Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Forget apps, the best way to learn a new language is still by talking with another human

“We believe that apps like Duolingo can be a useful supplement when you are learning a language—but not a substitute. It can help you learn some words, and some basic constructions, but it isn’t going to allow you to leap into a conversation in a new language. It’s better than nothing, but there are plenty of more effective options out there.

But perhaps we are missing the point. Language plays an incredibly powerful gatekeeping role in many societies. Speaking the right language, in the right way, provides a huge number of opportunities: so we maybe shouldn’t be thinking whether this app will help comfortably–off European tourists to better enjoy their holidays.

Perhaps the creators are right, and we should be thinking about whether apps like these can provide any opportunities for those in the world who otherwise have none. If these apps can be used to tackle issues such as global literacy, then the aims of their creators can only be applauded.”

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Languages do matter


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