Can your choice in language software determine your success or failure? The answer can go two ways: on the one hand, success has always depended heavily on the kind of effort you put in; on the other, the tools you have at your disposal can make succeeding easier or harder than it has to be.
Imagine a kid learning how to cut someone’s hair. Can he learn using cheap scissors used by grade school students and a brush he took from his sister’s vanity mirror? Probably. But imagine how much easier a time he could have if he actually bought the kind of supplies real hair salons use.
To wit, your choice in language software does carry weight in your success at learning a second language. However, your effort will be the main determining factor. You can have the most advanced tools in the world, but you aren’t likely to get good results unless you put in the time and the work.
In what ways can language software affect your results?
Approach to Learning
Different programs take different approaches to teaching the target language. As such, it’s important to find one that plays to your strengths. Some programs focus on grammar; others on simulating an immersive setting; others on vocabulary learning; and so on. You need to test the pool to see which packages complement your natural inclinations for learning, where you get your best results. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a harder time learning the target language than it has to be.
Do you prefer a lot of reading when you study? Are you a visual person who learns best with video and graphics as aids? Or do audio lessons seem to teach you better than other options? Most of the time, the publisher’s website will detail exactly what kind of approach their software takes. Read through it and get a trial copy if you can before making a purchase.
If you need to learn the language for a specific purpose, then it’s important to account for the content of the program you’re getting. By content, we mean exactly what kind of information it includes and who it’s aimed for. A lot of companies offer specialized software nowadays to help you focus on the language elements you’ll need, after all, instead of trying to brush up on anything and everything under that particular language.
A software that’s meant for business language training probably won’t serve you well if you’re just learning the vernacular for getting around on vacation. In the same vein, a language software designed for adult learners is likely to end up being a little difficult for under-12 children to get into. Be clear about your goals for learning the language before shopping for a primary software to use, so you can choose a package that’s appropriate to your needs.
You want a language software with lessons just difficult enough to challenge you, but not too hard that you’ll end up unable to progress at a good pace. Too easy and you’ll get bored. Too hard and you’ll end up struggling — likely stuck in parts, unable to complete modules without spending too much time in them. As a matter of fact, I know a lot of people who quit on a language software because the whole deal just felt a little too complicated for them.
A good software will have been sufficiently tested to provide a gradually increasing level of challenge every step along the way. That way, it incentivizes you to keep working, as it neither leaves you bored (from being too easy) nor discouraged (from being too difficult). Instead, finishing a module will often leave you feeling good about your accomplishments and excitedly looking forward to the next phase.
I’m a huge fan of learning programs that integrate repetition in a subtle but effective way. While you can always return to previous lessons with software, the good ones repeat important concepts in multiple modules strategically. While some will argue repetition is a waste of time, many learners can attest otherwise. Repetition works wonders, provided it’s done in a way that doesn’t distract the user.
Repetition benefits learners in several ways:
- It doesn’t impede their progress through the lessons
- It ensures critical items are gone over several times
- It helps tie previous lessons to current ones — which can aid in reinforcing stuff learned from previous modules
Many of the newer language programs come with speaking practice integrated as a feature. As in, they let you speak on a mic, process the audio input and give feedback as to how well you did. This is extremely valuable for self-studying language students, many of whom have no one to give them first-hand feedback about their speaking and pronunciation.
As you probably know, the lack of feedback is one of the biggest hurdles for second language self-learners. Being that language is a communication skill, it seems awfully misguided to try to learn it from just listening to lessons all day. The speaking practice feature in a language software can bridge that gap some, affording learners some amount of response to measure their development.
Do note that the quality of the speech recognition and assessment often varies by software, so the way it works on one won’t always be the same as it works on all the others. Make sure to include that in your considerations when buying your software.
Almost all the language training software in the market right now will include exercises designed to reinforce learning. While I know some people who skip them, they could actually prove to be the most important part of the software. Suffice to say, the more types and varieties of exercises are included, the better it will be for you.
Just like tests help reinforce the things you learn in school, these exercises can aid in enhancing your recall and critical thinking abilities with regards to the language. Make sure to use them — they’ll benefit you in more ways than you can probably imagine.