of language learning apps and online resources are available these days, resulting in greater accessibility for polyglots worldwide. While the expanding array of digital study options offers benefits such as flexibility and cost-effectiveness, I believe traditional studying methods should not be too quickly dismissed.
The surge in digital learning, catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, has sparked debates about the merits of both methods, as evidenced in this Quora thread. For learners of Chinese, the traditional approach typically involves classes and practising character writing in exercise books. While different study styles suit different individuals, I argue that traditional methods of studying are often underestimated.
For example, the old-school method provides more structure than the daily reminders from Duolingo’s owl. While the adorable sound effects can make your learning experience more enjoyable, they may be less effective. In a classroom setting, where the teacher can offer immediate, personalized feedback to the learner.
Classes also offer additional structural benefits. When I was learning Chinese, we engaged in various activities, such as practising newly acquired vocabulary in conversations with classmates. This approach helped us understand both context and pronunciation, determining when to use specific words or grammar structures appropriately. In a classroom, it is easier to engage, as students are usually in the right mindset. Another advantage of the class environment is the social aspect; discussing learning content with classmates and sharing study techniques is a significant perk.
While traditional methods of learning have limitations, learning apps also come with their own drawbacks. For instance, apps often drain the battery and require a constant Wi-Fi connection. Apps lack a natural social aspect, meaning users need to actively seek out online communities.
For those who prefer not to enrol in traditional classes, there are self-study options using offline methods, such as writing out the characters you are learning. Exercise books, featuring printed paper called Tian Zi Ge (田字格), offer assistance at various levels. Studying Chinese using these resources has its unique rewards. Progress can be tracked through your exercise book, similar to a flip book, which differs from earning badges on an app. To practice speaking outside the classroom, you can find a language partner through apps and Facebook groups. Interacting with a language partner not only helps you understand the cultural aspects of the language but also allows you to discuss trends and issues in your countries and generations, broadening your cultural exposure.
If you wish to improve your reading skills, offline options are available. Reading Chinese short stories with parallel translation texts can be an effective practice. Traditional Chinese stories enable you to absorb more context and cultural background, making this method suitable for learners at any level.
In the past, class schedules were often restrictive, but as more options emerge, scheduling has become less of an issue. The increasing internationalization of society has led to a greater variety of classes catering to different purposes.
Another challenge with language learning apps is maintaining the learner’s attention at a high enough level to retain vocabulary. According to an article on the e-learning website Sanako, app users can be hindered by paywalls that restrict access to additional resources.
According to an article on multimodal learning, students learn better when exposed to “different channels of information.” For instance, watching a video and then discussing the content can enhance efficiency. This approach is also applicable to self-study, such as reading a book while following the narrated audio. In a classroom setting, engaging the mind in multiple learning styles simultaneously creates a diverse learning experience that suits all learners. Today’s younger generation may prefer using technology in the classroom, suggesting that creating digital learning methods may prove even more effective. An example of multimodal self-study is the Google Chrome extension Language Reactor. A free version is available for use with YouTube or Netflix. When watching a show in your target language, you can hover over the subtitles to translate vocabulary and access other sentence examples.
In conclusion, apps can serve as a good introduction to language learning but may not be particularly effective in the long run. However, as multimodal learning methods gain popularity and effectiveness, they may enhance accessibility and provide a broader range of study options to accommodate diverse reasons for learning a language.