Like many things in life, technology has changed the way we learn languages beyond all recognition. Long gone are the old days of poring over textbooks and bulky bilingual dictionaries to learn a foreign language.
But it's not just about ease and convenience. Modern ways to learn foreign languages is engaging, challenging, fun, and interactive.
There are currently an enormous amount of resources out there to help anyone serious about learning a new language. Many of these have many benefits over the more traditional way of learning them.
But, like anything in life, this is not for everyone. If you prefer the real-world interactive form of learning from a real person then do that instead.
But, even so, any tools you can use to make your learning experience more efficient should be considered by any serious language learner. Why sell yourself short?
Or you could consider dating a foreigner to learn their language? After all, as the Turkish proverb goes Dil dile değmeden dil öğrenilmez, "A language cannot be learned without touching tongues".
If you are learning one today or thinking about it, your learning experience will be unrecognizable compared to but ten years ago. This learning revolution has come in roughly 7 waves or innovations.
1. Digitization made it more convenient
This was the biggest leap forward in technology-based language learning. As bulky physical books gave way to digitized text, carrying around your learning materials became very easy indeed.
Whilst these tended to copy the traditional language learning models 1 to 1 in the beginning, changes became pronounced fairly early on. Hyperlinked texts and web dictionaries were one of the first innovations that made cross-referencing words as easy as pie.
Having dictionaries digitized made carrying around reference materials incredibly easy. And would often put off learners carrying them with them on holiday.
Today, most of these can easily be stored on a smartphone and they tend to take up less memory than most games. Some of them are even able to provide translation services which have been collated and reviewed by practicing bilingual users.
2. Multimedia transformed how we learn foreign languages
Variety is the spice of life, so it is said, and never has this been truer than when we are trying to learn something new. This is where multimedia has truly changed the foreign language learning process forever.
Traditional lessons were taught in a classroom, or group, with a teacher helping learners listen to and repeat words and phrases. They would also, often, include group exercises where students would practice with one another.
Most language learning software or websites today will tend to include some form of digital audio. But this is also true for earlier multimedia learning programmes where textbooks would be accompanied by audio cassettes, CDs and other forms of audio resource.
Many courses began to include recorded conversations from native speakers to help learners 'get their ear in' on the subject matter at hand. Whilst this is nothing really new, per se, for foreign language courses, providing it in a digital format meant learners were freed up to listen in their own time and at home.
The inclusion of audio files in digital dictionaries was also a huge advancement to help learners with pronunciation.
The addition of video and other resources like digital flashcards also began to add new tools for learners to master a new language. Open-source tools like Subs2Srs and Anki, you could create digital flashcards that play two-second excerpts of your favorite foreign TV show and then quiz you on what was just said.
And that's before we even begin to explore sites like YouTube that has become an invaluable resource. Not to mention other learning platforms like Rosetta Stone.
3. Auto-correction helps foreign and native speakers
Another huge technological innovation for language learners was the rise of autocorrection. From simple text-autocorrect to pronunciation analyzers, auto-correction has made learning languages that much easier.
Spellcheckers are now ubiquitous and can be found absolutely everywhere. These are a great, often free, method of checking your spelling and simple grammar when learning a new language - not to mention hone your grasp of your mother tongue.
That being said, they are not perfect.
More modern ones, like Grammarly, can even help with style and offer an invaluable resource to help streamline your writing.
Some applications, like Wordbook, provide a means of checking your pronunciation in Chinese. It will let you know how close you were to that of a native speaker.
Rosetta Stone other free resources like Google Translate, also offer similar functions today.
4. Bringing the classroom experience to your desktop and phone
The next step was to integrate social interaction with digital language learning. Technically speaking this is more like technology catching up than an actual 'innovation' in language learning.
There is nothing like peer review to help you learn something new. Forums and social media integration to language learning applications now provide an incredibly powerful tool for new learners.
The addition of incentives, like friendly competition, has also proved to be a popular and utilitarian method of sharpening your understanding of a language. Mini-games, league tables, and the like help provide some fun encouragement for new students to improve their skills.
It also includes forums to ask your peers or help when you get stuck. This really does effectively simulate a classroom learning experience.
5. Personalizing your learning experience
Everyone is different. We each have our own likes, dislikes, and methods of learning new things.
The same is true when learning new languages. Some prefer a structured program set by others, whilst yet others prefer to carve their own path to fluency.
Applications and tools like Lingua.ly help you research and learn the content you want. Not to mention target your learning to what you are interested in.
For example, if you have not interested in skydiving, why would you ever need to learn how to say that in German or Turkish? You and you alone know what you want to know.
Other tools like Bliubliu can help guide you in this regard. With a bit of training, Bliubliu can predict which texts you'll like and serve you a daily diet of interesting foreign-language articles – personalized to you.
Other tools like Skype have made it easy to connect and practice your new bilingual skills with other people. It is now incredibly easy to connect and talk to native speakers from around the world without needing to actually jump on a plane.
6. The big game
Children learn through play, and it turns out somethings never change. Knowledge is not power unless it is actually used, after all.
The addition of game functions into foreign language learning has been a game-changer for learners. By adding an element of competition and reward, this method of learning taps into the very basal parts of the human brain.
Many applications and tools, either standalone or all-encompassing, integrate some form of language learning gamification today.
There is nothing more satisfying than completing a fun game that also happens to teach you something useful in the real world. Win-win.
7. The rise of AI-like language teachers
Whilst some prefer to find their own way to mastery, others do still prefer to be guided. This is where having a dedicated teacher is an invaluable tool for anyone learning a new skill.
Recent innovations in technology-based foreign language learning are making some interesting inroads in this regard. These new systems are able to determine what you need to learn and which exercises are best suited to sharpen your skills.
They are, in effect, artificial teachers. One of the first was pioneered by the Khan Academy, but this was for maths rather than languages.
This is able to constantly generate new questions until you finally get the hang of the subject at hand. Apps like Duolingo has the interesting feature of leaving the introduction of new vocabulary up to its AI, rather than a set progression.
As AI improves over time, it is bound to become more and more intuitive and powerful as a learning tool for humans.