The trouble with learning software

We live in exciting times, where all the knowledge in the world is just one click away. So if you want to learn a new language, easy: just Google it, and find the right software. Learning French is that simple … or is it?

Chances are, if you buy or download one of these learning software, you'll stick with it for a few days, weeks, maybe even a few months, and then you'll give up. You'll have learned a few things in the process: basic vocabulary, a few sentences, but that's it. The ugly truth that language learning software vendors do not want you to know is that software does not teach French (or any other language), people teach French.

The good news is: who writes software? That's right, people. So maybe people can teach French through software. It's all a question of design.

How NOT to learn French efficiently

When software vendors concentrate more on the tech wiz that on actually teaching languages ​​to their customers, the result can be nice, but often feels cold and unfriendly. Providing nice interactions, good-looking pictures and all, even though helpful and necessary, only goes so far. This is why most people do not stick with the software for long: it lacks a certain human touch. Sadly, this means that the tremendous effort spend in the software design is wasted. It's a shame for everyone: the client does not really benefit from the software, despite the hefty price he paid for it, and the developers at the software vendor's company spend their time building a huge system completely used to its full potential by very few people.

Ultimately, customers will realize that the software might not be worth the price, and even give up on the idea of ​​learning French entirely. This is not good for the software vendor in the long run. Is there a way out of that cycle? Do we have to give up on the whole idea of ​​using technology for language learning? Maybe not. Maybe there's another way to build language learning software.

Going back to basics

So, what kind of software can we design to really teach languages? Well, think about it: what's the best, time-tested way to learn a new language? Think about it, how did you learn your own language? Through listening, reading, speaking and communicating with people. In one word: we learn language through conversation.

Starting from there, it's probably a great idea to create language learning software designed to support conversation, instead of focusing on fancy tech and funny learning activities. Cool technologies, animations, graphics, and proper instructional design are great, but to really learn, you have to feel that you are discussing something with real human beings. It does not have to be in real time (email and online forums are great examples of real discussions that happen asynchronously). It does not even have to involve voice (text chats are great to practice your spelling and reflecting on your sentences. It just has to be a genuine, human-to-human conversation. To design efficient language learning software, that's the direction we need to take: enabling conversation through design and technology.

Do you want to be a part of the conversation?

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