Make use of technology for language learning

Make use of technology for language learning
07 July 2021
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Language learning can be done in many ways. Whether a method works or not depends on each person in the end, so I shall leave it to you to decide what’s best.

But there are also useful tips and tricks that make the process of learning better for everyone. People have been learning foreign languages for centuries, but for most of that time, there is no technology in language learning. We all do it the old-fashioned way. We take notes by hand, and then write them down and repeat words or grammar until we remember. 

In the past few years however, as with most other things in our lives, technology has made learning languages easier. Some may still prefer the old way, but for me, it is now much more convenient and fun! Three things in particular has helped me a lot with Russian.

Online dictionary

Having the Yandex Translate app open on my mobile has made a big difference in learning Russian. If the teacher says something you don’t understand, type it quickly in the online dictionary. If you hear a word but don’t know its original form, or hear a verb but don’t know its noun form, this works as well. 

Once translated, you can further see examples of the words in a sentence to give context. For me, when I was in a Russian group that was very hard because my vocabulary is clearly smaller than others, this was decisive in helping me hang on and not have to drop a level. This is when having an online dictionary next to you is most important, because just knowing key words in a sentence can reveal the rest.

It may sound obvious but few actively use an online dictionary in class as I see it, I think I’m the only one. But it certainly works very well and I highly recommend it for language learning.

Online note-taking

Along an online dictionary, I also have Google Doc open on my mobile. Taking notes on mobile is better for me because with my Russian handwriting it’s not easy to read what I wrote, afterwards! When reviewing lessons, I need to be able to read quickly what I wrote that day, and new words in particular.

It is also better because with autocorrect, small mistakes are corrected. Often when taking notes by hand, we make mistakes and no one corrects them.

Finally, having all notes online makes it easier to retrieve them in the future (when each lesson is labelled, with dates). 

Word learning app

When I began learning Russian, I was lucky to have a teacher who is passionate about the process of “how” we learn. He likes to look into how memory retention works. He recommends word learning apps.

Now there are many apps like this, like Memrise (my choice), Quizlet, Wordalist, Anki, etc. They do the same thing. You enter the term in Russian on one side, and the English (or any language) definition on the other. So for example:

Tourist attraction, достопримечательность

Excursion, экскурсия

The app then turns this into a game, where it shows you one word and you have to enter the definition. It can also turn these word pairs into (digital) flashcards. Or a matching game where you match the word with the right definition. There are many variants. 

I found this to be more effective than simply writing words many times. Here you are forced to retrieve the word from memory, not just repeat or recognise the word. It is also much more fun, and I don’t get distracted easily from this. The apps “gamify” the language learning process and thereby makes it less boring, because it resembles a game. Here is more information on what that means when applied to learning, for those who are curious about the thinking behind it.

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